What to do when you can't fall asleep

Dealing with sleep issues is a heavily personalized issue; Each of us have issues with falling asleep for a variety of reasons.

But I figured I might as well share the various ways that I use to fall asleep. Maybe it can help if you're having problems like me.

For me, falling asleep is much more about the comforting environment that enables me to fall asleep, much more so than a specific technique to employ while in the act of drifting off to sleep, although I do have such techniques.

Fostering the right environment takes some effort, but I have discovered that I am at my best when I'm setting myself up for sleep success. Here are areas that I deliberately watch out for:

Am I Exercising?

Exercise is the quickest and easiest "trick" I know to set myself up for sleep success. Expending calories and doing high intensity workouts means that I'll be at a caloric deficit and my body will naturally want to eat more to recover from the deficit, and sleep more to help with muscle building in response to the stresses I've introduced.

It's the healthiest natural habit.

Am I Introducing Stimulus at the Wrong Time?

I've noticed that whenever I watch an episode of a TV show I like before going to bed, I have trouble sleeping. Good stories are a form of stimulus for me that does not aid me in going to sleep. It gets my mind going. I think about the many different open ends of the story. I think about the character development and the relationships that are being developed. I think about how I relate to the characters. And the endless stream of consciousness about the story ends up consuming me and is too jarring to cultivate a calm state of mind.

Are My Relationships In Check?

Whenever I have had an argument with my spouse, or more generally, done something I regret, then I will typically be consumed by thoughts on how that could have gone better, what I can learn, and what to do next.

While these situations are something we all deal with, it's worth working on relationships for the sole reason that it is healthier not to have to constantly think about needing to amend relationships and mull over regrets.

Are My Actions Aligned with my Long-Term Goals?

There is typically no short-term solution for this root cause, but I find that if I feel incongruence between who I want to be and who I am being, I find it difficult to comfortably sleep at night. The only way this can get back in shape is to consistently work on strengthening good habits and cut bad habits.

Caffeine at the Wrong Time?

This one is a simple one, but caffeine late in the afternoon can potentially mess with my biological sleep clock. Caffeine, at least for me, feels like it can definitely suppress the natural production of melatonin, and I try to avoid it from the late afternoon on.

Now that I list my "pointers" for how to fall asleep, I am realizing that it's basically in alignment with living a meaningful life. Perhaps quality of sleep is just a symptom that correlates with being happy and purpose-driven.

A Lesson in Traveling While Traveling

While I live in sunny southern California, most of my relatives live in varying parts of Japan. This leads me to station myself at a specific relative for several weeks, and within that time frame, travel to other parts of Japan to see other relatives.

I typically only need to carry 4 or 5 days worth of clothes because the laundry machine is spun every couple of days, or even every day, in most households in Japan. I was packing to travel from my in-laws' home to my parents' home this morning. The trip was going to be 4 days, and I brought about 5 days worth of clothes for the entire trip.

The problem in front of me was this: I could take the time to pick out the 4-days worth of clothes... or I could simply pack everything that I had and just take it with me without thinking.

I picked the latter option without hesitation. Because I wasn't going to do a lot of walking, the time investment required and the cognitive overload of thinking about, and picking 4 days worth of clothes from a 5 day wardrobe simply made no sense.

There are too many of these small decisions on a day-to-day that wear down our decision making ability, cognitive bandwidth, and take away from time doing things we actually care about doing.

Don't get me wrong — if you like packing and picking clothes and optimizing a travel wardrobe, then you probably don't share this opinion and that's totally okay.

This was a good reminder that we all only have 24 hours in a day, and that time is spent by accumulating small tasks to do throughout the day. Being cognizant of each of these decisions and quickly being able to decipher what is actually worth doing and not worth doing is a key skill in optimizing our output towards a life that we want to build.

For me, that means more time spent learning new things, making things, talking to family, and playing with my 6-month old.