My dad used to suffer from insomnia, holding imaginary meetings in his head late into the night. I'm the same way.
One stress-relief technique from Johns Hopkins is a breathing + mantra exercise. I find their mantra recommendation cringey:
Breathing in I am calm, breathing out I am coping.
Mantras, guided imagery, and autogenic training are generally hard for me, because I feel pressure to "stay focused on the mantra."
My weird trick is to replace the mantra with free-form inner-monologue nonsense syllables. Here's an example:
Nimbla doobla deeble dee... simba dimba lima nooble doo...
I let the pacing and "mental voice" vary, but mainly aim for a sleepy-sounding tone.
At the same time, I let myself visualize nonsense images. My visual imagination isn't very vivid, and I don't try to create any specific images. It's nothing more than a patchy and low-res mental screensaver. Not even this exciting:
This puts me right to sleep.
If you have refinements of anti-insomnia tricks that aren't on bog-standard lists like this one, go ahead and add them in the comments!
As a kid I developed something that basically is a body scan. I worried about monsters while I was lying in bed. At some point I started imagining a field of green energy starting at the very bottom of my feet and working its way very slowly up each leg, then my torso, down my arms, and finally to the very top of my head. Once I was cloaked in this protective green shield I was safe, as long as I didn't move. It broke if I moved. But if I stayed still I could then inflate it outwards, enveloping my house, neighborhood, city, and eventually the entire world in a protective shield.
I'm skeptical of the idea of a collective unconscious, but still find it an interesting/odd coincidence (and/or weak evidence in favor of a collective unconscious) that I basically developed a body scan practice 35 years before I ever learned anything about meditation, and that it also included a universalist component, enveloping the entire world in protection.
Something similar works for me! Basically purposely dropping into the state of unfocused nonsense that generates dreams
I assume this stuff is highly personal. I have discovered during grad school that trying to do mental research-level calculations in bed makes my brain turn off within a few minutes. YMMV.
At the same time, I let myself visualize nonsense images. My visual imagination isn't very vivid, and I don't try to create any specific images. It's nothing more than a patchy and low-res mental screensaver.
I also don't visualize. To reliably put myself to sleep assuming I'm not wide awake, I do my best to focus on the static and try to see images.
I visualize during dreams; or at least my waking memory says I was visualizing during dreams.
During hypnagogia, I can visualize, a bit. Trying to visualize moves me into hypnagogia, continuing puts me to sleep.
I learned a similar trick from an old LW post. You focus on the static in your visual field. If it starts to resolve into random seeming images, that is the beginning of hypnogagia, and if it starts to resolve into even more concrete imagery you are very close to sleep. Try to keep focusing on it, eventually you will fall asleep. This generally works for me.
Thanks for posting this! will try it.
The trick that works for me when I have too many things in my head and it’s keeping me from sleeping is to pull out my phone/laptop, and write them all down. Just stream-of-consciousness. Write everything you can think of, until you run out of things to write. Pause for a second looking for more things to write and if nothing comes to you, then turn off the phone and go to sleep.
It just clears my head and lets me stop circling.
I learned from chaosmage that focusing on a single topic tends to make you awake while diluting your awareness with many different topics makes you sleepy. Or something like that. I have tried that and can tentatively confirm it. Your method sounds make like the latter.
Yes, my method is to visualize a large collection of many small things that have no relation to each other, like a big shelf of random stuff. Sometimes I throw them in all directions. This is the best method I have found.
I let my mind wander quickly from visuals to forms to patterns to speech to persons or some such - all unrelated to each other. It doesn't work reliably but better than nothing.
I find it too hard to keep things unrelated over time, so I prefer to keep thinking up new objects at what passes for random to my sleepy mind.
For me, I notice that my thoughts go in the direction of visual and linguistic nonsense as I drift to sleep. I will think thoughts that (if I wake up a bit more to evaluate them) do not make sense, or make sense but do not correspond to reality. (I have not yet been able to recall examples when fully awake.) Noticing that my thoughts have become nonsense has a tendency to bring me closer to awakeness, but (it seems to me) bending my thoughts in the direction of nonsense on purpose does help me to fall asleep somewhat.
I do wonder if noticing my thoughts shift towards dream-logic might help me to notice rationalization and other cognitive errors while awake.
Sharing a personal weird trick why not. I like falling asleep to light TV (via iPad). I watch short shows that a) I like and don't think are boring b) I have seen before. Usually 10 minutes into a 20 min show I'm ready (Futurama is my favorite for this + my meme game is much improved by this)
In case you don't know, your specific show pick has been noted as a favorite for this: https://www.reddit.com/r/Futurama_Sleepers/
When I had an acute bout of insomnia, one of the things I found most helpful was listening to sleep-focused bedtime stories. The key part wasn't the sleepy imagery, but rather just having something boring and inconsequential that my mind could latch onto, to replace the busy inner dialog.
I particularly like the stories from the Headspace app—they're slightly randomized each night, which prevents you from using the story progress as a timer ("Oh no, we're up to the skunk already and I'm still not asleep!")
Related: I also found it extremely helpful to get rid of my bedside clock and to use a smart watch for sleep tracking rather than keeping track of my sleep manually. Worrying about sleep makes your sleep worse, and keeping track of how you're doing tends to feed the sleep anxiety.
I try sleeping on the floor when bed isn't working. It often works. When I inevitability wake up from discomfort, I switch back to bed and fall asleep properly.
10-15 years ago, I occasionally would grab a sleeping bag and sleep outside in the yard.
I battled pretty major insomnia and beat it with "bog-standard" CBT-I. Reflecting, i think there are key useful tricks.1/ Never toss and turn. Get up and read for 20min. Seriously.2/ Learn some kind of mindfulness/meditation exercises that you practise when not in bed. Particularly body-scan. I didn't understand why CPT-I pushed this as it seemed counterintuitive, but it trains your brain NOT to notice discomfort/body position.
I'm on a self-improvement binge (for about 15 years at this point) and though I don't call myself Christian, to sleep I recite The Lord's Prayer phrase by phrase, meditating on the meaning of each phrase--why it's there, what the intended effect is, whether I agree, and how I might do that thing if I agree. Stressing here that I am not praying: I am considering the meaning of one of the most widespread human mantras in my corner of the world.
If that doesn't work, my next step is to pray (again, I am not Christian--that's not what this is about) that everyone will do the right thing, whatever that is. Sometimes I direct it at current events, sometimes generally.
I think that it's the concentration that puts me to sleep, and the effects on my behavior and attitude are bonus points.
My trick is to focus on bodily sensations and move this focus around.
For example, I will focus on how my arm feels again the pillow. Then I'll start probing details, like how does my palm feel? How does my elbow feel? How does the skin on my knuckles feel? And then I'll zoom out and shift to another major body part. It's kind of like shining a flashlight and refocusing the beam.