Sleep is essential for bodily renewal and it can really help pass the time on cross country airplane trips, but sometimes, it's more elusive than the correct pronunciation of "nuclear" at a Republican debate. How can you guarantee that you get the shut-eye you need when you need it? Use your MacGyver sense.
First, let's review our chemical-free sleep options. The experts say that you should prepare for sleep during the day rather than right before bed, and who are any of us to disagree with the experts? Your most delicious sleep enabling option is to have a carbohydrate-rich dinner or scarf some bananas before bedtime. If it won't make you farty, try drinking a tall glass of warm milk. If you're a daily exerciser, don't work out within 3 hours of hitting the hay. Try masturbating, or convincing someone who is not a dangerous fugitive to have sex with you. An oft-repeated falsehood insists that women get chatty and energized after sex while men get sleepy, but I don't believe that to be true in every circumstance. Do whatever you need to become as relaxed as you can. Take a warm bath, drink some hot tea that doesn't contain caffeine (in fact, don't take any caffeine after noon or so, if you have to fall asleep early). Stick your head in some lavender. Think puffy, fluffy thoughts.
Some people have difficulty falling asleep in complete silence. Often the hum of a fan can help lull a restless mind into a state of repose. If you've got a significant other around and they won't be totally insulted, have them read you something really boring, like a book about home repair or War & Peace. Try turning on the radio; nothing shuts me out quite like the sound of Garrison Keillor's dulcet tones turning many a beautiful trio into a mediocre quartet. Putting on a lighthearted movie that you've seen a bunch of times can help distract from the mental chatter but provide enough calm stability to ease your mind into a state of rest. Don't watch a DVD; the repeated menu soundtrack can lead to some strange dreams (specifically, do not watch the DVD of Van Wilder; you will have strange dreams of early, desperate Ryan Reynolds and that awful pop punk song that plays during the credits). Some phone services allow you to download aps that play ambient sounds that can help prime your mind for some shut-eye.
Make sure your room is dark enough to allow restful sleep. An old boyfriend used to sleep wearing a mask, and he looked ridiculous, but damned if he didn't take about 2 seconds to fall asleep every night and spend the entire evening laying there like a petrified log.
Try some mental games to get yourself into sleep mode. Counting sheep works for Muppets, but everyone's brain is different. I count as high as I can, but I pronounce the name of each digit rather than reading high numbers in their entirety; 148 is one four eight, not one hundred forty eight. Sometimes I let my mind drift until any old thing pops into my head and I try to watch my thoughts as though I'm not participating in them or causing them; sometimes this helps lead me to konk out. Some people can pray or meditate themselves to sleep. Other people swear that breathing exercises help— try breathing in for a count of four and then breathing out for a count of 6 [Ed: This works!]. Repeat until unconscious. I've also heard that hypnotizing yourself sometimes works, but whenever I've tried to do that I've thought of the episode of The Simpsons when Mr. Burns stocks the company softball team with Major League Baseball players like Steve Sax and the team hypnotist tries to coerce Burns into not firing him using hypnosis, and I just start laughing.
While some people are out like a light with slight modifications in diet, exercise, and thought patterns, other people realize that natural techniques are useless for them and that desperate times call for chemical measures.
Contrary to the logic that leads you from two glasses into a bottle of wine, drinking a ton of alcohol is not good for going to sleep; while a glass of red wine or Mad Men-style neat whiskey can help bring on relaxation, too much alcohol will cause you to wake up at about 4 AM smelling like the drain of a bar sink and wanting nothing more than a big glass of water and a way to forget how hung over you are.
Melatonin is available at most pharmacies and is touted as a "natural" sleep aid; if you don't have any of that laying around, try taking Benedryl or Tylenol PM (which is half Tylenol and half Benedryl) for a light chemical push toward Dreamtown.
If you have a chronic sleep problem, try to get a prescription for a sleep aid or anti-anxiety medicine. I've heard that Ambien is effective but can lead to some fatigue hangovers (or make you do crazy stuff in your sleep); some say Xanax before bed helps without the next day grogginess. Obviously don't abuse either of these options; one time my grandmother took too many sleeping pills and had a horrible nightmare about Elvis stealing her curtains. And don't mix sleeping pills with alcohol — getting your stomach pumped is about the least relaxing thing that can happen to you.
So what did we learn today? Sometimes, it's not that easy to go the fuck to sleep, but with a combination of physical and mental soothing, becoming King Sleep of Snooze Mountain isn't that hard. And if you're really desperate for respite from the day, try reading instructional blog posts about falling asleep. You'll be out in no time.
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