What do you do when your head hits the pillow but your brain is still racing? We’ve recommended box breathing in the past, and shuffling visual images, and various relaxation routines. But I’ve always found those to be either too much work for my brain, or too boring to stick with for minutes on end. I figured out a new, simpler way though, and it really works.
I mean, I know I’m not the only person who overthinks my breath if I’m supposed to “focus on my breath.” (Am I breathing too deeply? Oh no, I inhaled for longer than I exhaled, it’s supposed to be the opposite, isn’t it? OK, now my nose feels weird.) And while I appreciate the structure of apps and podcasts meant for meditation, I know that if I’m going to pick up my phone to start the app, I’m just going to get sucked into Instagram or Reddit or something.
So I took inspiration from all the things that have been written about how meditation can be anything. Let’s keep it simple.
Count 100 breaths
That’s it, that’s the hack. Lie down, close your eyes, and count how many breaths you take. When you hit 100, you’re done. (You will very likely be asleep before you get there.)
You may find this more accessible than fancier forms of meditation because there are no other rules. You can think about anything you want between the numbers, so long as you don’t stop counting. That said, there is no penalty for losing count: just pick back up at the last number you remember. We were at 30ish? OK, 31…32…
You don’t have to breathe deeply, nor do you have to “focus on your breath” or count the length of your inhales and exhales. You don’t have to tense or relax any muscles. You don’t have to lie still, and you definitely don’t have to watch the clock or wait until a timer dings or listen to a recorded voice telling you what to do. Just count the next breath.
What it’s like to fall asleep this way
I did this last night, when I thought I couldn’t possibly get tired enough to fall asleep. I lost count a few times around the 50’s, and the last number I remember clearly is 82. My sleep app tells me that I usually take 15 breaths per minute while I’m sleeping. That would put the 100 count at somewhere around 6-7 minutes. Maybe 5 if you’re quick, maybe 10 if you keep losing count.
What happens if you reach 100 and you still aren’t asleep? Reevaluate. If you’re fully awake, maybe it’s time to get out of bed and do something else (the sleep experts always suggest reading a book) and try again later. On the other hand, if you’re relaxed and sleepy, maybe just chill there on your pillow a bit longer. You can do another round of 100 breaths if you like.
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