As a full time Certified Hypnotherapist with a full time private practice for 5 years now, I've seen a hundred of clients for sleep improvement.
Why do so many people have problems falling asleep at night?
1) Most people with sleeping problems have a lot on their minds and need to teach their brains and bodies to have a “thinking time” and a “thinking place” that has nothing to do with their bed or bedroom. Many people just go, go, through the day and have poor organization and scheduling habits. If you think of thoughts and emotions as a request, it would make sense that your mind would be trying to get your attention about: to do you have not gotten done or scheduled; as well as unresolved issues that have been stressing you out. When your mind is still, and it knows when there is no other distractions, it will remind you of those other thoughts you pushed away all day.
Having even just a brief morning meditation to allow unresolved issues to come to mind, in order to practice self awareness and serenity, it can help reduce and prevent stress. Having a “thinking time” and a “thinking place”, like 15 minutes in a den / study / coffee shop, with a calendar to schedule your to do's, can make a huge difference. And at night time, keeping a notepad nearby or using an app like Google Keep on your phone to immediately outsource the thoughts that come up will greatly improve your ability to fall sleep.
2) Also, it really helps your mind and body to wind down if it knows when that time is and there are cues to encourage it. For instance, keeping a routine of turning down lights at least 30 minutes before you get into bed, or using apps on your media devices like F.lux on your desktop / laptop and Twilight on your Android devices, can all be very helpful. These apps take out the blue light and warm up your displays as the sun sets, which helps mimic the way light naturally behaves. With the blue light removed / reduced, your displays will have an orange look, which invokes drowsiness. Sorry iOS users, there are no apps currently for your devices that do this.
I have found that many of the clients that come to see me to improve their sleep are trying to cram too much in everyday and are having problems giving them permission permission to rest or have some “me” time before falling asleep. Feeling stressed and unsatisfied is not the best way to end your day. Scheduling a bedtime with at least 15-30 minutes of a pleasant wind down time to close out your day can made a world of difference. It will allow you to fall sleep faster, sleep more pleasantly, and have more productive energy the next day.
3) Many people are using stimulants to stay awake during the day, which bleed over into sleep time. Caffeine can stay in one's system for up to 13 hours. Also, many people are working out and eating later at night because of their busy schedules. Depending on one's bedtime, no caffeine after 3pm, no eating or working 3 hours before bedtime are recommended.
4) Some people have had experiences, heard a story, or even seen a scary movie at one time of their life that may have led their minds to be more on guard than what's usually helpful in regards to falling and staying asleep. If a parent had a concern with a young child one evening, if there was a break in, a period of high stress with a period of insomnia, associations might have gotten stuck which can lead to an underlying anxiety. Those need to be cleared and resolved. You can always ask yourself questions to get to the bottom of this. Directing questions to any feelings of anxiety you're noticing in your body, things like: “What is making you (me) feel anxious right now?” “What are you afraid of?” Listen for a response, as if you're having a conversation with a child, and see if you can ask the feelings to give you a clear thought. Hopefully, you can find out information that can give you a course of action to take. Act on any actionable requests. When you are able to reassess yourself and clear your concerns, you allow uncomfortable feelings to release and turn into a more calm state or useful action.
When you're falling asleep, think of your bed and your bedroom as a place of absolute gift: a place of rest, comfort, pleasure. Notice how you are able to tell when you're drifting off. What happens just before you can tell sleep is moments or minutes away? Is it a feeling of your muscles releasing tension, feeling heavy or still? Is it when you forget what you were thinking and notice you're just aware but your mind suddenly feels more quiet and calm? Remember these feelings on purpose next time when you're falling asleep. In fact, you can purposely think in a slower, more drowsy, softer voice, as if you hear yourself falling asleep, to get the process to happen more quickly.
Just remember to practice any of these tips with a sense of trust, confidence and ease, not with stress or pressure. Know that you can not consciously make yourself fall sleep, but you can peacefully encourage your mind and body like you would coo a baby to sleep. Let go and trust that you will fall sleep and your body knows how. If it did not, you'd be dead by now. Just like you can practice good eating habits but do not know how to digest your food on purpose. Make sure you know when to eat and eat comfortably … the same goes with falling sleep.