Some people are blessed with the ability to fall asleep anywhere, anytime. My partner is one of those enviable creatures. Others, like myself, find it far more difficult.
I’ve come to the realization that the large part of the problem isn’t because I had caffeinated tea past 4pm. It’s that I need to properly shut down my system first. My senses tend to be rather sensitive (which is helpful for most witchery), so even if my conscious brain and body are ready for sleep, the rest of the senses are chattering. What’s that noise? What’s that light? Where is that smell coming from? What’s that unusual vibe? Is that something crawling on me? Did you remember that thing?
The thing about practicing Witchcraft – the more you do it, the more adept you become, the more your senses perceive, the further the threads go. It can take a bit more work to shut everything down so you can rest properly.
This can be a real detriment when I’m on the road because I’m constantly dealing with new sleeping environments almost nightly. Not only that, but I’m a super tight schedule, working late, getting on the road early, and having to be on the top of my game – so sleep is precious. Sleep aids like an herbal tea and various medicines might not be handy, accessible, or agreeable. So I have picked up a couple of very simple but effective techniques to gain sleep quicker.
The Sense of Taste
That may sound weird – but how many times have you gotten in bed and realized your mouth was a bit dry or your stomach started to gurgle? The more you think about it, the worse it gets. I keep a reusable bottle of water next to the bed, and always have a sip before I go to bed, and whenever I wake up. I used to have a mug of water, then the cats in my life discovered the wonder. Now they have a mug of their own in the bathroom, and I have my bottle on the nightstand. If my stomach starts to talking to me, I nom some light protein – a couple almonds or a slice of cheese, which is just enough to satisfy without causing other issues.
The Sense of Smell
Smell isn’t usually a factor in your own home, but if you’re at a hotel or staying with family/friends, new odors may keep you awake. A couple tours back, while at Barjon Books in Billings, MT, Sue turned me on to “Travel Ease” by Alaskan Essences. It’s a light environmental spray with essential oils that eases the stress of traveling. Whenever I’m on the road or just getting back home, I spray a little on me before I go to bed. I think it helps a lot because the sense of smell is a powerful thing, and if you can associate a certain smell with rest/peace/sleep, you can train your body.
You can of course make up your own spray or essential oil mix combining scents that are relaxing/comforting to you. A mist can be sprayed on your face and chest, as well as pillow/sheets, while an oil you may want to apply to your wrists and neck. (Be mindful of your eyes and sensitive bits). Of course, if you’re sensitive/allergic to oils, this may not be a good option for you. Though perhaps having a small satchel of dried aromatic herbs by your bedside that don’t stimulate an allergic reaction may work for you – such as lavender, cedar, or eucalyptus.
The Sense of Sight
I’m not sure why or how it happened, but somewhere in the last decade, I’ve become sensitive to light when it comes to falling asleep. A streetlight, illuminated clock face, the light of the full moon, or the rays of the day-star can keep me up. So having good curtains and unplugging or covering up electronics I don’t need definitely helps. Sometimes you don’t have that option, so an eye-cover can be really handy, though they can be tricky or feel confining. I have an eyepillow that’s filled with flax and lavender – which provides both scent and weight – and will simply fall aside once I do fall sleep. You can also see if there’s a direction you can face in the bed that cuts down on the intruding light.
Also, if you have to look at your phone before bed, activate the “night shift” option or cut down the brightness manually. I also recommend limiting the apps you look at ones that are less likely to get you emotionally or mentally worked up (i.e., someone’s wrong on the internet…). Image-heavy apps like Instagram, Tumblr, etc – tend to be better for relaxing. Or better yet, read a book for a bit.
Probably one of the worst things for me is repetitive sound, because my brain focuses in on it and gets sucked up into the pattern. So folks who snore loudly and consistently, the event venue around the corner that has Ethiopian weddings/parties until 1am on weekends pumping out 6/8 drum patterns, people talking far enough away that I can make out just part of the conversation – these things keep me up. Dance rhythms, patterns, and trying to discern sounds all keep my brain up. Then there’s road and air traffic noise. So one way to have something in your sleeping area that generates white noise, or soothing sounds (as long as that doesn’t bug anyone else around you). I know some folks that listen to music on headsets – that works for me when I’m on a plane, but not so much when I’m laying down to really sleep.
So what I often do instead is memory recall. I pull upon the memory of being at the beach as a child, sleeping in the soft warm sand, in the shade of my mother’s beach chair. The background noises of traffic, talking, faraway music, etc – all become the waves and general chatter at the beach. As this memory also summons up a sense of peace, comfort, and safety, it relaxes the rest of my body as well and I’m asleep in no time.
The Sense of Touch
Bodies are such tricky things. But there’s a lot of simple things can be done to get your body in a restful state.
Weight – Even if it’s unbearably hot out, I need to at least on a sheet on me – the weight of it brings a sense of calm. During the winter, the more weight the better – which also helps to keep the heating bills down. If you’re not someone who overheats quickly, trying a heavier blanket might help you out. Or adopting 2-3 cats who like to sleep on people. I also wear socks to bed most of the year.
Posture – This one is so easy, it may sound ridiculous, but it’s a big one for me. I have a tendency to cross my ankles, which a martial arts-trained friend long ago pointed out can block energy flow. I often have to consciously check and uncross my legs after I get into bed. But even more so than the ankles, the biggest game-changer for me is making sure my hands are not curled into fists. I often do this when I’m cold or grasping on to sheets. As soon as I notice I’m doing it, I relax my hands, and insert one between the pillows flat. Immediately there is a greater sense of peace and I’m out shortly after.
Breath – Have you ever hyper-focused on your breath? Yeah, it can really screw with you, especially if you’re congested or anxious. When this happens, I do timed breaths – inhaling for say 3-4 seconds, then exhaling. Next 5-6 seconds, then 7-8 seconds. Usually three breaths does it, but if you need a bit more, repeat each session 2-3 times, then go to the next one. You can also add a visualization pulling the air into your body and releasing it from your center out to your extremities.
The Liminal Senses
There’s a whole bunch of situations that can fall into this last group – elemental or spirit activity, sensitivity to emotional or mental issues in a space. One of the best ways I have found to deal with this is to simply focus on my nightly meditation. For almost 8 years now, once I get all of the above sense sorted out, I settle down to connect with the divine – that which is present in myself, certain spirits, ancestors, deities, etc. I express gratitude as I address each kind as I address them by name or description, and finish up with a focus for what is needed. It slides me into that liminally-minded space, takes the focus off of physical things, and turns my attention inward. I don’t always make it through all the way before I fall asleep, but I think the intent is more important.
You can also craft a sigil to help program yourself to fall asleep. I would recommend touching upon the senses/areas that are the biggest factors in preventing you from falling asleep. You can then incorporate the sigil into any of the techniques above, such as putting it on an eyepillow, your nighstand water bottle, screensaver on your phone, on the ceiling above you as a meditation tool, etc!
I hope you find some of these techniques useful – restful sleeping and peaceful dreaming!