I have been using the Insomniacs Alphabet Technique to get to sleep all my life.  It is so simple and effective that you will wonder why you hadn’t thought of it yourself.

No matter what your situation, or who you are, there are times when one struggles to fall asleep. We all have full and busy lives, and most of us have brains that insist on remembering all the things you should have said or done in the moments when you lie down to sleep.

I call those thoughts ‘White Noise’. 

White Noise

Here is a list of ‘White Noise’ and my suggestions on ways to deal with them:

  • Remembering something that you should have done during the day, but didn’t
    • Unless it is critical to life, such as forgetting something on the stove and you may burn down the house. My suggestion is that you write down what it is that you need to do, using the pen or pencil and the note pad beside your bed and move on to the Alphabet Technique 
  • If it is a deadline you have missed at work, acknowledge that there is nothing you can do ‘right now’, write down a few keywords, perhaps get up a bit earlier to prepare a strategy to follow in the morning
    • Remind yourself that previously when you messed up, you did cope with the ‘fall-out’, you will do so again
    • Use the ‘Rocking chair’ measure and ask yourself ‘when I am 80 and sitting in my rocking chair watching the world go past,  will I still be concerned about this?’ If the answer is ‘no, probably not’ then don’t waste any more of your time on it. Begin the alphabet technique, get some sleep instead

  • Remembering a conversation that didn’t go as well as you would have liked it to during the day
    • You cannot ‘unsay’ anything already said; also you cannot replay a conversation that has past. My suggestion is that you make a note (a short one-word note will be sufficient to remind you in the morning) and move on the Alphabet Technique
  • Remembering a loved one who has recently died is, of course, painful and will take some adjustments in your life.  Getting a good night’s sleep will help you cope better with your situation.
    • Use the Alphabet Technique to compile a list of fun memories shared or
    • Compile a list of items that were important to the person you have lost 
  • Your brain fills with a miss-mash of decisions made in the past with the accompanying ‘what if scenarios?’
    • You cannot go back in time, accept that you will not be able to change anything, especially not now, just before you go to sleep
    • Write three words on the list beside your bed and allocate time to the situation when you compile your list of things to do for the next day
  • You begin thinking about money or the lack of sufficient funds to pay a pressing bill
    • Accept that you can do nothing about it now you are in bed about to sleep
    • Write a reminder on your list next to the bed if you are worried you may forget then go on to the Alphabet Technique 
  • Your brain fills with fantastic clarity as to how you can deal with a situation or task you have been working on
    • Write down short notes so that you can pick things up in the morning and ‘run with it.’
    • Remember that you need a good night’s sleep to be able to do the task justice
    • Move on to the Alphabet Technique 
  • You are having one of those moments when everything seems to be conspiring against you, and your world seems to be spinning out of control
    • I do not even attempt to give advice here, however perhaps phoning Lifeline or a friend may help in this situation
    • If you are feeling a measure of control, I would suggest you try the Alphabet Technique as getting a good night’s rest will improve your capacity to cope with things that are happening in your life

  • Your brain fills with images that upset you.
    • These images can be a traumatic incident or the passing of a loved one. I found that for months, I kept ‘reliving’ the horrible last moments when my partner died. These images also came to me when I was alone and not trying to sleep. I started doing the alphabet technique when this happened and found that I was able to distract myself and not fall asleep. As you can imagine it was vital that I didn’t fall asleep when I was driving alone

To give yourself the best chance of a good nights sleep the following steps will help.

  • Stop using electronic devices such as mobile phones, tablets, iPads, and switch the television off at least 90 minutes before you go to bed
    • Put all your devices in one central place to charge, no devices in the bedroom. In particular, no phones in the bedroom. Checking your phone to see what time it is when you wake is not a good thing as there may be notifications of messages or missed calls that will make you want to check them instead of going back to sleep.
  • Purchase a  digital clock with a red light display. Green coloured display tends to be too bright and can keep you awake.
    • It is good to know the time if and when you wake up as it can be reassuring if you know there is still time to get more sleep.
  • Complete all your usual toiletries 
  • Have a note pad and pen next to the bed and check that the pen works as you may distract yourself worrying that it may not
  • Have a bottle of water to sip if you wake up thirsty during the night
  • Get into bed and make yourself comfortable, then do these simple exercises to release melatonin, a natural hormone that will help you relax

Simple stretching exercises:

  • Lie flat on your back
  • Point your toes as hard as you can – stretching them apart and then scrunching them in as tightly as you can
  • Rotate your feet extending them as you do
  • Pull your toes up tightly so that you stretch the calf muscles 
  • Pull your knees up and then straighten them as much as you can
  • Pull your bottom cheek muscles as tightly as you can then release them
  • Stretch one leg and then the other so that you move your hips
  • Pull in your stomach tightly and then release them
  • Go on to your fingers, stretch them out tightly and then make tight fists, release
  • Rotate your hands first clockwise and then anti-clockwise
  • Stretch your arms and then fold them so that your hands are by your shoulders
  • Stretch your arms above your head, release
  • Rotate your head, stretching your neck from side to side
  • Open your mouth as wide as you can then close them tightly
  • Poke your tongue out as far as you can and wriggle it from side to side
  • Next, open your eyes as wide as you can then close them tightly

Get Comfortable:

Make yourself comfortable and lie in the position that you usually find the need for sleep

I have a condition called Bursitis in my shoulder which causes discomfort if I lie in certain positions.  I have found it helps if I use two pillows, one for my head and the other to support my arm so that it does not put any strain on my shoulder. My partner has sciatica, and he has found it helpful to using a pillow to support his leg .

When I was pregnant, I used pillows to get myself comfortable and I recall that often by the time I had got comfortable, it was time to take a toilet break again!

Begin your alphabetical list:

Initially begin with girls or boys names and go through the alphabet thinking of two or three names for each letter.

A – Andrew, Adam, Alan or Anita, Anne, Amanda; B – Brian, Bruce, Barry or Bronwen, Barbara, Belinda; C – Craig, Colin, Cedric or Cassandra, Colleen, Carol and so on through all the letters of the alphabet

Do not be worried if you find your mind reverts to the ‘white noise’ of other thoughts, return to the last letter you can remember doing or begin again from A

Use the Insomniacs Alphabet Technique to distract you from thoughts that come into your mind and stop you getting to asleep. With practice, your mind will become accustomed to switching off distracting thoughts, and you will find yourself falling asleep with ease.

If you wake during the night, merely begin the alphabet list again. It does not matter if you use the same list of names as before, in fact this is often helpful.

You can use an alphabetical list of any subject that interests you – see my alphabetical sample lists to give you ideas

Use the pen and paper to write notes if you are worried about things you may forget,  try not to put the light on when you do

It does not matter if you use the same list over and over again 

If you cannot think of something appropriate for a particular letter, leave that one and move on to the next letter of the alphabet

I have been using this technique all my life and it has helped me sleep during some tough times in my life. Some of the tough times include:

  • When my baby died at two days old
  • My first husband had a brain tumour, and I had to raise two young daughters without him
  • My mother died of cancer
  • My granddaughter had AML Leukaemia. Fortunately, she survived and is now eight years in remission
  • My partner died of advanced melanoma 

Trust me when I say that getting a good nights sleep will make a big difference to your ability to cope with the challenges of every-day life. 

Variations of the Insomniacs Alphabet Technique:

If you find yourself struggling to think of things for your alphabet lists, take a look at the ones I have complied or create one for yourself that is full of things that interest you. 

The lists should only be challenging enough to distract you from the ‘white noise’ and should be relatively easy for you to think of things for each letter

Over the years I have found that at times of high stress I go through the names list and list every single name I can think of for each letter of the alphabet

I use what I think of as ‘fun lists’ when I am not under a great deal of stress and find that they are useful for me

I challenge myself to rotate more than one list at a time such as vegetable, fruit and flower for each letter of the alphabet, animals, birds, sea creatures 

If you are interested in a particular subject, I suggest you create a list specifically for that, e.g. sports, film actors, engineering terms, artists etc.

Be aware that the idea of the lists is to distract you from thinking about things that are preventing you from getting to sleep. It is OK to use the same list over and over in a loop, in time, you will find the repetitiveness of the lists tend to reassure you and you train yourself to switch off the ‘white noise’ distraction.

Do not forget to use the lists if you wake up during the night. I have an Insomniac’s Facebook Support Group.