Late at night, when you’ve been trying and failing for hours to fall asleep, perhaps the thing to do is to try not trying. According to a 2003 study recently highlighted by University of Hertfortshire psychologist Richard Wiseman in his “59 Seconds” video series, when insomniacs tried to force themselves to stay awake, they were able to fall asleep.
University of Glasgow researchers recruited 34 people with a history of insomnia for their research project and instructed one group to sleep, or try to, as they normally did. The other group was instructed to try to stay awake as long as they could; they were to lie in bed, eyes open (though they were allowed to blink). The catch: All they could do was lie there — they were told not to move around or get up or watch TV or use a computer. (Smartphones didn’t exist then the way they do now, but surely smartphones would’ve been banned, too.)
After a 14-day trial, the insomniacs who tried not trying — an approach called paradoxical intention — fell asleep more quickly than the group that kept to their usual sleep habits. Few things are more exhausting than forcing yourself to stay awake.