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Self-help program

7. Paradoxical intention (SOS)

Sometimes falling asleep does not happen because you are trying too hard. Trying to force sleep to come can cause irritability and frustration, making falling asleep even harder.

It is understandable that you want to sleep and that your goal is to initiate sleep. Often, however, the harder you try to sleep, the more difficult it is to fall asleep.

One proven way to overcome this dilemma is to stop trying and focus instead on staying awake. This is known as “paradoxical intention”.

Exercise: Paradoxical intention


The paradoxical intention exercise will help you to reduce anxiety about falling asleep and to learn to stop forcing yourself to fall asleep.


  1. Find a comfortable position, and turn off the lights. Keep your eyes open.
  2. Do not try to fall asleep.
  3. Forget all your troubles and worries, but stay awake.
  4. When your eyelids start to get heavy and you feel like you want to close your eyes, tell yourself gently to stay awake for a few more minutes and then naturally drift off to sleep when you are ready. If you can stop thinking about sleep and falling asleep, it will happen naturally.