Having trouble getting to sleep? Anxious mind, perhaps?
A few posts ago I wrote about sleep being an elusive fairy. She tickles my brain and then runs away only to come back and dance around. My brain, on the other hand, I described as an obnoxious bedmate. The moment I lie down he pokes me saying “Wanna think about stuff? Did you call the electrician? What if you don’t remember in the morning? Do we need apples? What are Catskills?”
Between the elusive fairy and the obnoxious bedmate, sleep for me has been a journey. In my last post on sleep, I discussed reasons we may be sabotaging our sleep. Inconsistent routines, screens, and nutrition choices all have the ability to impact our sleep negatively. But even if you have all those sleep-impacting external issues figured out sometimes there is one other beast that keeps us awake when we should be fast asleep – an anxious mind. The anxious mind is like a broken faucet spurting water with no place to shut off the master valve. Having an anxious mind is troublesome anytime but debilitating if it hits when you are trying to get to sleep.
Anxiety has been a personal issue for me for many years, and my sleep has been terribly interrupted. It always shocks me when people say they fall asleep right away because I get to the point where I think everyone must take 90 minutes to two hours to get to sleep. Over the years, I have tried many techniques. The ones I have listed below are the ones that work. You perhaps may find some of them a little “out there” but trust me when you are two hours into trying to catch the sleep fairy you will have no problem counting stairs or putting bubbles around your troubles.
Come with me on a journey of sleep attainment that will have you snoring in minutes, instead of hours.
Seven “Go To Sleep” Techniques For The Anxious Mind
- Bubbles of Troubles: Lie on your back. Focus on what is on your mind. What are you thinking about? What is troubling you? Picture a visual representation of that trouble right above your head where you are sleeping. Now encase the trouble in a bubble so you can no longer hear it and you can only barely make it out inside the bubble. Now let the bubble float up very slowly. Keep your “eye” on the bubble. Let the bubble slowly float higher and higher moving about, like it is in a light wind. Keep the bubble rising until it disappears. Then come back to your mind and repeat the same “bubbling your trouble” with the next thing that you are thinking about. Practice deep breathing with the process and you can even have a little fun “pushing” the balloon higher with a deep controlled exhale.
- Descending Stairs: Picture yourself at the top of a hike you have taken before or at the top of a very long stairwell. Slowly start down the path or stairs watching yourself put one foot in front of the other. Focus on the detail. Look at the color of your shoes, what is around where you are stepping. Keep the steps slow and methodical and count them as you go. Breath deeply in and out as you maneuver down your path or stairs. If you get to one hundred steps, start back at the top of your path and try to go even more slowly as you count your steps in your head.
- Dead Body: Lie on your back. Mentally head down to the tips of your toes. Starting with the big toes, consciously relax them as you breathe deeply in and out. Focus intently on the right big toe, and then the left big toe, until they both feel completely relaxed. Now work your way through your other toes slowly and methodically. Move up to each foot. Imagine all the muscles around each bone inside the foot relaxing as you breathe in and out. Move up to the ankles, the front of the lower leg, the calves, the front of the upper legs and then the backs, each time getting the right side to relax completely and then the left. Work through your whole body making sure to stick to one area for at least a slow count of 20. Once you get to your head, try to relax your eyes, ears, and mouth individually. Soften your face as much as you can. Most of the time you won’t even make it halfway through your body before you fall asleep!
- 4-7-8 Breathing: This simple breathing technique is extremely useful. Breathe in through the nose for a slow count of four, Hold that breath for a count of seven. Release the breath slowly through the mouth for a count of eight. While practicing this breathing you should gently rest the tongue on the roof of the mouth. Keep your tongue in that position throughout the whole cycle. You can do this technique sitting or lying down.
- Clench and Release: This is not dissimilar to Dead Body except I find this method works well if you find your body inadvertently stiff and clenched. Lie on your back and head mentally down to your toes. Clench all your toes as tight as you can make them for a count of ten. Relax immediately after the clenching and breath deeply three times. When you release your body forgets how tight it was prior t the clenching and can relax into a more sedated state. Work your way up your whole body, section by section until you reach the head and face. Again, it will be a surprise if you make it all the way to the head and face without falling asleep first.
- Blank Screen: Picture a huge white screen in front of you. Mine is a drive-in movie screen on the top of a hill that I have hiked so get creative. Focus on that screen, not taking your eyes off it. The tendency will be that the screen starts projecting your thoughts; perhaps a crazy issue at work, housework that didn’t get done, or a conversation you wish had gone differently. As soon as the projections happen “wipe” the screen white again and focus again on the blankness of the screen. Keep repeating this as your breathe deeply and try to relax your body.
- Alternate Nostril Breathing: This is one of my all time favorites and is so helpful for relaxation. You can do this one during the day as well! Occlude the right nostril with a fingertip (on the outside!). Hold the nostril closed while you breathe in deeply through the left nostril. At the top of the breath switch the side you are holding closed. So now the left side is being kept closed in this case. Breathe out slowly through the right nostril. At the bottom of the breath come back in through the right side and at the top of the breath switch sides you are occluding so now the right side will be occluded again. Deeply exhale through that left side until al your air is fully released. Repeat the full cycle twenty times.
You should have excellent luck employing one or more of the methods listed above. I would love to know which one works best for you. I love them all and find different ones work best depending on what is on my mind. I hope you do great with these and here is to happy sleeping!
This week pick one of the sleep inducing methods listed above. Practice it nightly in conjunction with a consistent schedule of retiring. See if those two things combined improve your time it takes to fall asleep and your sleep quality overall.
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