Like most people, I have had times when sleep has not come easily. However, matters came to a head when I suffered from an anxiety disorder about eight years ago. One of the symptoms was struggling to sleep well. Part of my therapy taught me how best to approach going to sleep, and I’ve continued to use the techniques. They work! Here they are!
It’s one of the most important things we do.
The brain uses sleep to consolidate memories and to deal with stress. Lack of sleep impairs our judgement. Did you know that even moderate lack of sleep affects driving as much as exceeding the legal blood alcohol level?
Most of the time we enjoy an adequate amount of sleep. However, we can also have periods when we don’t. Perhaps we work long hours at a stressful job, and struggle to unwind at the end of the day? Perhaps there are matters that are troubling us? Perhaps we’ve allowed bad sleep habits to creep into our routine?
Sleep is a natural action. Our minds and bodies know how to do it; we don’t need to think about it. In fact, if we’re having trouble going to sleep and we try to force ourselves to nod off, we’ll probably make matters worse. It’s much more effective to relax and let sleep happen naturally.
Mindfulness, being ‘in the moment’, can help us to overcome difficulties in going to sleep, Here are some thoughts that may help.
It’s easier to be ‘in the moment’ if that moment is pleasurable.
At bedtime, ideally, we don’t want to be too full; a heavy meal late at night, especially with a bit too much to drink, does not help sleeping! Equally, we don’t want to feel hungry; some people find a hot chocolate before bed helps.
Then there’s the place where we sleep. It should be as comfortable as we can reasonably make it. I’m not the most house-proud person in the world, but my bedroom is tidy. The bed is made earlier in the day, well before I want to sleep in it. The bedding is laundered frequently. My favourite photographs and books are close to me on the bookshelves. I’m careful about the temperature of the room. It’s a pleasure when I lie down in bed; everything feels good.
So, you’re ready for bed. As you approach it, remind yourself that sleep is natural; remind yourself that your bed is comfortable, and that it’s a nice place to be. Be conscious of the way the bed feels as you climb into it. Feel the texture of the bedclothes, and enjoy the feeling. It’s comfortable, a pleasure. Lie down. Switch off the light.
If you’re feeling stressed, give yourself permission to stop worrying. Say it out loud if you like. “I give myself permission to stop worrying and relax.” Say it, and believe it. You’re allowed to stop trying to solve problems. You’re allowed to enjoy the comfort of a good night’s sleep. You’re worth it, and you deserve it.
Enjoy lying there. Let yourself be aware of the resilience of the mattress; the texture of the bedclothes; the cosiness of being snug in bed. Wriggle into your usual sleeping position. Feel how good it is. Then relax, consciously.
A good way of doing this is to start by relaxing the muscles of your scalp, and then, progressively, the rest of your body. Relax your scalp, the back of your neck, your forehead, your cheeks, your jaw, your shoulders, and so on, right down to the tips of your toes.
I find it helps if I synchronise my breathing with the relaxation, like this. I think, “Relax the muscles of your scalp,” as I inhale. Then I exhale gently. “Relax the muscles of your neck,” as I inhale again. Then I exhale gently. “Relax the muscles of your forehead,” as I inhale. And so on. It’s been a long time since I’ve finished the sequence, because I’ve slipped peacefully into sleep…
Sleep well, folks!
I’m sharing my personal experience in the hope that it might help people who occasionally have some difficulty getting off to sleep at night. However, if you have persistent difficulty that significantly reduces the time you sleep, you should seek help from a professional. Also, lack of sleep impairs your ability to drive. If your sleep has been significantly disturbed, you should think carefully about whether you’re safe before driving.