I was an insomniac for decades. I’d listen to others getting sleep in nearby rooms as I lay staring at the dark ceiling, talking and singing to myself, tossing and turning. I generally felt discomfort in my skin as I lay there growing more concerned that there was something really wrong with me.
I’m not an insomniac anymore. In fact, I now get a lot of really good sleep most of the time. And though I’ve worked on myself my whole life to become healthier in every way possible, there is still ONE singular thing that I need to do on the more rare occasion when I struggle to fall asleep.
Here it is:
I STAY IN BED IN THE QUIET, DARKNESS OF MY ROOM AND I DON”T TRY TO FALL ASLEEP.
I’ll explain: Years of studying how the brain works has taught me that the moment any of us starts TRYING to do something, the more we trigger our own stress response. The more stress we experience in our brain and body, the less likely it is that we will successfully carry out what it is we are trying to do. (That’s why I apply this tip of “not trying” to many things in my life.)
There are 5 REALLY EASY things I do instead of trying to fall asleep:
- I focus on the physical comfort given to me by my bed. When thoughts come into my head, as they frequently do, I focus back on the physical experience I am having of the bed: its support, warmth, softness, snugness…the sensory feeling or texture of the pillows, sheet, blanket, and mattress.
- I breathe consciously in through my nose and fill my belly with air.
- I find the part of my body that feels the most anchored in the bed.
- I tell myself I am getting my rest. I remind myself of how wonderful it is that I am not on my feet in the doing of my day. Rather, I am getting to lie down in a comfortable bed with a cushy pillow with my feet up, my bottom anchored and my breath regulating me nicely.
5. I repeat. The brain needs lots of repetitious practice of these interrupting alternatives to the thoughts that keep us from resting. As we interrupt thoughts that keep us awake and replace them with sensory tools that keep us focused on the resources we have right here in this moment, we train the brain – we literally rewire the brain – for healthier habits that support deep, restorative sleep.
Here are some important facts: 30 per cent of adults in the US are sleep deprived, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC); 48 per cent of Americans are plagued by insomnia, according to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF); a plethora of research points to sleep deprivation as one of the most important causes of numerous illnesses from depression and high blood pressure, to heart disease and obesity; restful sleep is necessary for the synaptic pruning, or cleaning out of, inefficient or ad hoc neural pathways in order to make room for taking in and synthesizing new information (learning); sleep is how the brain makes the physical space necessary for us to think more clearly, focus more intently, make better decisions, and regulate emotions with greater ease.
More great tips from impressive researchers in the field of sleep:
- NAP: even a 10-minute nap makes a big difference. I don’t fall sleep during these brief “naps,” but when I can, I put my earplugs in, my eye-patch on, and I lay on my bed for 10 minutes. I end up surprisingly refreshed and capable of my next task, when just minutes before, I desperately wondered how I was going to pull it off. Even if you did this sitting up, bottom on the floor, back leaning into the wall, this minutes-long sensory break from sights and sounds gives the brain a healthy reboot any time of day.
- CHOOSE A CALMING FOCUS like the sensory tools I mentioned OR a sound (like “om”), a word (like “peace”), or a phrase (like “my mind is at ease”). Repeat the calming focus you’ve chosen, aloud or silently, as you inhale through your nose and fill your belly with air.
- REPLACE THOUGHTS WITH DREAMLIKE IMAGERY: see yourself in a beautiful setting, protected by an imaginary force field of love, light, or some other form of energy that feels good.
- DON’T FORGET TO CUT OUT STIMULANTS like caffeine, nicotine, and technology. Turn off all devices so that lights, hums, bings, dings, and buzzes won’t affect you.
There is truly NOTHING more important to our health – mental, physical, emotional, spiritual, relational, you name it – than sleep. We live longer, stronger, happier, more connected lives when we get a truly restful sleep. I wish you the peace of slumber, more than anything else I could wish for you, because of the VAST difference it makes to every area of your life. Please try at least one NEW thing that you’ve read here today and have sweet dreams.