As much as I love sleep, it has always been good at alluding me. I can remember suffering from insomnia as far back as high school, unable to turn my mind off when I crawled into bed at night. Early morning college classes were an absolute horror, and for years I felt a silent envy toward people who could doze off within minutes of lying down.
Have you ever had a conversation like this with yourself in the wee hours of the night/morning?
Me: Oh yesssss, finally it’s time to sleep. Ahhhhh.
Brain: Let’s go over a few things first.
Me: Umm, no. I have to sleep now. I’m tired.
Brain: What about your schedule tomorrow. Wanna go over that?
Me: No. It’s time for bed.
Brain: You know, there are a couple more points you should make in that article you were writing, like…
Me: STOP. Seriously, it can WAIT.
Brain: Fine. Did you lock the back door?
Brain: Are you sure? Because the slasher in that movie you watched last week just walked right through an unlocked back door.
Me: The door is locked!
Brain: Are you sure?
Me: YES! Now PLEASE BRAIN! SLEEP!
Brain: You’re not going to be able to sleep on your side like that. Our arm is falling asleep.
Me: Sighhhhh *turning over*
Brain: The pillow feels weird like this now. It’s balled up and cranking our neck.
Me: *turning over again*
Brain: Let’s play that game where you’re freezing cold without the covers and boiling hot with the covers.
Me: *whimpering* Can I just go to sleep please.
Brain: Sure, but first lets sing the song in that waffle commercial a hundred times.
Me: GAHHHHHHH. I MIGHT AS WELL GET UP!!!
I partly blame technology for our inability to shut off our minds. We’re hardly ever unplugged these days, me included, and over time it fosters a sense of disconnect when we aren’t online or checking our text messages.
The body may very well be exhausted, but we have to learn to quiet the mind if we’re going to get any semblance of a good night’s sleep.
Sleep: An Important Pillar of Health
There’s much more to being healthy than just going for walks and eating your greens. Sleep plays a huge part in our immune health and our ability to fight infection. It’s also necessary for optimal hormone balance, cell repair, and mental focus.
Related: The Best Way To Treat Sleep Apnea
For busy people (that’s pretty much everyone, I think), bedtime is the first moment of the day in which they finally stop and rest their body. Once they quit moving, they can start thinking, since they haven’t gotten a chance to slow down all day and focus on their concerns. And one thing is certain…
anxiety and worry = stress.
Mental stress makes the heart beat faster, the adrenal glands release adrenalin, the senses come alive, and the blood pressure rise. Once this happens, a quiet mind and restful slumber is an all but impossible goal.
The first step is in making sure that stimulants like caffeine and sugar aren’t playing a role in your sleep disturbances, and also that prescription drugs and supplements aren’t having an excitable effect.
NOTE: The best time to flood your bloodstream with nutrients the body uses to make energy is not 5 minutes before crawling into bed. Unless otherwise instructed, take your supplements earlier in the day.
All the “improve your quality of sleep” advice in the world is useless if you can’t get to sleep in the first place, so here are a few techniques to help you shut off your mind and get some Zzz’s.
Meditation is very useful for those suffering from insomnia because, aside from the many health and spiritual benefits, you develop a skill for focusing the mind.
The idea here is to concentrate on one thing, whether it be your breathing, a specific religious quote or passage you particularly like, a meaningful word such as “God” or “Truth,” etc.
For instance, simply sit in a relaxed position, breathe normally, and count your breaths as you inhale and exhale. Feel the air as it passes through your nostrils and fills your lungs. Don’t strain or struggle, just breathe.
In the beginning, your mind will wander like a curious child, and that’s okay. Whenever you catch other thoughts creeping in, gently bring your attention back to your central focus. In time, you’ll be able to meditate longer and longer.
2. Distract Yourself
Get in the way of your busy mind so you can control it.
1. Read something unexciting like educational material or a biography. No social media, no romance novels, no suspenseful stories, and no news. Nothing that’s going to get your blood pressure to rise and trigger the stress response.
You might be thinking, “How is reading going to help? I’m supposed to be trying to sleep.” But reading for 30 minutes is better than spending 3 hours watching the clock and getting frustrated.
2. Exercise for ten minutes. You might assume this is the worst time to exercise because it’s going to get your heart pumping and your adrenalin soaring, but exercise reverses the effects of stress and resets your hormone levels. Go all out in an attempt to exhaust your body.
3. Take a Cool Shower
Your core temperature has to drop in order for you to sleep. A cool shower will help this occur. It will also give you time to calm your mind and relax. Listen to some soothing music and breathe deeply.
4. Plan Your Day
Upcoming events often keep us awake as we analyze how we want things to go. Are you nervous about a meeting or interview? Are you going to be busy with nonstop activities and errands the next day?
Stop! Turn on the light, grab your favorite note-taking device, and write it all down. Make notes, plan your day, organize your schedule, just get it all arranged so you can let go of the anxiety and forget about it. If these thoughts are screaming for your attention, give them some attention.
You’ll get to sleep sooner in the long run.