I’ve spent many nights tossing and turning – and sometimes never falling asleep at all. Only in the last few years have I began releasing the dread that comes at bedtime, and changing my attitude from, “I won’t fall asleep anyway,” to, “YASSS it’s finally bedtime.”
For ALL of my twenties it seemed like my mind picked up speed as soon as my head hit the pillow. I had problems with clenching my jaw – resulting in worn down teeth and tension headaches – massively scrunched up shoulders, and obviously a pretty serious addiction to caffeine and sleeping pills. I’m happy to say I’ve since ditched my daily 4-shot Americano habit, and only resort to natural sleeping aids on rare occasions. That’s not to say my anxiety doesn’t creep back in from time to time, reminding me of the good ole days of tossing and turning, watching the clock tick as I count the hours of sleep I can still salvage. As I’ve learned to combat stress and anxiety during the daytime, I’ve found a few tricks that are particularly useful at nighttime as well. The first, however, is the toughest: you have to WANT to sleep.
I know that seems obvious – of course you want to sleep! But oftentimes we make the conscious choice to let our minds race, to keep thinking about how that meeting went, how tomorrow will play out, and settle nicely into our comfort zone of anxious awakeness.
You know what I’m talking about.
I used to think: but I like planning out my days as I lay in bed at night. I enjoy anticipating my week, imagining how things will go. Fair enough, but that’s your choice. Most often, we know what we can do to help ourselves relax, we just don’t do it. So check yourself. And then, move on to these tips to really change your ways…
1. Do a muscle scan by gently clenching and then releasing every muscle in your body, starting with your feet and working your way up. Let your body melt into the mattress.
2. Kick your legs up the wall to calm your central nervous system and slow down your heart. Shimmy your butt up to the wall adjacent to your bed, and create an L-shape with your body by resting your feet up high on the wall. Stay here and rest for 1-3 minutes.
3. Assign thinking time – maybe you really do need to mull a few things over, but now is not the time. Pick a time in your next day or two (on the train, on the treadmill, during your lunch break) and plan on doing your thinking then, releasing your thinking duties for the night.
4. Grab your journal and do a brain dump, getting everything out of your mind and safely on the page, so you can revisit it tomorrow if need be, or just release it for good. Keep a notebook on your nightstand for any thoughts that pop up.
5. Seriously what’s more boring/sleep-inducing than counting your own breath? See if you can count to ten breaths without your mind interrupting. Then go for another ten, and another. Notice the thoughts that come in, and refer to tips 3 and 4 to let them go.
6. Last but very far from least, don’t pick up your phone!! This has become such a go-to anytime we’re bored, but it’s the exact opposite of what you want to do to fall asleep. Not only will the light of your screen wake you up, but checking in on email or social media will get your wheels turning again. Best to plug it in across the room (or in another room entirely!) to resist temptation.
Finally, try not to beat yourself up for not falling asleep. There’s nothing wrong with you. It may simply be time to take a look at the level of anxiety in your life, and see how you can begin to level yourself out with small moments of mindfulness throughout your day. A sleepless night every now and then won’t kill you – go watch the sunrise and enjoy.