Like death, taxes and losing a friend over a game of Monopoly, having trouble sleeping is fundamental to the human experience.
Most of us will turn to Ambien, Benadryl or any number of other chemical solutions for a quick fix, but that option A) could ruin you the following day and B) loses its efficacy once you build up a tolerance. It also doesn’t help that we’re forever being told we need to get more rest, that Americans are the most sleep deprived in the western world, that getting anything less than a full eight hours is robbing you of your vital life force, and so on, and so on.
First off, try to forget all that. It’s not going to help you relax.
Then try this:
- Lie down in a comfortable position. This can be on your back or side — whichever feels best. Don’t use too many pillows, but place one under or between your knees if you like.
- Close your eyes.
- Take a deep breath for a four count, hold it for four, and then slowly release it for four.
- Repeat, but as you inhale, imagine the breath traveling from your toes to your head. As you exhale, gradually release your muscles from head to toe.
- Once that pattern is established, micro-focus each release on specific muscles, again moving from head to toe. For example, relax your ears, then your eyes, then your jaw, then your tongue, etc., on down.
- Keep breathing.
- After you reach your toes, imagine that you’re at the top of a long staircase, and at the bottom of the staircase is a place you associate with complete relaxation. It can be beach, it can be your favorite couch — anywhere, so long as you find that place relaxing.
- Slowly imagine descending the staircase until you reach that location, breathing calmly all the way down.
This little meditation exercise works for two reasons. First, it’ll get you out of your head. And second, it’ll send a signal to your body that it’s time for rest.
Another thing you should do is establish a pre-sleep ritual you start about an hour before bed. First, turn off your phone, not only because the blue light signals to the brain that it’s daytime, but because emails heighten your stress levels. Next, dim the lights. If you don’t have dimmers, consider buying LED lights, like HUE, which you can program to dim at a certain time every night. Then do some light stretching. A couple forward folds followed by a supported chest opener and a child’s pose. Should take about 10-15 minutes.
If you’ve had a stressful day and your mind is racing, jot your thoughts down in a notebook. Journaling may be hokey, but it lets your brain put things to rest. Also, try practicing a little gratitude. Listing two to three things you’re grateful for will make you feel good.
Then, read a book. No TV (blue light) — a book.