Can’t Get to Sleep?
I am very lucky to be one of those people who usually falls asleep as soon as my head touches the pillow. However yesterday sleep totally escaped me as it occasionally does.
So what I have I learned?
- Switch off all electronic devices
I am on holiday and rather foolishly before bed I leisurely checked my emails, read the news online, looked at and posted on social networks and ‘hey presto!’ two hours had flown by and it was past midnight. I liken browsing the internet to a kind of a “time quicksand”, it simply swallows it up.
Research is now clear that electronic devices are noxious to sleep and over stimulate the brain when it is meant to slow down towards rest and sleep. Best to switch everything off at least an hour before bedtime.
- Whatever is going on, mind chattering won’t help.
Afterwards my mind was jumping about like a flee, here, there and everywhere, nothing particularly important but it just wouldn’t settle. I started to go over my return journey. I had done my homework and knew the answers to all my questions but on and on they buzzed like an annoying mosquito. The internal dialogue went something like this: What time should I leave? Would the trains be running on time? Should I allow an extra half hour just to be safe? Yes, it’s better to be safe than sorry. But then I’ll have to wake up at the crack of dawn and be hanging around at the airport for even longer than the required three hours. Should I check the train timetable again because it’s a Sunday? You’ve already done that a few times. Should I take a taxi instead? There’s no need, the subway is probably more reliable than the traffic. Yes, but, but, but… the loop is endless and totally boring. I know I am not alone in this.
I have purposely chosen a trivial example. Our mind can ruminate over the tiniest look we got from somebody at work, a small mistake we made or endless anxiety provoking scenarios in anticipation of a conflict. If the mind chatter is so insistent in those circumstances, just imagine what happens when you are worried about something serious. But even in those circumstances there is usually very little you can do about it in the middle of the night. The likelihood is that you will be thinking more clearly in the morning.
If you are ruminating about wounds inflicted on or by you, going over and over them simply increases your distress and actually does not help the healing process.
Nor do any thoughts of retribution or self criticism pacify you. When we are under attack we go into fight or flight mode. Unfortunately this also happens when the attack comes in the shape of thoughts. In order to sleep we need to be in a rest and digest state.
- So what can be done?
I first tried just to relax, taking a few deep breaths and becoming aware of my body lying on the bed.
I proceeded with a slow body scan, shifting my focus, slowly and gently up from my toes to the top of my head.
I felt more relaxed but still not at all sleepy, just filled with meandering repetitive thoughts.
I decided to have a little chat with my mind. I have found this extremely useful. The brain although incredibly sophisticated and awesome can also be a bit like a hyperactive child with a toy or a puppy with a bone. It just won’t let go and be quiet. In that case I often speak to it kindly and patiently as I would to my child. “That’s all very interesting but it’s time to sleep now. We can talk about it in the morning”. If the thoughts are about trying to solve a problem, again a compassionate and kind voice works best “I know you are trying to help but it’s really not the time now. I can’t really concentrate. Let’s pick it up in the morning, shall we?”
If all else fails, it helps simply to accept the situation with kindness and compassion. “I’m so sorry it is difficult to get to sleep tonight. You will eventually drop off and you are resting in the meantime.”
Wish yourself well and for all you know the next thing you will remember is waking up.
You may well be thinking I’m a little bonkers by now but it works for me, so why not try it out?