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How To Fall Asleep When Stress Creeps Over You At Night

How To Fall Asleep When Stress Creeps Over You At Night

You’re so tired, you can hardly drag yourself through the clean-up from dinner.  By the time 9pm rolls around, you fall into bed, grateful the day is done.

You turn off the light and take a breath.  Finally!  You wait for the sleep to settle over you.

It doesn’t.

Instead of the desperately needed shut-eye, thoughts of the credit card debt you still haven’t paid off begin to nudge your mind.

You roll onto your stomach. You mull over the rumors of upcoming layoffs at work. You flip over your pillow. Those bad headaches you keep getting–could they be a symptom of something worse? You roll to your left.

And then there’s the car’s sporadic engine problems and the unknown cost you imagine it will take to fix it…Your heart picks up its pace and you are now wide awake, filled with dread.

Enough! you shout at yourself. You demand that your brain shut down…but you don’t know what to do to stop these mental invaders. So you grab your phone and click on your Facebook app. Maybe the distraction will help.

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You just sabotaged a good night’s sleep.

I do it, too. In fact, millions of us do it every night. A recent study showed that 75% of us have trouble sleeping 3-4 nights a week. Chronic sleep problems can contribute to cardiac disease, a decrease in immune function, depression, anxiety and weight gain.

Got your attention with that one, didn’t I? Yes, the fat-storing hormone cortisol rises when we do not get enough sleep.

Getting a good night’s sleep is far more important that just being alert when you drive and being sharp when you work. Sleep, or lack of it, directly affects our longevity and quality of life.

Below are 21 effective methods for turning off the endless loop of worry and floating gently into the Land of Nod.

1. Read an instruction manual

Boring is good. Robert Ludlum and Stephen King are bad…at least from the stand point of getting your noggin to quiet down. No new appliances to bone up on? How about a book on nutrition or web design? You want something with no plot, no excitement, just some how-to info and facts.

2. Alphabetize fruit

I have no experience with sheep. I’ve never known anyone who actually counts sheep. (Can they really jump over fences?) So forget the sheep. For monotonous distraction, think of a fruit for each letter of the alphabet. If you make it to Z (good luck finding a fruit starting with X), start over with vegetables.

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3. Use tactical breathing

When I was in the US Army Nurse Corps, I learned all kinds of hacks for keeping your head together when under fire. Tactical breathing is by far the most effective in reducing tension and anxiety, and it works in under 30 seconds. Try it now: Slowly take a long, measured breath in through your nose counting to 4, then hold it for a count of 4. Slowly blow it out through your mouth for a count of 4, and hold your breath for another count of 4. Repeat it one more time: in for 4, hold for 4, out for 4, hold for 4.  Not to get too technical, but the magic here is in holding the breath–it balances the oxygen/carbon dioxide mix in the blood, and that decreases fear while also clearing the mind.

4. Problem-solve or come up with a plan of action

This is my #1 defense against anxiety-driven sleeplessness–I get a pen and paper and I make notes. I write down the thing that has me the most torqued up–maybe it’s an avalanche of tasks that must be done or maybe my company is going to be bought out and it will be time to change jobs. Regardless, I plan out what I’m going to do the next day to move through the unknown. Once that’s done, it’s all there on paper and my mind is empty enough to sleep.

5. Strip

Get out of your night clothes and lie naked between the sheets. Sometimes the wrinkles in pajamas can activate the skin sensors just enough to keep you wakeful. And if you sleep with a partner, is there anything more comforting than the warmth of skin on skin?

6. Take a bath or shower

I cannot stand having sticky, sweaty skin. Since I live in Florida, where we have only two seasons (Summer and Not Summer), I have to shower pretty much every night before bed, because if I don’t, the stickiness keeps me awake…and that can lead to anxious rumination. If showering wakes you up too much, and you have a bathtub, take a bath for just 5-10 min. It will relax you and make your skin feel oh so good.

7. Cool it down

Turn the temperature in your room down enough that you need at least a light blanket. The weight of the blanket helps to calm those skin sensors I mentioned earlier and the cool temperature is more conducive to sound sleep.

8. Clean your room

I’m not saying you should be up scrubbing your floors. All I mean is, tidy things up in your sleeping space. I can’t explain it, but I’ve heard from many of my clients over the years (and I’ve experienced it myself) that having a calm, organized sleeping space helps us to feel calm and organized internally. But (I hear you ask) the room is dark so how can it make any difference? Some say it decreases the energy in the room, but there’s no scientific evidence yet that supports that. Still…that’s how I and many others experience it. So take 5 minutes to tidy things up a bit. What could it hurt?

9. Turn on some white noise

Or put in some ear plugs. Background noise can be irritating at night and that can increase overall anxiety. I’m a big fan of fans. I like the soft white noise they create and I love how they drown out everything else.  Earplugs are a distant second, but are certainly better than listening to the garbage truck roaring down your street at 3am. It’s possible that you’re more sensitive to noises outside than you’re aware, so give it a try.

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10. Put on socks

Cold feet can keep you awake for hours, and warm socks can solve that problem quickly. (Don’t use a heating pad–it can scald you without you realizing it and it’s a fire hazard.)

11. Journal

If you’ve turned your pillow over…and over, and sleep has still kept its distance, call a truce. Turn your light on, grab a notebook or journal, and start writing from the heart. Don’t correct your spelling, don’t work at crafting the perfect sentence. Just get it out. It’s astonishing how far down you can drill into your own hidden thinking by doing this. When you have nothing left to say, put it down and turn off the light. You’ll probably fall asleep within minutes.

12. Practice head to toe progressive relaxation

Start by curling your toes and relaxing them, curling them and then relaxing. Point your feet and relax, point and relax. Move up the body, doing this with every major muscle group, ending with the most important muscle group–the face. Pay especially close attention to relaxing all the muscles in your face, because those muscles are tied directly to your emotions. It’s very tough to be anxious when your face is completely in repose. Try it, you’ll see.

13. Use aromatherapy

Smelling the essential oil of lavender has been shown in multiple research studies to ease emotional distress and promote restful sleep. Anecdotally, others also include lemon balm, peppermint and chamomile as calming agents. Our sense of smell has a lot more to do with health than anyone previous understood, so take a whiff and see what happens.

14. Remake your bed

Kind of like the PJs, wrinkled, disorganized sheets can make it tough to relax. And the National Sleep Foundation says that the scent of fresh, clean sheets helps people fall asleep faster. So, remake your bed…assuming of course that you’re sleeping alone.

15. Spend some time in prayer or mediation

Sitting in bed, back up against the wall, legs crossed or straight out, close your eyes and put all of your attention on your breath. Work at slowing it down, making it measured and full. Spend some time on this. Maybe do some progressive relaxation while continuing to do conscious breathing. As something floats into your thoughts, just tell it you’re a bit busy and will tend to it tomorrow. Imagine yourself surrounded by angels who completely love you and want to guide you to the happiest life possible. Smile when you think of them, thank them for that love and support.  In a few minutes, you may find your head dropping down as you drop off. Again thank them for helping you get the rest you need, and slide down into your comfy bed.

16. Rock yourself gently

Some find that the motion of a rocking chair lulls them to sleep just like a baby. If you don’t have one, sit up in bed and gently rock back and forth with your eyes closed. See if that motion calms you enough to drift off.

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17. Listen to sleep-inducing music on YouTube

There is a treasure trove of wonderfully soothing music in playlist form (some of which play for more than 8 straight hours, if you want to just leave it on all night). Scroll through the options on YouTube to find the perfect one for you. For people who are especially auditory, this can be quite helpful.

18. Sing a lullaby

Hearing music that you used to listen to as a baby can trigger the pre-verbal memories of being safe and warm with love. Sometimes, that’s all it takes to let go for the night.

19. Force yourself to stay awake

Reverse psychology? Maybe, but more likely it’s a way of stopping the panic we feel when we are trying to force ourselves to drift off. And research supports this as a viable way of getting yourself to fall asleep, despite your best efforts to stay awake.

20. Make it dark

Really dark. Remove even the smallest lights from your room. Or wear an eye mask. Light pollution is a real thing and something to take seriously in your bedroom. Those electronic blue lights are the absolute worst for sleep (so maybe you want to buy a new alarm clock?), causing brain stimulation, not relaxation.

21. Just say no…

…to your beloved electronics. Smart phones, Kindles, TVs, laptops…think of them as your sleep enemies.   Their light shoots through the eyes and straight into the center of the brain that controls sleep and wakefulness. It’s the neurological equivalent of downing a Red Bull. And the mental engagement (or shall I say, rabbit hole) that social media hooks us with will blast our brains like an air horn. Smack your hand if you reflexively reach for them

So the next time you’re mind isn’t cooperating with your body’s need for sleep, don’t toss and turn, wasting the night away. Take charge of the situation by trying some of these antidotes, and you’ll grace yourself with a solid night’s rest.

Featured Photo Credit: © Bialasiewicz | Dreamstime.com – Woman Lying In Bed Sleepless Photo

Featured photo credit: http://www.dreamstime.com/bialasiewicz_info via dreamstime.com

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Last Updated on August 20, 2019

How to Control Your Thoughts and Be the Master of Your Mind

How to Control Your Thoughts and Be the Master of Your Mind

Your mind is the most powerful tool you have for the creation of good in your life, but if not used correctly, can also be the most destructive force in your life.

Your mind, more specifically, your thoughts, affect your perception and therefore, your interpretation of reality. (And here’s Why Your Perception Is Your Reality.)

I have heard that the average person thinks around 70,000 thoughts a day. That’s a lot, especially if they are unproductive, self-abusive and just a general waste of energy.

You can let your thoughts run amok, but why would you? It is your mind, your thoughts; isn’t it time to take your power back? Isn’t it time to take control?

Choose to be the person who is actively, consciously thinking your thoughts. Become the master of your mind.

When you change your thoughts, you will change your feelings as well, and you will also eliminate the triggers that set off those feelings. Both of these outcomes provide you with a greater level of peace in your mind.

I currently have few thoughts that are not of my own choosing or a response from my reprogramming. I am the master of my mind, so now my mind is quite peaceful. Yours can be too!

Who Is Thinking My Thoughts?

Before you can become the master of your mind, you must recognize that you are currently at the mercy of several unwanted “squatters” living in your mind, and they are in charge of your thoughts. If you want to be the boss of them, you must know who they are and what their motivation is, and then you can take charge and evict them.

Here are four of the “squatters” in your head that create the most unhealthy and unproductive thoughts:

1. The Inner Critic

This is your constant abuser who is often a conglomeration of:

  • Other people’s words; many times your parents.
  • Thoughts you have created based on your own or other peoples expectations.
  • Comparing yourself to other people, including those in the media.
  • The things you told yourself as a result of painful experiences such as betrayal and rejection. Your interpretation creates your self-doubt and self-blame, which are most likely undeserved in cases of rejection and betrayal.

The Inner Critic is motivated by pain, low self-esteem, lack of self-acceptance and lack of self-love.

Why else would this person abuse you? And since this person is actually you– why else would you abuse yourself? Why would you let anyone treat you this badly?

2. The Worrier

This person lives in the future; in the world of “what ifs.”

The Worrier is motivated by fear which is often irrational and with no basis for it. Occasionally, this person is motivated by fear that what happened in the past will happen again.

3. The Reactor or Trouble-Maker

This is the one that triggers anger, frustration and pain. These triggers stem from unhealed wounds of the past. Any experience that is even closely related to a past wound will set him off.

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This person can be set off by words or feelings, and can even be set off by sounds and smells.

The Reactor has no real motivation and has poor impulse control and is run by past programming that no longer serves you, if it ever did.

4. The Sleep Depriver

This can be a combination of any number of different squatters including the inner planner, the rehasher, and the ruminator, along with the inner critic and the worrier.

The Sleep Depriver’s motivation can be:

  • As a reaction to silence, which he fights against
  • Taking care of the business you neglected during the day
  • Self-doubt, low self-esteem, insecurity and generalized anxiety
  • As listed above for the inner critic and worrier

How can you control these squatters?

How to Master Your Mind

You are the thinker and the observer of your thoughts. You must pay attention to your thoughts so you can identify “who” is running the show; this will determine which technique you will want to use.

Begin each day with the intention of paying attention to your thoughts and catching yourself when you are thinking undesirable thoughts.

There are two ways to control your thoughts:

  • Technique A – Interrupt and replace them
  • Technique B – Eliminate them altogether

This second option is what is known as peace of mind!

The technique of interrupting and replacing is a means of reprogramming your subconscious mind. Eventually, the replacement thoughts will become the “go to” thoughts in the applicable situations.

Use Technique A with the Inner Critic and Worrier; and Technique B with the Reactor and Sleep Depriver.

For the Inner Critic

When you catch yourself thinking something negative about yourself (calling yourself names, disrespecting yourself, or berating yourself), interrupt it.

You can yell (in your mind), “Stop! No!” or, “Enough! I’m in control now.” Then, whatever your negative thought was about yourself, replace it with an opposite or counter thought or an affirmation that begins with “I am.”

For example, if your thought is, “I’m such a loser,” you can replace it with, “I am a Divine Creation of the Universal Spirit. I am a perfect spiritual being learning to master the human experience. I am a being of energy, light, and matter. I am magnificent, brilliant, and beautiful. I love and approve of myself just as I am.”

You can also have a dialogue with yourself with the intention of discrediting the ‘voice’ that created the thought, if you know whose voice it is:

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“Just because so-and-so said I was a loser doesn’t make it true. It was his or her opinion, not a statement of fact. Or maybe they were joking and I took it seriously because I’m insecure.”

If you recognize that you have recurring self-critical thoughts, you can write out or pre-plan your counter thoughts or affirmation so you can be ready. This is the first squatter you should evict, forcefully, if necessary:

  • They rile up the Worrier.
  • The names you call yourself become triggers when called those names by others, so he also maintains the presence of the Reactor.
  • They are often present when you try to fall asleep so he perpetuates the Sleep Depriver.
  • They are a bully and is verbally and emotionally abusive.
  • They are the destroyer of self-esteem. They convince you that you’re not worthy. They’re a liar! In the interest of your self-worth, get them out!

Eliminate your worst critic and you will also diminish the presence of the other three squatters.

Replace them with your new best friends who support, encourage, and enhance your life. This is a presence you want in your mind.

For the Worrier

Prolonged anxiety is mentally, emotionally and physically unhealthy. It can have long-term health implications.

Fear initiates the fight or flight response, creates worry in the mind and creates anxiety in the body.

You should be able to recognize a “worry thought” immediately by how you feel. The physiological signs that the fight or flight response of fear has kicked in are:

  • Increased heart rate, blood pressure, or surge of adrenaline
  • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
  • Muscles tense

Use the above stated method to interrupt any thought of worry and then replace it. But this time you will replace your thoughts of worry with thoughts of gratitude for the outcome you wish for.

If you believe in a higher power, this is the time to engage with it. Here is an example:

Instead of worrying about my loved ones traveling in bad weather, I say the following (I call it a prayer):

“Thank you great spirit for watching over _______. Thank you for watching over his/her car and keeping it safe, road-worthy, and free of maintenance issues without warning. Thank you for surrounding him/her with only safe, conscientious, and alert drivers. And thank you for keeping him/her safe, conscientious, and alert.”

Smile when you think about it or say it aloud, and phrase it in the present tense; both of these will help you feel it and possibly even start to believe it.

If you can visualize what you are praying for, the visualization will enhance the feeling so you will increase the impact in your vibrational field.

Now take a calming breath, slowly in through your nose, and slowly out through the mouth. Take as many as you like!

Replacing fearful thoughts with gratitude will decrease reactionary behavior, taking the steam out of the Reactor.

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For example:

If your child gets lost in the mall, the typical parental reaction that follows the fearful thoughts when finding them is to yell at them.

“I told you never to leave my sight.” This reaction just adds to the child’s fear level from being lost in the first place. Plus, it also teaches them that mom and/or dad will get mad when he or she makes a mistake, which may make them lie to you or not tell you things in the future.

Change those fearful thoughts when they happen:

“Thank You (your choice of Higher Power) for watching over my child and keeping him safe. Thank you for helping me find him soon.”

Then, when you see your child after this thought process, your only reaction will be gratitude, and that seems like a better alternative for all people involved.

For the Trouble-Maker, Reactor or Over-Reactor

Permanently eliminating this squatter will take a bit more attention and reflection after the fact to identify and heal the causes of the triggers; but until then, you can prevent the Reactor from getting out of control by initiating conscious breathing as soon as you recognize his presence.

The Reactor’s thoughts or feelings activate the fight or flight response just like with the Worrier. The physiological signs of his presence will be the same. With a little attention, you should be able to tell the difference between anxiety, anger, frustration, or pain:

  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure; surge of adrenaline
  • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
  • Muscles tension

I’m sure you’ve heard the suggestion to count to ten when you get angry—well, you can make those ten seconds much more productive if you are breathing consciously during that time.

Conscious breathing is as simple as it sounds; just be conscious of your breathing. Pay attention to the air going in and coming out.

Breathe in through your nose:

  • Feel the air entering your nostrils.
  • Feel your lungs filling and expanding.
  • Focus on your belly rising.

Breathe out through your nose:

  • Feel your lungs emptying.
  • Focus on your belly falling.
  • Feel the air exiting your nostrils.

Do this for as long as you like. Leave the situation if you want. This gives the adrenaline time to normalize.

Now you can address the situation with a calmer, more rational perspective and avoid damaging behavior.

One of the troubles this squatter causes is that it adds to the sleep depriver’s issues. By evicting, or at least controlling the Reactor, you will decrease reactionary behavior, which will decrease the need for the rehashing and ruminating that may keep you from falling asleep.

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Master your mind and stop the Reactor from bringing stress to you and your relationships!

For the Sleep Depriver

(They’re made up of the Inner Planner, the Rehasher and the Ruminator, along with the Inner Critic and the Worrier.)

I was plagued with a very common problem: not being able to turn off my mind at bedtime. This inability prevented me from falling asleep and thus, getting a restful and restorative night’s sleep.

Here’s how I mastered my mind and evicted the Sleep Depriver and all his cronies.

  1. I started by focusing on my breathing—paying attention to the rise and fall of my belly—but that didn’t keep the thoughts out for long. (Actually, I now start with checking my at-rest mouth position to keep me from clenching.)
  2. Then I came up with replacement strategy that eliminated uncontrolled thinking—imagining the word in while breathing in and thinking the word out when breathing out. I would (and do) elongate the word to match the length of my breath.

When I catch myself thinking, I shift back to in, out. With this technique, I am still thinking, sort of, but the wheels are no longer spinning out of control. I am in control of my mind and I choose quiet.

From the first time I tried this method I started to yawn after only a few cycles and am usually asleep within ten minutes.

For really difficult nights, I add an increase of attention by holding my eyes in a looking-up position (Closed, of course!). Sometimes I try to look toward my third eye but that really hurts my eyes.

If you have trouble falling asleep because you can’t shut off your mind, I strongly recommend you try this technique. I still use it every night. You can start sleeping better tonight!

You can also use this technique any time you want to:

  • Fall back to sleep if you wake up too soon.
  • Shut down your thinking.
  • Calm your feelings.
  • Simply focus on the present moment. 

The Bottom Line

Your mind is a tool, and like any other tool, it can be used for constructive purposes or for destructive purposes.

You can allow your mind to be occupied by unwanted, undesirable and destructive tenants, or you can choose desirable tenants like peace, gratitude, compassion, love, and joy.

Your mind can become your best friend, your biggest supporter, and someone you can count on to be there and encourage you. The choice is yours!

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Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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