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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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