Sleeping should be easy—even babies can do it! But for so many people across America today, getting to sleep at night can be an awful experience. Stress, anxiety, and a racing mind can make sleep increasingly elusive in our modern life. We all know that sleeping at night is a critical part of functioning well during the day. Yes, when we lie down at night to fall asleep, it’s just difficult to shut off our brains.
Sleep disturbances are common. Plus, when we can’t sleep but we know that we need to, we find ourselves even more stressed because we know we’ll feel terrible the next day if we don’t get some rest. It can turn into a vicious circle that results in more lost z’s. And if this becomes a perpetual problem, then just the fact that bedtime is approaching can begin to cause anxiety, creating avoidance behavior, tension, and another reason why it’s difficult to fall asleep.
How to Calm Your Mind for Sleep
Aside from a few select people who can fall asleep just about anywhere (narcoleptics, for instance) most people can’t go from 100 miles an hour with a busy schedule to sleeping in a matter of minutes. Our bodies and brains need time to cool down. Rather than living a life that slams on the brakes at midnight, humans function better when we have some time to coast and gently come to a slow crawl instead.
Sleep hygiene is a fancy term for the way we take care of ourselves at bedtime. Practicing healthy sleep hygiene means allowing plenty of time (an hour or two) to wind down, relax, and ease off of the tensions of the day before we really need to be sleeping. This could mean taking a warm bath, reading a non-work-related book, turning off those pesky screens that keep your brain spinning, drinking a cup of herbal tea and any number of other things that are done in order to prepare for a good night of sleep.
5 Ways to Clear Your Mind for Sleep
Experts agree on the fact that relaxing your body and mind is critical for falling asleep. Along those lines, here are five different ways to try clearing your mind so that you can go to sleep better and faster:
1. About an hour before it is time for bed, engage only in activities that can be performed without thinking.
For instance, walking the dog, doing the dishes, taking a bath/shower, or listening to music can all be passively engaged in. This is when you should be avoiding things that require brain power, such as responding to emails, working, or having intense conversations. Any activities that arouse feelings or require a great deal of thought may suppress your natural sleepiness.
2. Practice mindfulness breathing exercises in order to better fall asleep.
As you’re preparing for sleep, get into your bed and get comfortable. Make sure you’ve done everything you need to before bed, such as taking medications, going to the bathroom or brushing your teeth, so that you can fully relax. Turn off (or down) the lights, close your eyes, and intentionally think about relaxing your body. Take a few slow, deep breaths. Turn all of your attention to your natural breathing pattern, while pay attention to how the air feels when it enters and leaves your body. Visualize the way the breath flows down in through your airway, deep into your belly, and back out. As you breathe slowly, scan your body for places that might be particularly tense and visualize your breath reaching those places to provide soothing oxygen. When you exhale, imagine that you are releasing the tension out away from your body and into the world. If your mind begins to wander, gently draw it back to thinking about your breathing.
3. Keep a journal in order to get those worries written down so that they aren’t lingering with you while you try to go to sleep.
Make it a discipline each day (earlier in the day, not just before bedtime) to write for 10-15 minutes about things that are going on in your life that you might be worried about. As you journal, think of things that come to your mind when you’re trying to fall asleep but can’t. Give yourself journaling time to process through these concerns. Then, when you are going to sleep, you can remind yourself that you don’t need to think about those things because you already wrote them in your journal, and you can solve the world’s problems tomorrow.
4. Practice progressive muscle relaxation.
This is a way to not only relax your body, but also to focus on your mind on an activity so that there’s little room for worry and anxiety. Progressive relaxation is simply the process of going through each muscle group, working your way up the body, tensing and then relaxing. Beginning with the toes, on an inhale breath, contract the toe muscles and squeeze as tightly as possible for up to 10 seconds. On your exhale, release the tension suddenly and feel those muscles relax. Then move to the ankles, calves, thighs, and on up the body. During the exercise, focus on how each muscle group feels after you release the tension. Follow up throughout the body and into the face while continuing to inhale and exhale gently but deeply.
5. Distract yourself.
The old adage of counting sheep isn’t far off, although it might take a bit more than that to keep your attention. Try counting backwards from 1000—in increments of 7 or 13. Your brain will have to work just hard enough to focus on the subtraction calculations that there’s no brain power left for stress or anxiety. Another option is to make lists of things that simply don’t matter at all but is slightly interesting to you. For instance, think back on your day and make a list of all of the people you remember seeing wearing the color red. Or consider if you were moving into a mansion in Hollywood, who would you invite to your housewarming party? Something that doesn’t really matter but will keep your mind busy until you fall asleep.
If getting to sleep is troublesome for you, it doesn’t have to be any longer! Practice these anti-insomnia hacks for a better night of sleep that will lead to better tomorrow for you.Your body will be well-rested, your mind will be better focused, and your life will be happier and healthier overall.