Everybody wants AND needs (some more than others) a good night’s sleep! At the same time, some people just sleep well without a hitch, while others struggle to rest well at night.
During the years of my highest anxiety when I was trying out medications, I was prescribed an anti-depressant to be taken at night that was meant to aid in sleep. It did not. Clearly, my body was in too hyper-vigilant a state to respond to that or any of the other anti-anxiety medications that I tried.
My counselor asked me if I had as much fun as everybody else when I was younger and drank and used drugs. I said “No.” She said I was a “fight-the-effects” drug user, which meant I just couldn’t relax and let it all work for me. That made quite a bit of sense, though it was kind of frightening to realize that I had been that wound up and on edge for my entire life.
My thought was simply that the prescription medications were not what my body or soul wanted. Call it what you will, it was obvious that I had to find other ways to get better, and even though it felt extremely bleak at the time, I still trusted that I would be shown the way.
I learned that I was not completely without control of the situation, which is an important thing for anyone with anxiety to realize. I found out that I could control what I was doing and thinking in ways that would bring me relief. Getting better rest at night would surely be essential in making daily life more calm. I had to look at what I was doing and make some new rules for nighttime.
If you look carefully and honestly at what you are doing and thinking in the evenings, you should be able to make new rules for yourself (and follow them) that will help to ease the situation. I will list some of the changes that I have made. As always, remember not to cause overwhelm to yourself by trying to make too many changes at once. It may be best to pick one or two ideas and work with them for awhile. Also, as I always say: Try it long enough to see if it works. Don’t give up if the results aren’t instant. I had to frequently ask myself how much I really wanted to feel better to find the motivation to persevere.
Suggested New Rules for Bedtime
~ Wind down for at least two hours, if possible, before you will go to bed. It is hard for the body to go from “full speed ahead” to a resting state instantly. Winding down might include reading (see below) or watching some television -maybe some comedy, nature, or other show or movie of interest – not suspenseful or high action in nature, and surely not the news. If you insist on getting the news (and I have learned that living without the news is a very peaceful way of life), perhaps try hearing the news earlier in the day so you have time to slough it off and lead your mind in a more peaceful direction as the day goes on. Then again, if thinking about the state of the world and all the misery the news has brought to you is what keeps you awake, you may consider avoiding it altogether. I just trust that anything that I really need to know will come to me. Ask yourself this question: “What is more important, my peace of mind and quality of life, or obsessing on things I can do nothing about?”
During winding down time, you are “off the clock.” Say it to yourself: “I am off the clock,” maybe from dinner time on. This means that all of that I-gotta-take-care-of stuff waits until tomorrow. Anyone who makes requests of you (including your own mind) will need to learn to make them earlier in the day. This is a totally reasonable boundary to have. If your mind won’t stop on what needs to be done, write those things down on tomorrow’s list, knowing that you will see them, and that it is alright to forget about it all for now. You can say exactly those words to yourself: “It is OK to forget about all of that for now.” This may be a scary thought, and might even feel a bit irresponsible at first, since the belief that you are responsible for every thing every minute might nag. If it helps, give it all to a Higher Power of your understanding, whatever your concept of that might be. Just knowing that something more powerful than yourself will tend to all of it while you rest is comforting in itself.
~ Stop looking at the clock. Once you set the alarm and get into bed, there is no good reason to look at the clock, even if you wake up in the middle of the night to use the restroom or turn over. The alarm will wake you up. I suggest using a good old-fashioned alarm clock and leaving the phone in another room on vibrate or silent.
Think about it. Looking at the clock, for me, just starts my head thinking about the fact that I am not asleep. I start doing the math. Anxiety mind takes over. “Looks like I will only be getting 4 hours of sleep or less. Tomorrow will be a crappy day for sure. It will all be horrible. Work will suck. I will be in a fog. I have those appointments, and I will be dragging my way through the day.” And on, and on, and on.
~ No getting out of bed unless you need to go to the restroom or desperately need a drink or snack (I actually keep a bottle of water and a banana at bedside so that I don’t have to get up, walk around, and turn on lights to access them).
No laptop (unless you are listening to relaxation audios/videos). Same with the phone. For some people, the very vibrations put out by these devices may be enough to disturb your rest. It is sometimes better to just leave them out of the room.
Close your eyes. (No one has ever fallen asleep with their eyes open).
~ Reading – I like reading. The problem that I had and discovered, however, was that I was reading self-help, psychology, healing and spiritual practices, and thinking intently about how they applied to me or what I could do to use the information (I was not really putting myself “off the clock”). This was not the way for me to relax. Up until that point, I had a rule that reading fiction was a waste of time. I came to believe, however, that reading fiction (again, not suspenseful or scary) was a good way to get into another story other than the one anxiety mind was telling me. I began reading only fiction at night in 2001, and have been doing so ever since.
The Main Rule
Here’s the most important rule of all:
Focus on relaxing rather than falling asleep. Worrying about sleeping will only increase the tension and make it harder to allow sleep to come.
Start out with relaxation breathing. If you practice this breathing during the day, it will come much easier at night. Remember, the more you practice conscious breaths and create a relaxation response in your body, the more effective they will be.
Breathe from deep in your belly. Place your attention around your navel rather than high in your chest. Slooooowly inhale and count slowly: one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three, one thousand four. Then exhale slooooowly through pursed lips, again counting. It really doesn’t matter how many counts you use, just so the main focus in on the exhale and letting go of everything as the breath leaves your body. You will find a counting rhythm that works for you.
As your body begins to relax, you can anchor this feeling into your energetic memory by touching your thumb and pointer finger together, then thumb and middle finger, thumb and ring finger, and thumb and pinky finger. Do one finger change with each breath. This is a very relaxing practice, as well as helping your body remember what relaxation feels like.
New Script for a Peaceful Sleep
Here’s the new rule. The focus is now on relaxing. Forget about falling asleep. This is an opportunity to practice relaxation breathing and comforting self-talk.
Forget about tomorrow. You have probably made it through plenty of days with little sleep, and you will make it again, whether you sleep or not.
Let’s focus on this new inner script and let tomorrow take care of itself. Find the examples that you feel will work for you. You might think of some of your own affirmations based on what your personal anxiety mind is telling you when your sleep is disturbed. If you just pick two or three, you can memorize them and repeat them slowly over and over in your mind like a mantra. You can even make a recording of your own voice saying them with some of your favorite relaxing music in the background, inserting reminders to take deep belly breaths.
- I AM calm
- I AM peaceful
- I AM relaxed
- I AM safe
- Everything can wait until tomorrow
- Tomorrow will work out fine
- I will focus on relaxing (place your awareness on different parts of your body such as your neck or lower back, and send the message “relax” to them).
- I will use this time to affirm positive things and be grateful
- I AM focused on my progress
- I AM getting better and better at relaxing my body
- I allow my body to rest
Simply focusing on gratitude can be a great path on which to redirect your mind. Even in the most dire of circumstances, people have found something to be grateful for and the practice has made a difference. What we focus on expands. After a harrowing period of time with my teeth, I remember closing each day with,”I am grateful for no tooth pain.”
Gratitude can spread much further than you might believe, and as I said, it is a wonderful way to turn anxiety mind to a positive channel. Gratitude practiced enough becomes a habit and an attitude. Almost every morning when I am reaching into the cupboard for a tea mug, I think about how grateful I am that I can use my arms. This gratitude for my arms grew even larger after I had a surgery on my neck where the moving of some major nerves resulted in a limited range of motion in my shoulder for several weeks until I rehabilitated it. I have experienced limited ability in my shoulder, so the full range of motion that I have is a really big deal to me now.
I can be grateful for every organ in my body functioning well. I can be grateful for all of my children, regardless of what their lives may be like at any given time. Most often, I am grateful for my warm home and cuddly bed.
A Simple One
Something simple and easy to remember is often the best choice for a noisy inner environment.
Here is the three sentence script I have used the most over the years: My body is strong and healthy. My mind is clear and focused. My mind is quiet now.
Other Practices – Worth a Try!
I have come to believe that the old idea about counting sheep had some substance to it. Slowly counting while imagining sheep or any other animal or object passing by is somewhat meditative and can surely still the mind. Most importantly, remember to count slowly, and do it in concert with your relaxation breathing.
My trouble with sleeping was how frequently I woke up. At the time, it was around every 2 hours, with luck. When I first began learning about anti-anxiety practices, I started using a cassette (yes it was that long ago) tape by Denise Linn that was entirely an initial breathing practice followed by positive affirmations of all kinds. I would put the cassette player on continuous play and keep it going all through the night.
Another favorite that I discovered and still use sometimes was by Dr. Luann Oaks from her “Sound Health, Sound Wealth” program. The program is based on using layers of sound to heal, but there is a one hour program that is targeted toward sleep. Like many other audios, it employs positive affirmations and relaxation suggestions. I have it on my ipod and put it on continuous play, then usually turn it off at my first bathroom wake-up call unless I need it to return to sleep.
There are many video and audio aids available online. Lots of short and long meditations exist just on YouTube. A little exploration should help you find what you need. Of course, you will have to take an electronic device to bed for this, or you could choose to listen to the relaxation program and then get into bed. Remember, you have lots of options.
Have a Little Faith and “Crack On”
I sincerely hope that you have found a piece of two of the puzzle here that may help you on your way. I can tell you that dedicated use of these things has made it possible for me to sleep well almost all of the time and be free from anxiety most days. I encourage you to pick and choose the ideas that might fit your situation. Please feel free to share the ideas with your friends as well; sharing information is always a help to all of us.
Try to keep in mind that our main objective is to stop overwhelming ourselves. It is okay for change to come in baby steps. Pick one thing and try it long enough to see if it works. I send my prayers for your progress.
I AM yours in service. Cheers!