The room is dark, aside from the moonlight softly illuminating the window blinds. Not a sound – from outside the home or inside – disturbs the tranquility. A perfect setting for a refreshing slumber.
But here you are – lying awake.
Your eyes are staring at the ceiling, thoughts racing through your mind. Everything from the day’s activities through unfinished tasks to future worries is flying around and around inside your head, like an abysmal vortex. If you close your eyes, that internal hurricane only gets worse.
Steps You Can Take to Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Make Time to Think – Daily
- Schedule 20-30 minutes of uninterrupted time at the end of each day to contemplate events, address worries, and solve problems. For some people it works best to do this right before going to bed.
- Take a piece of paper and make a list of all your worries and problems. Openly write about what bothers you and what challenges you’re facing. Explore your deepest feelings about these issues, and then list the steps you need to take to solve them. When your time is up, fold the paper in half and put it away.
- Write about your accomplishments and what you were grateful for during the day. This can calm your thoughts, be uplifting, and prepare you for sleep time with a positive mindset.
Focus on the Here and Now
- Keep your thoughts in the present moment, not on worries about the future and ruminations about the past. Focus on your breathing, on the sound and the feel of the air going in and out of your lungs. Think about how each and every muscle slowly relaxes when you practice deep breathing. Focus so much on your body that other thoughts begin to fade.
- Practice mindfulness. Observe your thoughts without judging them, put each of them on a cloud, and watch them float off and out of your mind.
Engage Your Imagination
- Counting sheep doesn’t work for everyone. Find alternatives to avoid unwanted thoughts.
- Exercise your imagination and make up a story with interesting characters and an absorbing plot – possibly based on something you saw, read, or like doing. Make it so fascinating that it will hold your interest, but not so exciting that it will keep you awake. Conjure up images and details that are vivid enough to compete with any other thoughts.
Challenge Your Thoughts
- Letting go of unrealistic beliefs about sleep can help you avoid feeling more anxious. For example, it is believed that an adult should get 8 hours of sleep a night, but the reality is that sleep quality is much more important than sleep quantity.
- Challenge the validity of your worries or replace troublesome thoughts with pleasant memories, specifically those you had when you were up long into the night at one time or another. Maybe you were out with friends having fun or you spent a romantic evening with someone you love. Go back to that memory, hold on to it and the feeling it gave you, and relish the pleasant experience.
Retrain Your Brain
- Avoid watching TV, texting, or talking on the phone while lying in bed to help your brain associate bed with sleep. Go to bed only when you are sleepy and get up at the same time everyday. This will train your body’s inner clock.
- If you are in bed and having racing thoughts for more than 15 minutes, you need to get up and leave the room. But don’t do things that make you more awake. When your thoughts have calmed down, go back to bed. It will take a while to retrain your brain, but the effort is well worth it.