This time of year is tough for anxious sleepers. So much to do, so much on the mind. And with the bane of Covid-19, environmental issues, political tension, and travel chaos swirling about, it's a wonder any of us can get any sleep.
If you're anything like me, all you want to do is shut off your brain long enough to doze off and get a restful seven to eight hours so you can tackle the next day. But how?
There are actually a few methods, some rather surprising, that help. I've used a combination of these over the years to great success, and urge you to do the same.
I'd try two or three of the following that fit you the best. Within 10 to 15 minutes, you should be fading into sleep.
- Engage in "box breathing." I've referenced breathing exercises before -- and they work well to calm the nervous system. My favorite is a simple three-three-three-three "box" method. Breathe in three seconds, hold three seconds, breathe out three seconds, hold three seconds, repeat three or four times. While this is designed to calm your nervous system, you'll notice your mind following suit.
- Write down your top three anxieties before bed. Keep a pen and paper handy at your bedside. Right after crawling into bed, write down your top three worries (one sentence each) in a list on the pad. This may seem like an empty action as you're not attempting to address your worries directly, but the mere act of writing them out is cathartic -- kind of like you're leaving them on the pad to pick up the next day (or just drop entirely).
- Stretch for 10 minutes. While some suggest exercise as a good way to get out nervous or anxious energy before bed and calm the mind, I find that it just keeps me awake. Stretching, however -- or engaging in meditative yoga -- for 10 minutes is gently active enough to release lingering anxious energy but also calming enough to quiet the mind. There are many apps you can use to find a good routine, or you can just develop your own -- but make sure you move slowly and intentionally.
- Replace screen time with poetry reading. This may sound cheesy, but it accomplishes two things: It ditches the screen, which prevents the melatonin interference from blue light, and also forces the mind to focus on a single scene, message, or story. It's also relatively short, so you don't feel like you need to rush through to finish. You should be able to read a poem or two in five to 10 minutes, which allows you to swap anxious thoughts for mental images that make dozing off easy.
- Recite a mantra. This also may sound a bit cheesy, but it works because it requires intentionality. Create a mantra that gives you permission to let go of whatever is swirling around in your mind. It can be as simple as, "I let go of today and give myself permission to rest." Or it can be a little more involved and specific. In either case, keep it brief enough that you can repeat it out loud three or four times. If you do this every night, you'll create a habit of letting go that makes "shutting off the brain" much easier.
While I've numbered this list, there's no set order here. Pick the ones that work for you and do them in the order that makes the most sense. Also, I'll note that it's sometimes helpful to change the order or activities to "reset." If you find your ritual is getting stale and unhelpful, switch it up.
Whatever you decide, be consistent and patient -- a quiet mind and a restful night's sleep will come.