Do you have trouble sleeping because you can't stop your buzzing brain from thinking about your business? There are unusual techniques for calming your mind that are surprisingly effective. They work, in part, because they offer a distraction that allows you to release your worries long enough to get some shut-eye. Here are three techniques to try:
1. Start with 4-7-8 breathing.
When you slow down your breathing, you activate your vagus nerve, which sends signals from the brain to the body. During exhalations, it tells your heart to slow down, which helps you relax. Developed by alternative health expert Dr. Andrew Weil?, 4-7-8 breathing is known to help people manage stress, among other health benefits, and drift off to sleep.
Here's how to do it:
1. Exhale all the air from your lungs.
2. Place the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth, right where the ridge of flesh meets your two upper front teeth. Keep it there.
3. Breathe in for a count of four. Hold your breath for a count of seven. Breathe out with a whooshing sound for a count of eight.
4. Repeat the cycle four times. (Don't do more than four.)
Want a demo? Watch this video of Weil performing the technique.
2. Visualize yourself doing something you do well.
Visualization is scientifically proven to help people fall asleep faster. A common technique is to visualize yourself in a peaceful place, like lying on a beach, or see yourself slowly unraveling a ball of string and letting the string pile up at your feet.
These can be effective, but one I find really intriguing is to visualize yourself doing something you're good at. A Reddit user quoted by Buzzfeed says a pitcher who was having trouble sleeping was advised by his coach to visualize himself throwing 10 perfect pitches. You might try picturing yourself teeing off or cooking a favorite dish. It just has to be something you do well and that makes you happy.
3. Tap rhythmically, but lightly, on your legs.
Jim Donovan, sound healer and former drummer for the band Rusted Root, describes this technique in detail in a TEDx Talk. He started using it on himself after people in his drumming workshop kept telling him simple rhythmic drumming was very relaxing.
To start, tap lightly on each leg, alternating between them, at about four taps per second, the speed of a ticking stopwatch. Then add breathing, to a slow count of four on the inhale and four on the exhale. Continue for three minutes, then make the tapping slower and slower for the last 30 seconds.
When you're done, you should feel more relaxed because of the brain's tendency to be drawn in by a rhythmic pattern. It's the same reason you tap your foot while listening to music.
Any of these techniques can be the nudge your brain needs to switch from worrying to winding down. Next time you want to fall asleep faster, give one of them a try.