You’re lying in bed at the end of the day staring at the ceiling. You know you should be asleep right now but you can’t fall asleep. Your mind is racing through what seems like a million things – your job, your relationship, your children, your parents, all the things you should have done today but didn’t, and all the things you know need to get done tomorrow, or next week…
Someone once said that if you count sheep, it will help you fall asleep. If you’re like most people I know, counting sheep could quickly mean counting to 1000! So, what exactly do we do instead?
Tip 1: Put yourself on a schedule. Most of us know that we don’t get enough sleep at night. We wake up groggy some mornings and look at those dark circles under our eyes wondering if and when they’ll ever go away.
The amount of time we spend sleeping is just as important (if not more) than the time we spend awake. So, get yourself on a schedule so that you carve out 7-8 hours of sleeping time. If you’re used to getting 5-6 hours of sleep a night, you will have to readjust things. Maybe you don’t hit the gym before work and carve out time at lunch time or the end of your day. Perhaps you divide and conquer household chores so that the bulk of the responsibility doesn’t fall on you.
The goal is to be consistent with the schedule you set. This may involve taking an inventory of what you do in a given week to figure out patterns in your daily life.
Tip 2: Exercise. A lot of people tell me that they don’t have time to exercise because their schedules are too hectic or busy. When I suggest to try exercising for just 2 days and see how that impacts sleep, most people tell me that they sleep more soundly at night. When we exercise, we burn not only calories but energy and it also acts as a stress reliever. Some people also use any form of cardiovascular activity, such as walking, jogging, running, and biking, as a way of clearing their minds after a long day. Try carving out 20 to 30 minutes a day for some form of exercise. That can be as simple as walking during lunch or playing outside with the kids before dinner.
Tip 3: Write it Down. When we lay in bed thinking, we are allowing our brains to work in overdrive. When this happens, we don’t give our brains the opportunity to calm down so that we can fall asleep.
One strategy is to keep a notebook and pen by your bed. Try writing down in a whatever is on your mind when you get in bed. It can be small things, big things, and anything in between. The goal is to get whatever is on your mind on paper. By putting it on paper, you are giving yourself permission to hit the worry “pause” button. If it’s on paper, it doesn’t have to be in your mind. It’ll be there in the morning if you need to refer back to it.
Tip 4: Limit Technology Before Bed. We’ve heard this one before. We all rely on technology to get through the day. Consider turning off your cell phone and the TV before bed and focus on something relaxing. Take a bath, light some candles, or read a book. Listening to soft music might help here, too. Do something else that allows you to unplug from technology so that you can start to unwind. Beginning this process a half hour before bedtime may be all you need to get your mind and body into a more relaxed state. The more relaxed we are, the easier it is to fall asleep.
Tip 5: Meditate or use Guided Imagery to relax. If exercising before bed keeps you feeling “wired”, try meditating by sitting in a comfortable position and focusing on nothing but your breath. If thoughts go through your mind, let them go without judgment. You can also try meditating while you walk by slowing down your leg strides. When we walk fast, our breathing rate increases, so focus on walking slowly until your breathing is consistent and slower.
Guided imagery can also be helpful as well. Some videos that people use can be found here and here. Of course, there are several more options, so a quick search may help you find one that best fits you.
Tip 6: Seek the help of a professional. When the above strategies do not help with sleep, you may need to rule out a medical cause, such as sleep apnea. Therapy is also helpful in giving people tools to combat ongoing stress that leads to anxiety and worry at night.
Contact me to learn how therapy can help you learn to calm your mind and get some sleep.