Quiet Your Mind for More Sleep

Does the following scenario sound familiar?   You’re really tired and looking forward to getting some shut-eye.  No sooner do you hit the pillow than your mind starts firing off a list of tasks you didn’t take care of, making you anxious about getting them done.  Next thing you know, you’re mulling over that uncomfortable conversation you had with a co-worker that day, thinking how you could have handled it better.  Now you start feeling frustrated because you realize it’s getting late and you’re still not asleep! 

Sleep specialists, Colleen Carney, Ph.D., and Rachel Manber, PhD., explore the reasons behind this type of mental activity in their book, Goodnight Mind:  Turn Off Your Noisy Thoughts & Get a Good Night’s Sleep.  These authors claim that by perpetuating feelings of angst and frustration each time you try to sleep, you are inadvertently training your mind to keep you up and repeat these actions in bed.  Instead of establishing a cue for your bed to be a place for disturbed tossing and turning, it is recommended to establish your bed as a cue for sleepiness.

The following are some suggestions to help quiet your mind so that you can get to sleep more readily.

  • Associate sleep with one particular environment and time (your bed and your desired sleep time, and refrain from taking naps.Plan some type of action to avoid times when you tend to want to nap.The biggest culprit, generally speaking, is during evening hours, watching television.Try sitting up straight rather than lying down or slouching on the couch.Keep busy (folding laundry, knitting or doing some easy exercises) to keep you alert.

  • Avoid activities in bed such as talking on the phone, texting, playing games or watching T.V.Regarding sexual activity, unless you tend to feel sleepy afterward, you’re better off having sex earlier in the day, if possible.

  • Go to bed only when you are genuinely sleepy – not just drained of energy.

  • Develop a specific sleep schedule and follow it on a daily basis.

  • If you find you are having difficulty sleeping, get out of bed and engage in a relaxing activity, not one that will make you more awake.

  • Minimize worrying at bedtime by taking 20 minutes or so during the day to make a list of worries/concerns in one column and their solutions (taken in small steps) in another column.By doing this, you have already dealt with those issues before hitting the pillow.

  • Occupy your mind with another thought such as a story, hobby or relaxing sport to move away from anxious thoughts.

  • Have realistic expectations and beliefs about sleep in terms of the actual amount and quality of sleep that is healthy.Don’t be negative about your ability to get to sleep.Take a more matter-of-fact approach that you may not be able to sleep at that particular moment, so you’ll get up and occupy yourself until you are ready to sleep.

  • Practicing mindfulness can be amazingly helpful – that means focusing on the present.Start with focusing on your body; your breathing, each part of your body, your immediate surroundings, etc.Drs. Carney and Manber tell us,

    “When a thought comes to mind, simply notice it and imagine the words of the thought being written on a leaf. Imagine placing the leaf on a stream and watching it float away until it disappears around a bend. Here comes another thought (leaf). Notice it. Notice the words on the leaf as it floats away. If you notice any negative emotion, accept that it is there; notice it without judgment; gently turn your attention to observing your thoughts once more. Do this as often as necessary; that is, whenever you notice yourself distracted, refocus your attention. If critical thoughts about how this exercise is unfolding arise, put those on leaves too and set them adrift.”

     

 

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