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Written by Dawn Bradly – Mental Health Practitioner
So, this morning I woke up at 3:05 am and by 3:45 am I knew that sleep wasn’t coming along anytime soon. So here I am writing this blog about getting back to sleep!
I came down to my study and decided to start tidying up; throwing out old notes, filing new ones and started looking through old folders for any ideas I had come across previously to help drift back off to sleep – not easy when your mind has started turning cartwheels in the depths of the night.
So, when you’re desperate to drop back off, here are five helpful tips to get your head back on the pillow.
In the days when I used to have trouble sleeping (this sleepless night isn’t a regular occurrence for me!) I always kept a notebook and pen next to my bed and before I switched off the light; I’d dump everything that was on my mind down on the page. Thoughts, feelings, to-do lists for the morning. And this was usually enough to clear my mind and get me off to sleep. It was also handy if I woke up in the middle of the night worrying about something or feeling anxious that I had to remember to do something in the morning – I’d simply write it down in the book and that was enough to soothe the worries.
I was taught this technique on a resilience coaching course I was on. Our brain can’t focus on more than one thing so doing this boring, repetitive task allows our brain to concentrate only on this and not on worries or thoughts. When you’re laying in bed, close your eyes and picture a large old-fashioned blackboard, chalk and duster (a whiteboard and marker will do, too). With your eyes closed, picture in your mind you standing facing this big blackboard and writing the number 100 in as large writing as you can. Now using the duster, picture yourself slowly rubbing out this number from left to right, left to right until the large numbers are gone (this rubbing out of the numbers mimics REM’s-our rapid eye movements that we make during sleep). Now repeat by writing the number 99 on the blackboard as large as you can and using the duster in a left to right movement until that too has gone. Now write the number 98, and keep going until you fall asleep or reach zero and begin again – and I guarantee with practice you will drop off back to sleep very quickly.
I practice Mindfulness and I always (usually!) find that when I wake up in the night or if my head is still busy when I go to bed, focusing on my breath quietens my mind and I drift off. When you’re laying in bed with your eyes closed, concentrate on visualising your breath slowly coming in through your nostrils, down the back of your throat, down past the chest and into the belly, where you will feel your tummy expand. Then visualise your breath coming back up from the belly, up through the chest, the back of the throat and back out through the nostrils. Keep focusing on the breath and you will find your mind quietens, your breath will slow into a gentle rhythm and you will drift off to sleep.
Think about how many times you have been carried easily from wakefulness into sleep, as easily as a leaf floating on a gentle river. Like this river that has a set course, a part of you already knows the way to restful sleep. Imagine yourself being carried on that safe and gentle current into deep, deep rest and finally sleep.
You can give this a go by yourself or, if you find it difficult to place yourself fully in your special place, you can download an app that has guided visualisations.
Before you begin, think of a place where you feel deeply relaxed, calm and safe. It could be laying on a lounger on a beach with the hot sun warming you, it could be out for a walk in a forest with the sounds of the leaves rustling in the breeze or it could be out on your favourite cycling or running route where you feel the sun on your face and a sense of freedom as you get into your rhythm.
Close your eyes and imagine being in that place where you feel so relaxed. What do you see in that special place? Look around you and notice everything you can see, everything you can hear and any smells. Reach out and touch things as you go by. Feel the warmth of the sun on your body, or the cool of the breeze as you walk around. You are in charge of how warm or cool it is, how blue the sky is, how loud or soft you can hear things around you. As you relax in this place, feel any tension in your body just melt away.
Visualise this for 5-10 minutes and you will feel your whole body relax and your mind switch off from worries or thoughts, which will help you to drift off into sleep.
So, if you are someone who regularly finds it difficult to switch off or who wakes in the night it’s worth giving these techniques a try. And remember that it can take a bit of trial and error for you to find the one that works for you, but it’s well worth it to get a decent night’s sleep.
I’m back off to bed – which technique shall I try?