Sometimes as busy professionals, our thoughts make it very difficult to fall asleep or get back to sleep after we wake up. Thoughts of what we should have done the day before, combined with our next day’s to-do list run through our minds all at once. Sometimes these thoughts trigger anxiety and oftentimes prolong our sleep onset.
No matter the thoughts going on in your mind that contribute to your sleeping difficulty, they don’t have to prevent you from the restful sleep you deserve.
Here are a few techniques I recommend you use to prevent your thoughts from keeping you up at night. Remember, while different thoughts may come, you can choose which thoughts to focus on. You can switch unhealthy thoughts that don’t serve you to healthy ones. Your thoughts DO NOT have to control you!
These techniques will take some practice, but you will gain mastery over your thoughts with time.
1. Distract yourself from your thoughts
Replace your current thoughts with pleasant, calm, or relaxing thoughts. To do any of these, make sure you are comfortable, either laying down or sitting reclined.
If you have been in bed for a while, I suggest getting out of bed for these activities and finding a cozy spot on the floor, in a chair, or a different room.
- Word watch. Think of a short word (e.g., stand). Then, come up with five words that begin with each letter in the word you chose. E.g., five words that start with the letter S, five words beginning with the letter T, etc.
- Imagine if: Think of something soothing, pleasant, relatively uninteresting, and, ideally, unrealistic. For example, imagine being in outer space, floating on flowers, sitting under a palm tree by the beach with sand running through your fingers. The gift of imagination is free, use it!
- Breathwork: There are so many breathing techniques you can choose from. Practice with the different styles and find what works for you. Some examples are belly breathing, box breathing, 4-7-8 breathing, and mindful breathing. The key is to be present and observe each breath slowly as you inhale and exhale. This takes your focus to something intentional and distracts those thoughts.
- Body Scan: The body scan is a gentle relaxation exercise that quiets your thoughts by focusing your attention on your body. The practice starts with some basic diaphragmatic breathing to get you into a calm state. Next, you can focus on a specific body part, for example, your feet, and slowly work your way up. Think about how they feel, their weight and temperature, the feel of your bed clothes on them. Relax while examining all of these details. Change to another body part as needed.
- Tense and relax: This is a process of bringing awareness to different parts of your body and slowly tensing and relaxing. You can start from your foot, tense the muscles by curling up your toes, and hold it for about 10 seconds before releasing. Focus on the feeling you get from the tension and the release. You can then move to the other foot and slowly work your way up different parts of your body.
2. Listen to something dull and relaxing
There are several mindfulness apps and podcasts. I recommended deciding on one before bedtime. This way, you don’t spend time figuring out what works for you, as it could increase your frustration.
Also, if you will be using your phone to play this, make sure you put the night shift mode on to minimize how much light you are exposed to.
I have listed a few here to consider. Alternatively, you could use blue light-blocking glasses. If you wear glasses to read, there are alternatives that can be clipped on to your current reading glasses.
Here are some apps I recommend trying out that provide guided meditation:
Bible App (free): Listen to the audible bible
3. Name the thoughts
This way, you get them from lurking in the shadows and can identify what you want to do with them. Put a descriptive term to those thoughts. Some examples of names are: