Today is the 2nd day of a week of posts about simple sleep strategies.
Meet Otis, our Tibetan Terrier. He’s going to help me demonstrate some of the concepts I am writing about. He’s a wonderful dog, and I must say he seems to have a very strong circadian rhythm 🙂 Plays hard and sleeps hard!
Can’t fall asleep if you’re not relaxed, right? There are a million ways to relax, breathe, stretch, read, pray, meditate, talk, etc. Maybe listen to some peaceful music. Go outside and look at the stars. For good sleep, keep things low light, low noise and low tech. As you relax, allow your natural sleepiness to engulf you. How about a warm soak to mellow you out? It can be a great way to release physical stress and tension. However, like exercise, a warm soak increases your body temperature, so it may work best at least a couple of hours before bed to give you time to cool down.
Worry a lot at night? About all sorts of things? Like if someone might steal your tennis ball? Or even worry about not sleeping? Deal with that racing mind with some mental organizing during the day. Make a “worry list”. Get a pad of paper, jot down some worries, then jot down a couple of possible solutions to each worry. Keep them simple and practical. If you are worried about your finances, don’t put down that you are going to start playing the lottery every day, or that you’re going to start a Ponzi scheme and invite all your friends to join! Again, simple and practical. How about committing to reviewing your expenses and saving $10 next month on something? Put the list away and then at bedtime remind yourself that you already did some really good worrying! Then, most importantly, knock off one of your worry solutions the next day. With worries literally off your mind (and onto paper), you can then think about more pleasant things at night (see “Distractions” below).
Had a difficult time explaining this concept to Otis, so I like to imagine he is fondly remembering his puppy-hood with his big buddy, Gus!
For you, with worries off your mind and your body relaxed, all there is to do to fall asleep is to distract yourself. Good sleepers, when asked how they fall asleep so easily, often say they don’t try. They just let go – let everything go, both physically and mentally. But, as you know, you must think about something when you go to bed. Clearly, thinking about anything stressful is not advised. But in my experience working with insomnia patients, an active approach can be very effective. Humans have this amazing ability to recall events in great detail, so choose an event or experience that was really great: a wonderful vacation you once had, part of a book or movie you like, or a visit with an old friend as some examples. Get out an old photo album after dinner and jog your memory. Then take one of those images to bed and replay it in your mind. You can be as creative and detailed as you want – it’s your brain after all! Want to visit Paris after reading an article in a travel magazine? Sure! How about taking along an interesting historical figure with you too. And hey, who says you have to fly coach? Book your seat in First Class… you get the idea.
Distraction can be fun! If you want to count sheep go ahead. That just sounds really torturous.
So what’s most important to you for getting to sleep or back to sleep: reducing worry, relaxing, or distracting yourself?
I normally don’t have trouble falling asleep, but sometimes, usually on a Sunday night if I didn’t get much exercise that day I will lay in bed thinking through an idea and dreaming about if for hours! I usually have to get up to get a drink of water (or a spoonful of yogurt if I’m feeling hungry) to kick my mind out of that cycle.
I didn’t know that taking a warm bath increases body temperature and makes it more difficult to fall asleep. Does that hold true to warm showers, too?
“Sunday Night Insomnia” is probably the most common night for everybody to have trouble sleeping. Up late and sleeping in Fri/Sat/Sun can cause it. Best not to stay in bed and worry! Maybe have your snack and read for a while until sleepy again. More on this in Thursday’s post!
A shower tends not to change body temp as much as it is not an immersion. I’ve had some of my insomnia patients try a warm soak before dinner, and it can help!