Quiet Your Mind for Better Sleep
You've been busy all day, hopping from one thing to the next. Your mind and body feel tired, and you are eager for sleep. Your surroundings are calm and quiet, the day's distractions are gone, but for some reason you can't convince your mind to turn off.
If you read our blog post earlier this week, you learned some practical considerations for preparing for a good night's rest. We discussed several physical and environmental ways to improve your sleep habits. This blog post is geared more towards people who struggle to tame the "monkey mind" at night. If you find yourself losing sleep due to a stream of thoughts, worries, or an otherwise active mind, you've come to the right place.
Schedule a Worry Time
Once things quiet down at night, you'll be left with unprocessed and unresolved thoughts. One simple solution is to intentionally carve out time during the day to address any worries or issues that may come up. Implement a daily "check-in" to identify, list, and problem solve known stressors. You can utilize a journal to process independently, or you can ask a trusted individual to process it out loud. Schedule this time far enough away from your bedtime, like late afternoon or early evening at latest.
"Let it Go" Visualization Exercise
As you are working through your "worry time," you will notice that some of your problems have more obvious, actionable solutions. Unfortunately, not every concern you face will be so simple. In some cases, the "resolution" may be to release the worry, to let it go. Sometimes you'll need to let it go for the evening, and promise yourself to pick it back up tomorrow. Sometimes you'll need to let it go indefinitely.
In order to release the worry, create a visual representation that resonates with you.
Envision the worry drifting by like a cloud in the sky.
Envision the worry moving like water down a stream.
Mentally place the worry in a railroad car, and envision it disappearing down the track.
If you remember our "filing cabinet" visual in our blog post on redirecting thoughts, imagine closing the drawer on this worry or concern.
Replace Activating Thoughts
Remember, your amygdala has adapted to protect you. It scans your environment for danger, and sends a message to your body to be on alert if it doesn't think you are safe. If you are thinking anxious, fearful, or otherwise activating thoughts, your amygdala isn't going to let you sleep. You need to have relaxing thoughts in order for your amygdala to allow your body fall asleep. Listen to audio-books or relaxing music to combat the anxiety-provoking thoughts. I tell my clients that distraction isn't an "always" tool, but it is a "sometimes" tool, and this is one of those cases that I believe in allowing your mind to be distracted.
Meditation and Relaxation Exercises
Mindful meditation focuses your mind on your breath and body in the present moment. Meditation evokes the body's relaxation response, creating a physiological shift in your body. Again, with a mindful shift back to the present moment, you are intentionally guiding your mind away from ruminations on the past or worries about the future. Deep relaxation exercises also trigger your para-sympathetic nervous system, or the "rest and digest" system in your body. Both of these help prepare your mind and body for rest.
Guided meditations. Apps like Calm have specific sleep meditations.
Yoga. There are many options out there, but Yoga With Adriene is free on YouTube, and she has several wind-down, bed-time yoga exercises.
Progressive muscle relaxation or passive muscle relaxation.
Deep breathing exercises.
Guided imagery- envision a scenery that you find to be relaxation-inducing and calming.
Your "homework" is to pick one of these techniques and try it the next time your "monkey mind" is taking over!
We'd love to hear your thoughts! Which exercises have you tried before? Which ones have you found helpful? Which ones are you interested in trying this week?
Carrie Nicholes is a Maryland Board approved Licensed Certified Social Worker - Clinical (LCSW-C) and the founder of Cedar Counseling & Wellness. Recognized as one of the top therapists in Annapolis, she has a lifelong passion for teaching people tools to improve their lives.