Its 3am, you wake and then that’s when you decide to take on solving the really big worries that are fighting for space in your busy mind. Why!? Why does our mind do this to us. Its so unkind.
Before I know it, I’ve been checking the clock for over ½ an hour and it feels like I’ll never get back to sleep. Then this becomes the distraction; how tired I’m going to be the next day.
Good quality sleep is a big part of enjoying The Full Life and the most common aspect of sleep that I am asked about is “what can I do to calm my busy mind at night time”. There is no 1 size fits all cure but here are 3 tips that I have tested and had good success with.
Why Is My Mind So Busy At Night?
There are a number of reasons why our mind decides to ramp up thinking at night time. Not being a sleep expert I am not the best person to diagnose here but, knowing a thing or two about stress, I can certainly talk to how stress impacts our sleep.
For one, when we have engaged the stress response (also called Fight/Flight) our body and mind have been triggered to protect us from a possible threat. Arguably, staying a wake is pretty critical to fighting or running away from danger. Since many of us go to bed with some level of the stress response engaged it isn’t a stretch to imagine that our bodies are trying to keep us awake – our lives could depend on it!
You might fall asleep quickly out of exhaustion but how often do you then wake and find it nearly impossible to get back to sleep when you are under a lot of stress?
One other explanation comes from my meditation training. Many of my clients experience busy thoughts when they are learning to meditate. Its actually one of the reasons many people stop; they think they are not progressing as the busy thoughts continue. Its such a shame really because the body is actually trying to help you.
Our mind and body are inexplicably connected, they are one. Now I’m not getting all woo-woo on you here; I am simple saying that when you see something that scares you on an emotional level (a slasher movie, the news, an accident) your heart will begin to beat faster; the mind and the body are in constant conversation with each other. When you are holding stress in your body (which so many of us do from our chronically busy lives), often your mind wants to help you to release the stress, to get you back to balance, where it can rest and heal. How do you suppose it burns off stress? You got it, busy thoughts. Your mind and body are actually trying to help you get back to balance. So smart!
This is some of the “why” stress keeps our mind busy. Let’s switch gears and look at a few tips to try and get back to sleep at night.
Calming Your Busy Mind At Night
1.Visualize a repetitive, routine or mundane sequence
Part of the challenge with a busy mind is that the busyness feeds itself; busy thoughts create more busy thoughts and next thing you know, your busy thoughts are reproducing like rabbits! One trick that I find works quite well is visualize a repetitive, routine or mundane sequence. This keeps the mind occupied but almost board and allows it to relax a bit. Let me give you an example; I will begin to imagine myself going through my closet and deciding what I might wear tomorrow. I imagine going through my pants and tops and thinking about the weather and then deciding what would work best, slowly visualizing going through hanger by hanger whatever I can recall. I almost always fall back to sleep before I decide. You could also imagine driving through the city streets at night when there are no other cars on the road, empty streets, lights, closed shops, details around. Its just enough to keep the mind occupied but not super-alert.
2.Om Agasti Shahina (Sanskrit Sleep Mantra)
For the same reason that repeating a mantra over and over in meditation helps to calm our mind it is also an effective way to calm your busy mind at night. As a certified Primordial Sound Meditation Instructor, I am trained in and love to use Sanskrit mantras. The Sanskrit mantra for sleep is Om Agasti Shahina. You would just “silently” repeat this over and over again, allowing the words to be the focal point for your mind. Definitely give this mantra a try but if it doesn’t seem to connect with you, you can repeat any simple words or two; slow….down, slow….down, works really nicely too!
3.Get Up, But Gently
This is my last resort and I only get to this if the other 2 tips don’t work and 20 minutes have passed (“about” 20 minutes, I don’t check the clock as the light can cause you to waken more). I have identified a spot down the hall from our bedroom where I can quietly get up and go if I a just cant get back to sleep. I leave a night light there (although often the moon light is quite bright and very soothing), a pencil and a little note book. Without putting any main lights on, I go to this spot, grab the paper and pencil and jot down the thoughts that are keeping me from sleep. Getting them out of my head really seems to help. I always feel some relief and when I head back to bed I am able to fall asleep again. How long should you write? I suggest no longer than 20 minutes.
There are many aspects to getting a good night’s rest that we could cover as part of The Full Life but for today I really felt this was the best one to begin with.
If you can move through your stressful nights with a little grace, get the shut-eye you need to allow your body and mind to recover and wake fresh to take on the day….well you are definitely living….The Full Life.