Many years ago when I was a young graphic designer, I was scheduled to travel to a beautiful location in Victoria, B.C. for a photo shoot. Sounds exciting, right?
The night before the trip was a sleepless one due to some nasty stomach pain. I thought I had a gut issue. In the morning I realized I had a relationship issue. It was a reaction to the stress of working with this client.
There is a lot to cover when it comes to the topic of sleep, or not sleeping. I have heard it said that difficulties with sleep are about an inability to let go. We might have racing thoughts, or an inability to relax. We take our stressors to bed with us. (Ha! A little pun there?)
Sleep is a pillar of health not to be ignored. It’s linked to pretty much everything, including obesity and diabetes. The hunger and satiety hormones: insulin, ghrelin and leptin can be totally out of balance without restful and adequate sleep.
What happens during the day impacts what happens at night, unless we deal with it fully, i.e. resolve the problem. That isn’t always possible in short order. So we need to be able to let it go, to relax our mind and body in order for quality sleep to occur.
Of course the many healthy coping strategies for stress as often discussed here and elsewhere also apply to improving your sleep. For now let’s focus on some instant remedies.
Practicing mind and body relaxation techniques, even just for a minute or two, can be helpful. But do them as long as necessary to feel calmer, so you cope better moving forward. The more you practice the more they will serve you.
• Close your eyes and breathe mindfully
• Tune in to the sounds around you
• Notice the feeling of rubbing your hands together lightly
• Take visual awareness of your surroundings.
These short breaks will help you prevent a build up of stress. You are in effect regulating your nervous system when you do so, teaching your brain what it feels like to be calm and relaxed. Visualizing a peaceful scenario can have the same effect.
After many years of practicing meditation the moment I close my eyes relaxed breathing automatically kicks in – day or night.
Once you notice you’re stressed the sooner you intervene the better. Catching your negative thoughts and feelings is a sign to purposely shift to a calm and relaxed state. Try the remedies above, or any other mindful experience of the senses, whatever you can fit in and works for you.
Walking your dog and tuning into the sights, smells and sounds will do you good – and your dog too. What do you think your tail-wagging dog is doing?
Put Away Your Problems
As part of your bedtime routine (hopefully you have one), symbolically take the stressors of the day, or your to-do list, out of your mind and transfer them onto paper. You can also project them into a substitute object that will represent the problem.
Put the paper or the object away for safekeeping, out of the bedroom, until the next day. The problems will be safe there until you’re ready to address them. DO NOT allow yourself to think about them until morning.
While in Your Bed
Make a commitment to not worry, ruminate, make lists or problem-solve. No replaying of the tapes. Your only job and focus is to allow the mind and body to relax. Whenever you catch yourself in unhelpful thought patterns come back to your breath or other anchor of your choosing.
It might help to have some replacement thoughts.
• The comfort of your bed.
• The weight of your head resting on the pillow.
• That your body is being held by the mattress.
• How grateful you are to rest.
• That your breathing is slowing down.
• That you are safe.
• That you are regenerating for tomorrow.
• That you’re doing your body good.
• That your body is letting go.
• That peace and calm are washing over you.
• That you’re slipping away.
• That there is nothing to do but sleep.
If you wake up during the night repeat the process. DO NOT think about your worries, about the next day or anything that isn’t about relaxing. Remember that nothing will get accomplished during the wee hours anyway. You might as well let go.
This is only one specific approach to facilitating sleep. There are many more. Don’t hesitate to get medical or other professional support if you need it. If you’re looking for an art director for a photo shoot, however, keep looking.