Some people say they don’t have trouble sleeping, claiming only to “have an overactive mind” that keeps them awake until the small hours a few days a week. But in reality it’s the same thing. The truth is that the mind shouldn’t be overactive at the time you are preparing to sleep; it should be calm, full of relaxing theta waves and ready to drift off into the land of nod.
You may be one of those people who think a hell of a lot – I’m one too. But this isn’t an excuse for not being able to fall asleep at night. You should be worn out at the end of the day and so mentally tired that you just want to get in bed and close your eyes.
If you have a healthy sleep pattern, your mind should naturally begin to relax as sleep time approaches. The problem is that many of us have forgotten how to fully switch off. In addition to an unhealthy sleep-wake cycle, our brains are plagued by stress, worry and anxiety. making it difficult to fall asleep and causing periods of wakefulness during the night.
Bad Sleep – A Modern Problem
In the modern day there are a number of things that cause our minds to become overactive. Money issues and relationship problems are the two main culprits, another is a heavy workload that we just can’t detach from at night. Often we are really tired, only to get into bed , close our eyes and suddenly feel very awake and unable to stop tossing and turning.
This is a modern problem, though. Our caveman ancestors didn’t have trouble sleeping because of money or relationships issues – although they may have worried to some extent about food supply and shelter. Studies of existing hunter-gatherer communities in the Amazon show that they don’t suffer the same sleep anxiety and insomnia problems that us modern living folk do. The fact is, our sleeping problems have been created by our lifestyle. They are essentially our fault.
The average person has over 50,000 thoughts per day, so it’s not like we aren’t accustomed to thinking a lot. But add to the mix our hugely complicated lives and penchant for overthinking situations and worrying ourselves unnecessarily, and you have the perfect recipe for an overactive mind the moment your head hits the pillow.
Try These Two Simple Sleep Exercises Tonight
Exercise 1 – Deep Breathing:
Meditation and even yoga may still sound slightly ‘new age’ to some, but put any preconceptions aside for a second. Many years ago I would have laughed at the thought of myself doing stretches or breathing exercises before bed, or even listening to a CD of waves washing ashore to relax, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried is the motto for a fulfilling life.
So tonight, half an hour before you start preparing for bed, sit comfortably on a cushion or on your sofa. Close your eyes, sit with your back up straight and deep breathe slowly for a few minutes. Breathe as deeply as you can and exhale very slowly and naturally; just let the air fall out of your nose.
Imagine all your thoughts leaving your mind as you breathe out. Simply focus on the rise and fall of your breath, letting go of all other thoughts as they leave with your exhalation. Do this for as long as you need to in order to completely relax your mind. This exercise is great before bed and at any time during the day when you feel overloaded with excess thoughts, fear, anxiety or general stress.
I often use this deep breathing exercise when in bed if I haven’t fallen asleep within 15 or so minutes.
Exercise 2 – Peaceful Visualisation:
You can also try the following exercise when your mind just won’t stop racing at bedtime.
Close your eyes as you lay on the pillow, and imagine your favourite peaceful place to be. For me this is most certainly a tropical island. I picture every aspect of the calming scenery; the coconut trees, the blue sky, the sea breeze, the white sand. Be as creative and visual as you can. Immerse yourself in the experience and allow yourself to really be in that moment.
I see myself sitting there in the tranquil surroundings, seamlessly part of the picture and content to be alone among paradise. I soon ignore any invasive thoughts and engage my mind with aspects of the island, one by one. Before you know it you will have drifted off to dreamland