Learning how to rest our overactive brains for better sleep
Getting a good night’s sleep is a challenge for many of us. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve laid awake tossing and turning at night – finding no sleep at all. Whether it’s work stress, anxiety about my kids or wondering if I remembered to feed the dogs, the wheels in my head are always spinning.
Over the years, I’ve found the best way to a peaceful slumber is through meditation. I have been deeply changed by my meditation practice, and it has given me incredible benefits. I know when I’m well rested, I’m much more pleasant to live with – at least that’s what my family tells me.
Here are three effective techniques I’ve learned along the way for better sleep:
1. Reduce the stress you’re experiencing during the day
Are you used to operating at hyper-speed? Always on-the-go? What you do during the day affects your rest at night.
The human nervous system can’t differentiate between a real threat to our safety or something we see on TV, for example. If we are constantly striving or overstimulated, our bodies change physiologically, and we experience physical and emotional stress. When we allow ourselves to stay in this stressed-out state for prolonged periods of time, our bodies eventually think that is our normal state of being. This burns us out and sets us up for all kinds of stress-related health problems, including difficulty sleeping.
Identify one negative thought that is keeping you up. It could be feeling unhappy with your job or disappointed that the house isn’t tidy. Match that thought with a positive reflection that focuses on what you are blessed with: “I am grateful that I have a stable job” or “I am grateful that I have a safe and comfortable home.” Continue to feel deep thanks for a few moments and observe your worries melting away, as you appreciate all that you have.
2. When your mind starts to wander, bring your awareness back to your breath
By focusing on the physical sensation of breathing, you will naturally enter a more peaceful state and eventually better sleep. The simple act of inhaling and exhaling will help calm your body and relax your mind.
Feel the sensation of the air moving in and out, and notice your body rising and falling with each breath. When you notice your mind wander, observe the thought and let it go. Bring your attention back to the breath. Repeat as often as you need.
3. Give yourself permission to let go of expectation
Meditation doesn’t need to be a strict practice – you don’t have to sit cross-legged or in lotus pose for hours on end. All you need is a quiet space to simply sit and be still, and allow yourself to be in the present.
For me meditation is whatever I want it to be: taking three deep breaths; a cycling class that plays loud music and carries me away in the melody; a walk in the park where I become immersed in the beauty of nature and everything in my life gets put into perspective.