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Do you lie awake at night focusing on the proverbial dripping faucet, the neighbors barking dog, your spouses snoring? Do you find yourself not being able to let go of the happenings of the day? Most people who deal with insomnia have something that they do when they’re experiencing an inability to sleep. That’s part of the problem.
Sure, there are a ton of things you can do to get yourself to sleep. The bed industry has created whole series of products to help people sleep better. The pharmaceutical industry makes a huge profit off of people’s lack of sleep. There are even foods marketed as sleeping aids from teas to herbal remedies to essential oils and most common (though not particularly helpful) comfort foods such as cookies, pies, and desserts associated to happy times. And, of course, let’s not forget alcohol. Some of these things can be extremely beneficial, like drinking chamomile or Valerian tea, and some, like pharmaceuticals, can be a temporary fix that can cause deeper problems in the long run.
Well, I’m going to throw another solution to helping you sleep; one that goes beyond most of these “band-aid” fixes. Through my years as a hypnotherapist I’ve noticed that people with sleep disorders are most often also professional worriers. Worry is a form of stress and stress, like water, always follows the path of least resistance. If the “weak link” in your personage is sleep then that’s where the worry/stress is going to show itself. It’s your body’s way of processing what your conscious mind isn’t.
In dealing with these things I have my clients follow a two-part process. The first part is what I call your “Sleep Habit” and the second part is what I call your “Mind Habit”. Let’s take a look at these two components of successful sleep.
Sleep Habit - How do you engage in the process of sleep? Creating a sleep habit, a series of behaviors that you actively engage in nightly before going to bed, can be crucial for someone experiencing sleep issues. We teach our pets, and even our children, when it’s time to eat. We have rituals based around what happens before you can even start dinner. Think about it. Even now, you probably have a series of habits that kick in before you dine. In a family situation it might mean washing your hands, setting the table, placing the chairs, turning off (or not) the TV, saying a prayer, etc. Getting ready for bed is no different and consciously creating this pattern makes a huge difference. Write your own script and put in place a pattern that works for you. As you engage in this pattern you will start to notice when you’re following it and when you’re sabotaging the process.
Start about an hour before the time you want to be asleep. Consciously tell yourself, “Okay, it’s time to get ready for bed”. Go wash your hands, brush your teeth, make yourself a cup of tea (caffeine free), or whatever makes you feel good and helps you get in the mind set of getting to bed. When it comes time to get in bed put on some sleeping clothes such as pajamas, underwear, or simply get undresses – however you sleep the best. Many people use the TV as a way to fall asleep. I discourage this as something on TV might agitate you and your subconscious mind (we can talk about that later). Tuck yourself in bed, do some breathing exercises, meditate, even read a chapter of a book. Whatever you do, creating this repetitive process of training yourself to prepare for sleep is a key component of kicking insomnia to the curb.
Mind Habit – This process that I call “Mind Habit” is also a way to prepare you for sleep. Once you’ve created an environment where sleep is possible (your sleep habit) then you can turn your attention to the process of sleeping. Think about it. It took you time to create the habit that you have now of not sleeping, in fact you taught yourself to not sleep quite successfully. Now, let’s teach your mind how to sleep. Let’s start looking at how your mind works when you begin to fall asleep. Does your head hit the pillow and suddenly you’re awake thinking about your day? Just as you’ve trained your mind to focus on everything but sleep, you can also train it to sleep. Your brain is supposed to think. Asking it not to think is like asking your heart not to beat…not a good idea. First, give it permission to do what it does. When we sleep the brains job is to sort through the past day and file away or discard the day’s experiences. It “vents” out stress and anxiety in our dreams and may even relieve extremely upsetting situations through nightmares. These are all good things as they release tension. The challenge is to train our consciousness away from all this processing and to bring our focus to the process of sleep.
Our thoughts are like cars driving by on a busy highway. The goal when we sleep is to simply let them drive by thus blending, flowing, and moving fluidly from one to the other. When we focus on a single thought, like our not being able to sleep or the neighbors barking dog, we are no longer sitting on the side of the road and it’s as if we’ve jumped into the car. We engage that thought and are driving down the road at 100 miles an hour. The mind habit is about learning to take your attention towards sleep and away from thinking about sleeping or all the other stuff. Here are some simple exercises that can help.
1) Body Awareness – This is a simply way to start training your mind and it can be done any time; before bed at work, whenever you have a few minutes to yourself. The idea is to learn to mover your focus and awareness to the different parts of you body. Try it now. Bring your focus and attention to your feet. Visualize, imagine, or think about what it would be like for your conscious awareness to experience the world through your feet. Pay attention to this part of you. Attention is the most powerful gift you can give to anyone and, in this moment, give this to your feet; all those little bones, ligaments, muscles, etc. that make up your feet. Appreciate them. As you are in that part of you notice if you see things differently. Is there a color, sound, warmth, or coolness in your feet? Invite all those parts to become calm and still. What does stillness feel like inside them?
Once you’ve achieved this stillness guide it into your legs and continue the process until you’ve invited your entire body to become calm and still; front to back head to toe.
2) Focus – This is an interesting game that can help you with lots of things in life. For now, use it to get to sleep. I call it the “What’s Under That?” game. If you find your thoughts focusing on something (a person, place, or thing) instead of getting into the situation ask yourself how you feel about this thing you are thinking about? How do you feel? Think about that. Tune into your body and ask it how it feels…remember, it’s not how do you think about something but how you FEEL. Once you know how you feel allow yourself to be inquisitive and ask yourself what’s underneath that feeling? Go down as deep as you can digging into your thoughts and feelings about this thing not what to do about it. That’s one of the ways that your focus can help you to understand what’s truly going on. Once you fall asleep you’ll probably wake up with a clear understanding of whatever it was you were focusing on.
3) Permission – Giving permission to sleep may sound odd but when you can give your mind permission to think while your consciousness sleeps you’re going to vent out stress and anxiety and sleep soundly. Ask your mind to remember what it needs to in the morning and it will. If you feel the need to keep a pad of paper besides your bed go for it. Give permission for your mind to make notes of the important things it reviews through the night, to let go what it doesn’t need, and to remember what it does. This will develop a trust in your mind’s ability to sleep and your conscious Self’s ability rest and remember. With some clients it’s important for them to craft a statement they need to say to themselves before going to sleep. Something like, “I give my self permission to rest, permission for my mind to vent out and file away the day’s activities, and permission for my subconscious mind to have the answers to whatever I need answered in the morning.”
This two-pronged approach has proven extremely successful for dealing with insomnia and sleep issues. It’s simple and it can be totally personalized to your life. You can use whatever you need to sleep but following this process will help you create a sleep pattern that will be healthier and more restful in the long run than anything a pharmaceutical drug does. The best part is that you won’t be relying on an outside source to govern your life. Now that’s freedom.
For more information on Peter or his practice go to CreateYourHealth.com.