We can all relate to a time when we have gone to bed, tucked ourselves in, closed our eyes only to discover that our brains are firing on all cylinders. Thoughts buzzing around our head like a hive of honey bees. We can vaguely sense a caressing veil of tiredness yet the mind will not allow us to let go of the day. Sleep is surrender and an active mind keeps us shackled to consciousness when we are desperate to float away into the land of nod.
If life gets too busy or something has unsettled me during the day my sleep suffers. Bed = ping brain switches on. The problem is that the days distractions stop us from ruminating on all the stuff that needs attention. You hop into bed with no demands or noise and bingo those same thoughts bubble to the surface. With a vengeance. I have tried various ways to calm the nocturnal chatter and can actually overcome it very quickly if its creeps in. These six ways to settle the mind come out on top:
Ok for those of you uncomfortable with or adverse to the concept of meditation, I'm simply suggesting you allow your mind to settle. Imagine a snow globe that is continuously shaken. Those swirling flakes of snow are your thoughts whirling around your brain. Meditation is simply a stillness that allows the flakes to settle to the floor. You can achieve this by sitting or lying still and just remaining aware of what is bouncing around inside your head. You might feel the urge to get up or check your phone or do a job, resist those urges. Simple note the impulse and let it go. Gradually those thoughts lessen and a deep relaxation follows. A calm clarity of mind. If you do a little every day you train the brain to settle down. The thoughts stop quicker with time and you can switch to this mode in bed when trying to sleep.
There is a science behind counting sheep. Doing something simple, rhythmic and repetitive can slow down the monkey mind. It can also induce sleep. You don't have to count sheep repeating a phrase over or imagining numbers being chalked backwards from 100 on a blackboard can work equally well. It has to be simple don't try to figure anything out as this can serve to wake the brain up. Reading something boring can also help to slow the brain down. Have the Encyclopaedia Britannica by the bed it works a treat.
Tell your brain when you are going to worry
This sounds strange but actually works. If you go to bed and your mind gets busy say to yourself 'I am going to worry about this at 9.45am tomorrow'. Be specific and stick to your word. At 9.45am the next day stop what you are doing and think about the things that were attempting to crowd your mind the previous night. Neuroscience tells us that it is nigh on impossible to suppress a thought when actively trying to do so but deferment can work. You are saving your worries until later when you are not trying to get shut eye.
Write down your worries
This is less a deferment technique and more clearing your mind. Often in the quiet and dark the mind can start bubbling like a lava pool. If you spend time earlier in the evening writing down the things that are on your mind it can stop your brain churning them up at midnight. You have brought them to the surface and got them out of your system. You may even come up with some solutions, stopping your mind from trying to figure it all out at silly o clock. If you worry about not finishing the to do list start another one for the morning (see point above) and worry about it tomorrow!
Be aware & wind down.
Don't soldier on all day, ignoring the things that might stop you in your tracks. You won't escape those niggling things. Your brain and body will stop and they emerge, chasing you around the maze of your brain like the ghosts in a game of Pacman. Remain aware of any tension building throughout your day and make time to disperse it as best you can before bedtime. How can you do that? Refer to point one and try some meditation or sitting still without distraction. A good bedtime wind down is a warm bath, chamomile tea, lavender scented body oil, reading a book and watching some easy viewing on the TV (avoid violence, psychological thrillers or the news!). Be kind to yourself and be aware of when you need some extra time to unhook from your day.
The mind can work against you when you overthink but you can also tap into its power to calm your body and brain through visualization. Brain studies have proven that imagining something is happening can bring on beneficial physiological changes. A study at the university of Miami conducted a trial of 13 weeks guided imagery. The outcome was a reduction in cortisol, the stress hormone that causes low mood and anxiety. You can reduce immediate racing thoughts at bedtime through a guided or self-created visualisation. It has to be as clear as possible. Mine is simply imagining a warm orange glowing ball that works its way through the top of my head, calming my thoughts before working its way down to my throat, chest, stomach etc. At each stop it radiates a calming glow that releases tension and allows the area to relax. I rarely get to my toes before drifting off. You can imagine a relaxing place, building a vivid picture that engages as many of the senses as possible.