The Christmas holidays brought me an unusual gift this year.
I shouldn’t be surprised, really. No schools meant a later bedtime routine for the boys, and in turn a later bedtime for me. Watching more TV or spending just that little extra time chatting with friends on my phone in the evenings did wonders for stimulating my brain and getting me all ‘wired up’.
This meant a few nights not being able to sleep until 3am, 4am or even 5am. And when everyone else is sleeping, and you know the children will still get up early, not being able to fall asleep can be very frustrating.
Luckily I had some tricks up my sleeve that I could try and use – mindfulness can indeed help you sleep better. So next time you are struggling to fall asleep, here’s something you can try.
1. Try conscious breathing
The beauty about mindfulness practice is that anyone can start at any time, without having any particular training or experience. Instead of thinking: “If I fall asleep now I’ll get x hours of sleep”, and getting increasingly stressed as you see that amount of hours inevitably reducing, you can actively try and to lower your stress levels by taking some deep breaths. You can count in and out too if that helps, but you don’t have to. What’s important is that you focus on your breathing, and that in itself can have a calming effect on your body and mind.
2. Try a body scan
Our bodies and minds are strongly interlinked. How many times have you experienced a sensation of your stomach being ‘in knots’ when you felt nervous or anxious about something? The thought of an exam or a job interview can trigger emotions, which in turn are ‘felt’ in your body. So if you lay in bed with your eyes closed and your arms by your side, breathe normally and just try and focus your attention on each part of your body. Start with the top of your head and go all the way down to your toes. Do you feel tension? Any pain? Tingling? Just observe those sensations without judgement and try and relax your body, if you can, until it feels heavy, laying on the mattress. You might find that the emotions that were causing your body to tense up start to slowly ease off, and as a consequence your mind feels calmer too.
3. Try a guided meditation
If you’re not familiar with the concept of mindfulness and are unsure as to how to perform a body scan, you can always try a guided meditation and see what that’s like. Try and ensure that it’s one designed to help you sleep, as the words will encourage you to relax and calm your body so that you can, in turn, relax and calm your mind. You can easily find guided meditations on YouTube or simply download an app. Calm, Headspace and Welzen are apps that have worked for me – they all have a free version for you to try without having to subscribe. The voice will guide you through the meditation and help you focus on your breathing and the sensations you are experiencing in your body. Through de-stressing your body, you will find that the mind quiets down too.
4. Try visualisations
Through the Welzen app, I’ve come across the concept of visualisations. A bit like a guided meditation, a mindful visualisation isn’t designed to make you drift off to sleep as such, but it’s about helping you focus on the present moment and slowing your mind down. While you focus on your breathing and noticing any sensations that you are experiencing in your body, the visualisation guides you through a scenario – one that evokes calm and peace. You are invited to imagine pleasant feelings, like the warmth of the sun on your skin or splashing water on your feet. You are encouraged to relax your muscles and let go, and with background soothing sounds throughout, you should find this a good way to ‘power down’ enough to be able to feel asleep more easily.
5. Try a sleep story
The Calm app has a free section on sleep stories, which are designed “to help you fall into a deep and natural sleep”. You have over 20 stories to choose from, so you can try and see what works for you. Each story is about half an hour long and features soothing background music or rhythmic sounds to help you fall asleep more easily. If bedtime stories work for our children, why wouldn’t they work for us adults? These stories are designed to give our minds a transition time from the busyness of the day – they are comforting and meant to help our minds unwind and get ready for sleep. Towards the end of the stories (if you’re still awake), you can actually notice that speech gets softer to help you drift off to sleep naturally. It might not work for everyone, but if you’re struggling to fall asleep, why not give it a go?
Do you ever struggle to fall asleep? What works for you?
*I received complete access to the subscription-based sections of the Welzen app, but all opinions expressed in this post are my own.