Having trouble sleeping is common. You are not alone. Let’s stay hopeful and overcome this challenge.
Your body is designed to welcome sleep. It needs sleep to rejuvenate and get you ready to have a productive day when you wake up in the morning. You can start by reminding yourself the simple fact that sleep is a natural part of life, and you deserve a restful sleep. Normalizing this process can reduce the anxiety you might have about sleep.
When you are trying to sleep, by focusing on not being able to sleep or reasons behind having trouble sleeping, you probably are not going to fall sleep. When you focus on problems with sleeping, or any upsetting thoughts, you won’t feel relaxed. Such thinking can activate your nervous system and make it harder for you to go to sleep.
Instead of worrying about sleep, let’s create a supportive bedtime ritual. I am going to describe an example of such a ritual that you might find helpful.
As a start, when lying in bed, take a minute and remind yourself of few things you feel grateful about the day you just had. It could be something simple like you feel grateful for having a pleasant lunch with a colleague or having fun playing with your pet. Just a simple reminder of good things you experienced today along with feeling of gratitude is good enough. By practicing gratitude, you are starting your sleep journey on a positive note.
In general, embracing gratitude can help your body and mind shift into a calming state. A daily gratitude practice is a simple way to invite positive emotions into all aspects of your life including sleep.
After practicing gratitude, take a minute or two and give yourself a loving hug. Fold your arms around your body, positioning them in a way that feels comfortable, and squeeze yourself with just enough pressure to feel a pleasant sensation. All you need is just a moment of feeling good because you deserve compassion.
You can try this self-hugging practice anytime you wish because loving yourself is a foundation for loving everything else.
After the gratitude and self-hugging practices, remind yourself you are making a conscious decision to sleep. Affirm the fact that sleep is good for you. Perhaps a part of you might not want to sleep. By telling yourself that you are making a choice to sleep, and you believe a good night sleep is essential for your health, you might be able remove all doubts about not sleeping.
Again, your body is designed to welcome sleep when you need it. Sleep is one of the gifts your body offers you toward good health. So, normalize the sleep process as much as you can.
When you are in bed, instead of focusing on negative self-talk or anything else that might be on your mind, try to connect to your body in a positive way. For example, focus on the support of the mattress that your body is receiving. Our bodies love to feel supported.
By taking a deep breath and bringing your awareness to comfort and the sense of support your body is receiving from the mattress that you are lying on, you can help your nervous system shift to a calmer state. Often the anxiety about not being able to sleep can activate your nervous system and keep you awake.
Your body and mind can work in complete harmony and support your sleep. Focusing on safety, and comfort that you experience in your body, can relax your mind. Give yourself permission to smile when you feel relaxed. The act of a gentle smile can also help you to feel safe and relax before falling sleep.
After practicing this bedtime ritual, just relax and surrender to the wisdom of your body. Again, your body knows how to go to sleep and your mind supports that process. No need to overthink it. Just let yourself drift into a peaceful sleep.
What I just described is one approach to a better sleep. I hope you find it helpful. There are so much more to be said about this topic which I plan to present in upcoming talks.
On a side note, always talk to your physician for any health-related concerns including trouble sleeping. In some cases, there may be underlying medical issues that might contribute to having challenges with sleep, and it is very important to treat those issues.
© Dr. Payam Ghassemlou MFT, Ph.D. is a mental health counselor in private practice in West Hollywood, California. www.DrPayam.com