We’ve all been there at one time or another: tossing and turning, punching the pillow, flopping back on the bed and glaring at the ceiling in frustration. Why is it that, no matter how tired we are, sometimes we just cannot get to sleep? It happens to everyone at some point in their lives; insomnia strikes, and you’re left sleepless and irritable, when what you really wish for is a deep, restful, and restorative sleep.
But what, exactly, is insomnia?
Insomnia (in-SOM-ne-ah) is a common sleep disorder. People who have insomnia have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or both. As a result, they may get too little sleep or have poor-quality sleep. They may not feel refreshed when they wake up. – National Heart Lung and Blood Institute: “What is insomnia?”
Insomnia can strike anyone at any time, and it often does. In fact, an estimated 58% of adults in America report having trouble sleeping a couple of times a week, according to SoundMindz.org.
So what do you do if you’re one of the 58%? How do you overcome it?
Following are three meditation/hypnotherapy techniques I I learned from nurses in charge of the Wellness First Center for Integrative Medicine at York Hospital in Maine over ten years ago. They are amazingly effective…when I remember to do them!
Give any, or all, of them a try the next time you find yourself tossing and turning. Any one of them could be the key to helping you fall asleep, or to even avoiding insomnia altogether.
1) Tense and Relax – Lie on your back in bed, and make yourself as comfortable as you can. Close your eyes, and focus on breathing calmly and slowly…don’t hold your breath! Starting with your head, neck, and shoulders, slowly clench your muscles tight. Try to hold the clenched position for about ten seconds, and then slowly relax the muscles. Try to keep your focus on your breath and muscles; if you find yourself worrying about whether it will work, or stressing over how long it’s taking, gently guide your thoughts back to your breath. Continue this process all the way down your body until you get to your feet. You don’t need to do specific muscle groups in a specific order, but if you like having a particular set of instructions to follow, you can try the Progressive Muscle Relaxation techniques found at the American Medial Student Association’s website.
2) Thoughts in a Box – If you’re like me, and you sometimes have trouble turning your brain off at night, you have probably found yourself thinking obsessively instead of sleeping well into the wee hours of the morning. It can be difficult to shut those thoughts down, but boxing them up helps to calm your brain so that you can get to sleep. This is how to do it: lie down in bed and get comfortable. Close your eyes, then construct, in your imagination, three boxes. For example, mine look suspiciously like those beautiful blue Tiffany’s boxes, with the lids and ribbons tilted off to the side so that the boxes are open. They sit on a blank white background, so there is nothing to distract me from the boxes themselves. Next, in your mind, label one box PAST, one box PRESENT, and one box FUTURE. With those three boxes in your imagination, clear your mind of thoughts, focusing solely on the sound of your breathing. As you lie there, you may notice a stray thought or two start to intrude. Quickly decide if the thought is focused on the past, present, or future, then in your imagination, stuff it into the proper box, and then go back to focusing on your breath. This is actually a great meditation technique, and it works well, so long as you are careful to keep stuffing those boxes. Interestingly, I have found most of my thoughts are focused on present and future; I suppose that makes sense, given that I am a detailed planner. However, it never fails that, when I employ this strategy, I always manage to fall asleep after only five or ten minutes of stuffing boxes.
3) Red Light – This was the first hypnotherapy technique the wellness RNs taught me when I was pregnant with my first daughter, and it’s probably also the most powerful. Its purpose is to help women totally ignore labor pain. When I was taught how to do this trick, the RN in charge of helping me practice was actually able to pinch my hand so hard that I ended up with a bruise, yet all I noticed was a somewhat annoying pressure. It became my favorite sleep trick when I tried practicing it at night, because I quickly realized that I fell asleep too fast to practice it more than a few times. This is what to do: lie down in bed, and get comfortable. Close your eyes, and imagine a room with a clock on the wall, and a switch of your choosing (a button, a flip switch, a light switch, whatever). When you are ready to lie still, imagine flipping the switch; for the next 30 seconds, you may not move a muscle, except to breathe. That means no scratching your nose, no looking at the clock, no readjusting your position. You must lie still until the 30 seconds are up. If you have a hard time determining how long 30 seconds is, try using a timer to train yourself to know how long that is. Eventually, you can use your imaginary clock on the wall to keep track of it. It may sound simplistic, but when you force yourself to lie still and tune out the distractions, you can train your mind to overlook pain, and calm itself to the point of total relaxation. Sleep can quickly follow.
These three strategies–Tense and Relax, Thoughts in a Box, and Red Light–are three strategies you can use to help overcome your insomnia, relaxing yourself enough so that you can finally fall asleep.
The next time you find yourself tossing and turning, give one of them a try. Hopefully you will find yourself waking up the next morning, wondering what happened.
Do you have any special tricks or techniques that you use to help overcome insomnia? If you do, share them here. The more tips we all have, the easier it may be to find our way to Dreamland!