Many of us know the basics of sleep hygiene. We know it helps to have a winding down sleep routine – no stimulating activities like deep conversations or intense screen time before bed. We might have managed our sleeping environment so it is conducive to sleep. The right degree of light, temperature, lack of devices, mattress and pillow. We may avoid stimulants like coffee, soft drink and alcohol before bed. But how do we stop that busy mind in the middle of the night from thinking about work/problems/worries? Here’s our top 5 expert tips to manage your wandering mind for better sleep:
1. Experience the delight of your bed for better sleep
If you think about your bed it’s often the most comfortable place you will find yourself all day! Yet how often do we truly take the time to deeply appreciate it? It’s a place of comfort, warmth and softness. If your bed is managed optimally it is a place where there are no onerous expectations placed upon you. Your primary job is just to get in, get comfy and let go. Try making this a daily mindful practice to be fully present to the wonder of your bed each and every time you find yourself awake in it.
2. Give your mind permission to sleep
Do you ever notice how often your mind is on auto pilot and wanders where ever it chooses? Sometimes it can be a lot! But this is detrimental to quality sleep if your mind has a habit of doing it at bed time. Sometimes your mind needs some guidance like a loving, but firm, parent. After experiencing the delight of your bed, practice coaching your mind that there is no need to think, worry or plan and that now is the time to simply let go and sleep. All thoughts, worries and plans can wait for tomorrow.
3. Capture your thoughts
If you find your mind chewing over and over a problem, worry or concern it may be that your mind is worried that you will forget what it’s thinking about. Perhaps those thoughts are giving rise to actions that you need to follow up on. If you have a pen and paper next to your bed you can capture thoughts and insights that need to be acted on later. This process can help the mind settle. You can then reassure yourself that you don’t need to think any more about it as you have made a note and will follow up tomorrow. Encourage yourself to relax and remind your mind that it can let go and sleep easy now.
4. Recognise you can’t think your way out of worry
The thinking mind is so good at thinking that it tries to think its way out of any issue you can give it. While this problem solving ability can be helpful at certain times, if the mind gets stuck in worrying and ruminating it can be disastrous for our sleep. Once the mind starts cycling over the same thing over and over it’s important to understand that you cannot think your way out of worry. Trying to solve worry with circular thinking is like a hamster running in a wheel. There’s a whole lot of energy expended but you’re not going anywhere! Try capturing the thoughts that need to be acted on and settling the mind like you would soothe a small child. Encourage your mind to relax and let go while deep breathing. Deep breathing can help kick in the body’s natural rest and restore response. Breathe in as long and slowly as you can to fill up all your lungs. Then slowly release every bit of breath until you feel your body contract and collapse a little. Breathe like this for as long as you need to.
5. If all else fails, get up and try again!
It may seem counter intuitive but rather than staying in bed tossing and turning and worrying – get up instead. Tell yourself it is no big deal, you may be a little tired tomorrow but it’s not the end of the world. (And no, it really isn’t!) You just need to catch the next sleep cycle. Put on soft light and make yourself warm and cosy. Do something that isn’t mentally stimulating. Read a book, fold clothes or watch something you can take or leave on TV. Be aware of when you start to feel sleepy as this indicates you’re moving into your next sleep cycle. Once you feel sleepy, quietly get up and go back to bed as if for the first time. Remember to experience the delight of your bed as you get in and let go!