Guest Writer for Wake Up World
If you are reading this we probably have something in common… insomnia.
A 2008 study by the National Sleep Foundation found that 42% of respondents woke up at night at least a few times a week (1). We are not alone in this condition known as “middle of the night insomnia” or “maintenance insomnia”.
Sometimes I’m in bed, realize I’m not dreaming anymore, and then after not falling back to sleep, I look at the clock…. “Ahh!! I still have 2 or 3 hours before I have to get up. Why am I awake?”
Yes, I know that this is not an easy question to answer, and a quick search of the internet will produce a multitude of reasons from I ate too soon before bedtime, to my stress level is too high, to actually if I’m awake it means I should just wake up and start my day (there are many who believe that is a secret to success and a fulfilling life). I’m neither doubting nor addressing any of the aforementioned theories – sometimes I’m just tired and want to sleep more. Period. I don’t want to have stinging eyes and a foggy brain. I want my first moments of the day to be with a refreshed body and mind, want to stretch my arms out while looking at a sun that got up at least a little before me.
So… The advice I offer today is safe and it has worked for me countless times and hopefully it works for you as well. The most important point is not to allow yourself to worry about the fact that you are not asleep. Don’t judge it as a negative thing, as that will create emotional tension and make it even harder to sleep again. Just try to accept it as the present situation. No more, no less.
Make sure you are not overheated.
Some researchers believe that losing a small amount of heat to the environment helps to induce sleep (2) . If your blankets are too thick, or you are wearing too much, the body’s temperature may rise, and it might become more difficult to stay in a deep sleep (3). One option is to take off the blanket for a short while and see if you become sleepy again.
If your thoughts become clear, it’s time to make a move.
If you are still dreamy and your thoughts are not really related to waking life, you may just fall asleep again. Once you start thinking about yesterday, tomorrow, things you wish you hadn’t done, things you really want to do etc, it will be much harder to turn your thoughts off sufficiently to doze off again. The comfort of the bed can also have the effect of simply perpetuating the awake state. This is where the tips really begin.
Let yourself leave bed, or at least sit up and remove the blanket from at least part of your body. The point is to allow yourself to get less comfortable, so when you lie down again a little later you will really feel the delicious difference. Sitting on a chair could be a good option.
If you have thoughts running through your head, write them down. Writing can be a very simple means of expressing thoughts and emotions. Once they are written, they have been expressed, and you may find your mind is clearer. In their book Expressive Writing: Words That Heal, authors Pennebaker Ph.D and Evans cite journaling as a key practice in improving general health and dealing with emotional issues.
Let emotions run their course without analyzing them.
If you have don’t have any particular thoughts, but you just feel emotionally tense or negative, sit with the emotion for a few minutes without analyzing it. Cut your thoughts and just go fully into the physical sensations you are experiencing. If you find your mind searching for thoughts to connect with the sensations, let them go and just focus on the body once again. Watch how the physical sensations develop or just remain. When you feel even slightly different, really take note and allow the new sensation to develop. Let your body go through the process without judging it.
If you have performed either of the above options, you might start to feel a bit more relaxed, and your mind may start to drift to dreamy thoughts. That’s the time to slide back into bed, enjoy the comfort, and get some more sleep.
If you are still feeling too awake, there are a few more things to try.
A little light, boring reading. It may sound bizarre, but for many of us it is extremely hard to stay awake when we are bored. Keep a copy of something that you are not very interested in close by. Remember those subjects you didn’t like in school? This could be the time to break out those old textbooks.
Counting your breaths in cycles of 4. Just breathe without changing the way you do it, and count. Just be aware of the pleasant sensation and allow yourself to be soothed by it while counting the exhalations.
Do a body scan. Start at your feet. Feel the little tingling of the circulation and then become aware of that feeling throughout each part of the body progressively moving up, all the way to the top of your head.
Once again, with any of the above choices, once you start to notice your thoughts getting dreamy, head back to bed, exhale and enjoy drifting back off to dreamland.
To your health,
About the author:
Paul Brundtland is a mind/body educator, coach and writer living in Montpellier France. Combining his own healing experience with university studies in psychology, yoga teacher training, and 10 years of research, Paul has coached many people through issues such as chronic back and neck pain, allergies, skin problems, eating disorders, general tension and compulsive negative thoughts. “I work with people to help them rid themselves of mental and physical blocks that impede their best functioning. Once removed, the body and mind begin to act as they naturally are designed to”. Author of the short book My Lasting Relief from Chronic Pain, Paul offers private coaching (in English, French or Spanish) and group mindbody training sessions.