Do you ever have trouble sleeping? I don’t know about you, but sometimes I wake up and my mind is already galloping at top speed.
Suddenly I go from soundly sleeping to full-on problem-solving mode. My thoughts race from one concern to the next. Then it picks up momentum and you start to reflect on the problem of not being able to sleep. That compounds the issue and generates stress…and more stress.
But wait a second. Wasn’t I just asleep? How the hell did I end up down this rabbit hole? Can you relate?
Quieting Your Problem-Solving Mind
It’s a strange experience. You feel tired, you are tired, but your mind is keeping you awake like a toddler who refuses to go to bed. And it’s frustrating, because you can’t find the OFF switch as you stare wide-eyed at the ceiling.
Insomnia is more common than you might imagine. According to Better Sleep Better Life:
"More than half of Americans lose sleep due to stress and/or anxiety. Between 40% and 60% of people over the age of 60 suffer from insomnia. And women are up to twice as likely to suffer from insomnia than men."
Two Mindfulness Strategies To Quiet Your Mind
But there is good new for yogis and meditators. I’ve found that there is something close to a secret off switch. You may already know this. It’s the equivalent of bribing that late-night toddler with a piece of candy laced with sleeping pixie dust.
Here’s the trick. You just need to know how to use the power of distraction. These are two of my simple strategies for tricking your mind into distraction so you can fall asleep.
1. Scan Your Body
Savasana is always my first option when I find myself waltzing with the late night sleep thief. Removing my attention from my cunning mind, I start scanning my body from my toes to my crown.
I take my sweet time, making sure to relax and release every joint and every muscle. This is like a two-pronged attack on the sleep thief. First, it helps me to relax. Second, by finding another object for my attention besides my racing mind, I start to feel grounded again and the momentum of my meandering mind slows down.
That’s one thing I’ve learned. When I deprive my problem-solving mind of attention, it loses steam. My racing nervous system slows. Before I know it, I’ve dropped back down into a deep healthy sleep.
2. Think of Specific Objects
This is my second stop on the late night insomnia circuit. If the body scan doesn’t work, I need to be a little cleverer about distracting my mind. Here’s what I do.
I think of specific objects—blue hammer, a yellow fire truck, a green wall, two copper pennies, a red wheelbarrow. And I keep on like that, just thinking about different random objects that are different colors.
I know this sounds kind of weird, but this is what I’ve found. Giving each object a little bit of specificity in your imagination—like a color—is the key to knocking your midnight mind off its stress-inducing race track.
One thing is for sure, if you just follow your mind as it chases its tail over and over again, you’re actually going to feel like you just twirled around in circles for thirty minutes. But if you can aikido your mind into tracking random objects in your imagination, you’re more likely to lead it over the blissful cliff of sleep.
Are these tips foolproof? Of course not, but they work for me about 80% of the time. So next time you find yourself in bed in the dark riding the late night carousel of insomnia, try these simple mindfulness tips and strategies to sleep better.