Falling asleep is not always as straightforward as we wish it was. Some people have long-term problems with sleep, others find it hard to fall asleep when they have had a stressful day. It is estimated that up to 30% of adults struggle with chronic insomnia.
There are many causes of insomnia, but one of the significant problems a lot of us experience is “ruminating”. Our days have become so busy that we rarely have an opportunity to pause, let the mind wander and naturally process what we are experiencing throughout the day. As a result, when we lie down in our beds at night, it’s the first time in the day that we are truly quiet. Suddenly random thoughts start to surface, and very often these thoughts carry unprocessed fears, worries and uncertainties. And there we are – lying in the dark, our heads full of difficult thoughts.
Recently one of our students described her method for falling asleep when she has a lot of thoughts in her mind. She imagines a small slide going between her head and a small box on her nightstand. She then slowly moves the thoughts one by one from her head to the closed box on the slide. In the process of moving them, she usually falls asleep!
You might be smiling now! Moving your thoughts into a box on an imaginary slide is hardly a breakthrough in the science of sleep. That might be right, but it is still a very effective method. It belongs to a category of mental tools called visualization. When we imagine something in detail, our brains believe it is happening. By visualizing, we can calm our body and mind so that we fall asleep more easily.
The visualization of moving your thoughts out of your head on a slide is interesting, and there are many other similar techniques. For example, you can try to imagine that every thought inside your head is trapped inside a bubble from a bubble blower. Stay with the idea and observe the bubbles floating in your mind in random directions. When you can see the bubbles vividly, start popping them one by one with your finger. When you pop a bubble, the thought that is trapped in it disappears, too.
Another variation of this technique is to imagine that your thoughts are trapped inside inflatable balloons, which you then piece one by one with a pin.
Other visualization methods that you can use:
- With your eyes closed, imagine an energetic barrier shaped like a dome arching over you and providing you with safety and comfort. The space inside this protective dome is where restfulness and deep sleep occur. Notice the shape, the size and the colour of your protective shield. You can adjust it until it is just right. Know that outside of the shield, anything you need to attend to during the day is separated from you. Everything will be there tomorrow, when the time is right.
- Body scan is also a visualization method. Imagine the different parts of your body in your mind and one by one, relax them and let them fall asleep. Start with your toes and work your way up to the top of your head. Ideally, you will not get there because you will fall asleep in the process.
- Realize that on many occasions in your life, you have been carried easily from wakefulness into sleep. Like a river with a set course, a part of you already knows the way to restful sleep. Let yourself be carried now, just let go. Feel yourself being carried on that safe and gentle current into deep, deep rest and finally sleep.