I have problems sleeping. When I finally do fall asleep, in one hour I wake up, so I never have a complete night’s rest. Can you help me?
People usually wake up after each sleep cycle. Some people wake up worried and think, “I’m awake! Am I going to go back to sleep?” Other people wake up then go back to sleep without thinking too much about it. So, it can be helpful to know that it is natural for people to wake up in the middle of the night multiple times.
Rather than trying to force yourself to sleep, it can be more useful to focus on getting enough rest. In other words, give your mind a rest in bed. If your mind can relax and the body is tired, sleep happens.
There are different ways to stop the mind from over-thinking in bed. Although meditation may help, it can be more practical for many people to learn to simply shift attention away from stressful thinking. One way to do this in bed is by relaxing the body part by part. I will give you an example of what that looks like now.
Starting with your hands and fingers, feel them as if they are sinking down and feel your muscles relax. Then, relax the forearms as if lying down and dropping them into your bed. Now, relax the upper arms from the shoulders all the way down to the fingers. Next, the neck can relax, and the head, all the way down the arms to fingertips.
Then relax down through the body — the chest, belly, hips, the whole torso — releasing, relaxing, down through the legs, and from the head all the way down to the feet, the whole body resting, relaxing. I am going a little fast to explain this, but you could take your time with each body part when you practice on your own. For example, you could take three breaths to relax the hands, then three breaths with the forearms, and work your way through the whole body, and if you are not yet asleep at the end, you can repeat it again, and again, and again.
If your mind begins to think about tomorrow or that this isn’t working, shift your attention back to relaxing the body. Relaxing like this can help you feel grounded, and you do not need to wait until nighttime to unwind. You can practice in the morning when you wake up or take a conscious breath several times throughout each day to relax your shoulders or any part of the body.
The purpose of the exercise is to break the cycle of overthinking. People who do not sleep well at night tend to find it challenging to stop overthinking or worrying. Fortunately, it is possible to train ourselves to be more relaxed physically, and when we our body relaxes, we become relaxed mentally and emotionally. People who are relaxed mentally and physically are more likely to sleep well.
If you are going to be in bed for about eight hours anyway, you might as well be relaxed. When I first learned to practice relaxing in bed, even if I did not get a full night’s sleep, I still felt rejuvenated the next day. Many other people that I have worked with have also said say that relaxing in bed has been really helpful for their sleep.