4 Brain Hacks for a Great Sleep Tonight
We have all been there.
You lie down to sleep after a long day and just can’t stop thinking about:
All the things you were supposed to do but didn't
The things you have to do
Conversations, emails and texts that you replay in your head
This mental chatter causes us stress and keeps us awake.
It is well established that sleep duration and quality are critical components to all aspects of our health and wellness. The American Psychological Association publishes an annual study called "Stress in America" where they found that people who get less than 8 hours of sleep per night are more likely to show signs of stress in work, relationships and daily life.
As a fellow sufferer of the pre-bed busy mind syndrome, I wanted to share some of my best brain hacks to help quiet your mind and get to bed. These are techniques I have developed over 30 years of meditation practice and lots of experimentation.
1. The Modified "Counting Sheep" Visualization Method (Overload the Noise Circuits)
My mom told me to count sheep to fall asleep. The practice of quieting your mind through visualization and refocusing exercises definitely works, but I found that I needed a more complex metaphor than sheep to engage my adult busy mind. I suggest visualizing a complex repetitive task that interests you so you can really build out that mental picture with complete absorption.
For example, I play piano and I find it totally engaging to repeat piano scales in my head very slowly and intently. I repeat this over and over again with increasing levels of detail until there is just no room for anything else in my head and next thing I know its morning. Oh, and by the way, I am really getting good at scales.
You could liken this exercise to a mantra in meditation practices, whereby a repetitive phrase or sound consumes your awareness and you drift into a meditative state. If you are new to meditation or mindful practices, it can be challenging initially to maintain focus on one thought or sound. Not to worry, you will get better but that’s why I choose and recommend ordinary tasks of interest that you are familiar with and can integrate all your senses from experience. It could be cooking your favorite meal, gardening or hitting golf balls. As an extra bonus, these visualization exercises also train your brain and will improve your performance in whatever activities you focus on.
2. The Journey Visualization Method (Creative Sensory Engagement)
Another way to transition away from mental distractions is to create journeys for yourself like hiking on a trail, walking on a beach or some other relaxing and engaging trip that you fancy. Over time, continue to build in more visual and sensory details into your journey such as sights, sounds, smells, temperatures and textures. Intricate details will engage your mind more quickly and deeply.
Another trick is to build in a component of moving down, like walking down steps, a hill, exploring a spectacular cave, or even taking a secret elevator down to some deep underground world that you create. This downward motion has the effect on your mind to move you into a more relaxed state.
Distracting your busy mind with a detailed relaxing and engaging story guides our mind to a place where sleep begins and dreams manifest.
3. Guided Meditations (Sit Back, Relax and Listen)
Guided meditations, particularly if they are geared towards sleep, will do all the work for you. Think of it like going for a mind massage. There are many on YouTube and you will just have to experiment and find the ones that work best for you, but they work! They incorporate journeys, visualizations and often some helpful and therapeutic guidance to improve your daily life and reduce your stress.
In an effort to share my experiences, I started producing guided meditations. I created this 15 minute Mindful Beach Journey Meditation below specifically to help you fall asleep.
4. Keep a Notebook, a Dim Flashlight and a Pen by Your Bed
There are actually worthwhile ideas that pop up in bed, but then we spend time and energy to try not to forget them instead of sleeping. Or you forgot to do something and want to make sure you do it tomorrow. Instead of worrying about remembering this stuff, a simple trick is to just write it down. A notebook is better than your phone since you will not be tempted to check your social and email. A dim flashlight will ensure you stay closer to your sleep state.
Since you are likely not going to do anything about that idea while you are in bed, you can rest peacefully, knowing that next great invention is safely in your notebook for the morning. You will be surprised at how well this simple solution works.