Why can’t I sleep? Why is my brain not letting me sleep? How many times have you asked this while trying to count sheeps, trying to shut your brain off or twisting and turning in bed for hours without falling asleep? Been there too…
There are many things that keep you awake when you want to rest more than anything… usually the one major thing is your thoughts.
When your brain is overloaded with stress, chores, projects, feelings, and searching for solutions …it will search when it can. When can it do that if you’re busy all the time!? Of course: when you go to bed, cause it knows you won’t focus (or won’t try to) on anything else. So detachment is the key here, but not the way you think of it. It is more about stress management.
Your brain starts working at full capacity sometime around 8 hours since you woke up, and can keep this going for several hours if you keep training it to do so. Normally it would only keep it up for a couple hours or so. But add to this some stress-released chemicals, which keep your body boosted up and alert and there you go: magic potion for insomnia.
So if you get excited about your tasks in the afternoon, so will your brain. And if you keep hitting the “snooze” button for the break instead of “stop” for several hours at that point, it will only get more into hyper-drive. This is when a certain awareness comes in as necessary and when a schedule is important to ease your day. The brain hyper-drive is no different than any computer’s. You know how computers heat up and fail to respond to stimuli if you don’t clear the cache and don’t eventually give them a bit of sleep? You can push that ctrl+alt+del for half an hour and nothing happens. That’s what you’re doing when you end up counting sheep – desperately pushing the ctrl+alt+del. The brain will be like “sure, you gave me 1TB of data to process just a while ago and now you try to restart? Nope!…no more tasks can be handled till this is done.” And as you can guess, processing it takes time. 🙂
Plus, have you ever felt SOOoooo tired that all you can think of is getting into bed, yet once you set your head on the pillow your brain just goes overactive and won’t let you sleep? This is why.
So here’s the key tip: divide the tasks into pieces, schedule these during your day, organize your day a bit and add small breaks and time off for your brain to clear it’s cache and buffer. No joke! But for sure, the LAST one of the schedule should be an easy one, as this will help “downgrade” your brain activity from super-heavy to normal! And here I’m talking about work tasks, family-business issues, not about making dinner or putting your child to sleep. These are considered easy tasks for your brain, sort of mechanical, so those are beside the schedule.
Do not engage into solving major stuff right before bed time. You need a couple of hours of “stand by” time for the brain to clear the clutter and go to sleep. Ideally, in the evening, the last 3-5 hours before bedtime (depending on how hard the day was) should be filled only with simple tasks, relaxation, change of scenery, socialization and me time. No intellectual high performing or high stress tasks… and for sure, no stress of any kind.
There are a lot of recipes online for handling sleep issues. Some work, some don’t.
Truth is: the ones that work have to be something that suits YOU and relaxes you. What works for one person might not apply to another. For me, something as simple as a long shower works because I focus on the sound of the water flowing, relax and remember some happy songs which clear my thoughts and switch my mood off from anything else (maybe even sing them). But you have to do it consciously: to be aware of your thoughts and whenever they wonder off into unwanted areas (for that time) bring them back to something relaxing.
Meditation works too, if you’re used to it. But even if not, if you try some guided meditation (just google, for example, “guided meditation for sleep”) following the instructions and focusing on the guide’s voice and on visualizing or doing what they ask can work from day 1 for clearing your mind.
A short walk in fresh air also works… again, if you manage to control your mind towards something else while doing it. And by something else I mean, else than your overwhelming thoughts which didn’t let you relax.
All the above will work for you at one point, once you start being accustomed to taking charge of your thoughts. This means probably not all work from day 1. But they do eventually work. Don’t give in.
There’s also some music online called binaural beats music for sleep. This one is tricky, some might not like it at all, for others it might work instantly. I tested it for the first time while I was working and I was very alert, but played it cause I was curious on how it sounds. And to my surprise, after 2 minutes I was yawning and feeling sleepy so I had to stop playing it. That means IT WORKS… at least for me :).
You can also search for meditation music, I have some favorite ones, but sometimes I pick random ones, and those too have effects on sleep. It is really great, especially when you do it consciously: push play, get into a comfy position, close your eyes and take several deep breaths focusing on the breath. Then slowly get into meditation on what ever subject you feel you need to explore or solve in your life. I wrote more on the benefits of meditation here.
Here’s an example: Start with gratitude, make a list of all the things you can be grateful for and speak them in your mind “I’m grateful for finishing this day healthy, I’m grateful for all the amazing friends I have, I’m grateful for experiencing so many things in this world that bring joy and happiness, I’m grateful for my loving family, I’m grateful for having some me time,” etc… and then move to the subject bothering you. Think of it like “I am happy I can see a solution to this coming my way, even if it’s not yet clear”. Let thoughts flow without elaborating on it. When you feel it’s enough time, just say “thank you for the inspiration and ease” and open your eyes. Who are you thanking? God, The Universe, your subconscious mind, to the energy surrounding you, or whomever or whatever you believe as a greater power in the world. Doesn’t matter, even if you thank your own mind for gracefully setting you free. Doesn’t matter, but that “thank you” matters and the way it makes your brain and heart react to it with calming happy vibes. You will see that opening your eyes you will feel much more at ease and able to go to sleep if you choose to. Additional tip: do this while lying in bed on your back.
What about essential oils, scented candles, incense burning and other flavored or perfumed options? 🙂 Yeah, they work, but finding the right one for you might not happen from first trial. For me incense is a no-no because it irritates my eyes and makes me sneeze, LOL. But scented candles are great, yet I personally find it not enough to induce the relaxing mood. They work best with combination of music or meditation (or both).
How about a hot bubble bath? Yeah! That’s like the #1 on everyone’s list! Add to it the scented candles and relaxing music (make it something without words, instrumental) and you might be actually struggling to get out of the bathtub and into bed as you’re eyes will be shutting down full of happy sleep vibes.
Sometimes even reading a book can help you sleep, it will have the same effects of the above: taking your mind’s focus on the story of the book and refrain it from other stressful thoughts, pretty good for going to sleep right after.
OK, ALL of these are great, but there’s a feeeew more things to know:
- close your wireless, mobile data on your phone(s) and modems when you sleep. Put your phones as far as possible from your bed, as the radio waves do affect your brain frequency a tid bit and might just be that tid above what lets it relax. Oh, and if you have a wireless modem in the house or amplifier antenna, make sure it’s not in your bedroom.
- food: what did you eat before bed? Was it big heavy meal? Yeah? Well… don’t do that. PS: did you eat dinner? It’s important you do.
- food again: did you eat minutes before going to bed? Maybe half an hour before? Ouch. Try eating around 2 hrs before bed time.
- are you hydrated? meaning: did you drink enough water and your skin is not dry? Cause either one of these can keep you awake. Our body is made of water, lack of it keeps it from working right. Plus dry skin is itchy 🙂 and it won’t let you close your eyes. This you can solve though by drinking a glass of water and putting some moisturizer on your skin. (which is actually a relaxing ritual in itself)
- light: the type of light you’re exposed to changes how your body feels and how your brain works. Ideally, have no lights on when you sleep. For the hours before going to bed, avoid neon lights, blue-tinted lights and other colorful lights. They stimulate brain activity and that’s not working for sleep. Yet if you have to keep a light on, make sure it’s a “warm light” label and not one of the above.
- make sure your bedroom’s air is fresh, meaning open a window for at least 30mins-1hr each day in that room.
Well, I don’t know about you… but after all this, I got pretty sleepy.
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