By Therapist Andrea Watkins, LCSW
Being a new mother, I have a much better appreciation for sleep. I’ve never been a champion sleeper and I have tried so.many.things in my years to settle my brain down. Counting sheep, warm drink before bed, reading, melatonin, even straight up sleeping pills… Nothing worked! My biggest problem is my restless mind, ruminating or over-analyzing the day (yes therapists do it too!) I always say that I wish I could “turn off” my brain. So I thought I should try to practice what I preach to my clients and try some relaxation techniques.
Before I let you in on my sleeping secret, let’s talk about the benefits of sleep. It is AWESOME for our body, both physically and mentally. Sleeping is our body’s time to reboot itself. Good sleep has been linked to better control of diabetes and weight management, increasing brain function, improving the immune system, lower risks of heart disease and mental health concerns (Shaw, 2010). So let’s start practicing better sleep!
So here’s the routine:
1) Find some type of soothing sound, music, white noise. I use a free app on my iPad called “Ambiance Lite” that has tons of different sounds that you can mix or keep alone. I use the “melody” sound. Tip: If you have a hard time focusing, choose a song/sound that keeps your interest and not simply the same continuous sound, like a fan/white noise sound.)
2) Set a night timer on the app for 30 minutes.
3) Make yourself comfortable in bed and relax your body. Close your eyes and let go of any tension in your body. You can do this by quickly “scanning” from head to toe, making sure you are fully relaxed.
4) Listen to the sound of the music. Let this be the only thing that has your attention, no thoughts of yesterday, today or tomorrow. If you notice yourself drifting to one of these thoughts, quietly center your mind around the music. Listen to the ups and downs, the rhythmic sounds or other variations in the music. If you would like, you can visualize an image or scene with listening to the sound (ocean sound = visualize a beach scene.)
5) Make sure your breathing is slow, controlled and not too shallow. Your heartbeat should be steady and regular.
6) Eventually (and hopefully) you’ll be able to drift into slumber within the 30 minutes. If not, repeat these steps for another 15-30 minutes.
Okay, I’d be lying if I said this was easy for me. It took about a month for this to work. I did this routine every night, with a lot of difficulty keeping my outside thoughts away. The first night took me almost an hour to fall asleep! But sticking with this routine, each night was a little better, and soon enough, I’d put the night timer on 15 minutes and I wouldn’t even remember the music stopping! If you keep with it, it will work. Bad sleeping habits are usually etched into our sleep routine, so we need to rewrite how we sleep, relax and tune out everything around us, and this takes practice!
Best of luck and happy sleeping 🙂
Shaw, G. (2010). The Healing Power of Sleep. WebMD.com. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/sleep-benefits-10/healing-power-sleep?page=1.