When we retire for the night, the mind becomes an active little being. Inside of our heads, there’s a nagging voice and it becomes more vocal at night. Our emotional mind, if you like, comes out to play while the more executive one, the one that controls our emotions and is the reasonable side of us, calls it a day. This emotional mind has a natural tendency to be more pessimistic.
The trouble is while we’re asleep, this emotional side is in the driving seat and runs absolutely wild. Things seem much worse to us during the night because of it. We wake up and struggle to get back to sleep, but it’s not the thing that wakes up originally that forms the barrier between us and the sleep. It’s the body’s fight-or-flight response picking up where the original doubtful voice left off. We spend hours pondering things we’ve done in the recent past or way back in the past. Then when we wake up, the executive brain reassumes the controls and leaves us wondering why we were so worried!
What can you do to stop it?
You may go to sleep at night thinking you won’t have any control over what your brain gets up to and that you’re condemned to racing thoughts for the rest of your days. That’s not the case, however, so you can heave a sigh of relief. There are steps you can take to keep an active mind in check and drift off into a peaceful sleep. If you’re having problems getting that negative, emotional brain to shut up at night, here are a few tips to show it who’s boss and get some sleep:
Don’t do anything stressful just before you go to bed
The less stress we have to endure in life the better, right? Of course, and this is even more the case when you’re about to slip in between the sheets. That means not doing work before you go to bed. It means not going over your finances. In particular, it means not discussing relationship issues, which can lead to arguments and really put a dent in your sleep, especially when you’re sharing the same bed with your ‘opponent’ after the original dust-up. You’ll just go over and over everything you’ve said (or not said but should have) ― even more so if you wake up in the middle of the night, which is when your emotional brain will be well and truly in full flow.
Get into the present moment with mindfulness and relaxation techniques
The mind races and, often, it’s going over something that has already happened, is going to happen or could happen. None of this is especially productive. What isproductive is being in the present moment and applying breathing and relaxation techniques. Ask yourself ‘What problem do I have right now?’ and the answer will be ‘Getting to sleep.’ Induce a state of profound calm by tensing different muscles and then relaxing them, starting with your toes and then work your way up to your head.
Naturally, a breathing exercise is a fabulous way to get that mind tranquil again, too, because it distracts you from those racing thoughts. Breathe in deeply and count for two or three seconds, but then breathe out for longer… say, five seconds. That’s important. Focus on the breathing. If you find your attention wandering, note it and then bring your mind back to breathing. You should do this exercise for approximately 10 minutes or a little longer.
Trigger a positive state with a gratitude journal
Each night, think about three things that you’re truly grateful for in your life and jot them down. Whether they’re big or small doesn’t matter. Just write them down. This simple trick quickly improves your mood. When we feel safe, comfortable and loved, we fall asleep more easily. Anything that brings us close to this kind of positive state can break down the barrier between us and sleep.
Get out of bed
When you’re mind just won’t quit, try getting out of bed. Go into another room, preferably dimly lit. Importantly, leave your phone behind. This is no time for messing around on social media or sending emails. What you should be doing is picking up a notebook and writing down all the thoughts that are keeping you awake. At the end of it all, write the words ‘It can wait until tomorrow.’ By doing this, you’re giving yourself permission to go back to sleep.
Stop trying so hard
Trying harder to get to sleep can exacerbate the problem. This is also true of trying not to struggle. If you find yourself in this position, instead of continuing to bash away at it, just accept the situation. Acknowledge the struggle. This is mindfulness and one of various such techniques that can help.
Thoughts are going to race through your mind when you go to bed. They could be of events past or to come. You don’t have to go with them and let them get the better of you. Strategies such as breathing exercises, practising gratitude and avoiding stressful activities before you hit the hay can help you keep that emotional brain on its leash. You’ll get a decent night’s sleep while you wait for the executive brain to make a reappearance in the morning.