Sleep. The other side of the coin. The cool side of the pillow. The Yin to your daily grinds Yang. So why aren't you getting enough of it? You go to bed on time, sure. As you lay there waiting for sleep to come take you away you figure, 'Hey, while I wait I might as well think about every single thing in the universe and how much every one of those things is going to suck tomorrow'. Soon you realise that its been a couple hours and you still haven't slept. Oh no! Now you've only got five or six hours left until the alarm goes off and you have to solve every problem in the world first thing in the morning. Better try harder to sleep. And the harder you try, the further it gets. Does this sound at all familiar? I may be able to help you.
Let me start off by explaining a couple of things. I am not a sciency type of guy, and this is not a very scientific article. I am however a bit neurotic. I think too much, too hard, and too often. I have had plenty of trouble sleeping, I have been stressed to the point of nearly breaking, and have had the pleasure of torturing myself with 'what ifs' while laying in bed wondering if I will ever sleep again. I also like to solve problems and I help people for a living. So if you have trouble sleeping, this is for you.
There are more than likely a lot of things in your daily life that are negatively affecting your ability to sleep. The biggest one being that your mind won't shut up for even a second. We will get to that. But first lets go over some small and simple things you can do to start moving your in the right direction.
Our lives now revolve around them, and it is terrible for us. Not only has it sped up our lives immeasurably, but looking at them before bed is a great way to stunt the production of melatonin, which means you won't be falling asleep as easily as you should have. Not only that but the speed at which you are delivered information on Facebook alone ensures your mind is cranked into high gear which is no where near a relaxed and sleep-ready state. I recommend putting the phone down and shutting off the TV for one to two hours before bed. If you need something to occupy your time and your mind with, I highly recommend books made of paper.
Your boss is being a jerk? Your co-worker is spreading rumors about you? Work is piling up and you have no idea when you will be able to get it done? What you think about these things will cause a chain reaction which ends with that stress being stored in your body in the form of muscular tension. Notice how I said “what YOU think about these things...”? Thats because the emotions you feel in response to a stressful external experience are not a response to that external experience at all. They are a response to your thoughts ABOUT the external experience. This is good to know, and important to remember. Realizing you can take control of how you feel about what life throws at you by choosing your thoughts is a powerful thing.
None the less, you are still human and you will still finish your day carrying around some of that stress you accumulated throughout it. Here is what you do. Since you now have some free time after shutting off the TV and putting down your phone, let's get rid of that stored muscular tension. And it is tough to beat a good stretching and foam rolling routine to accomplish that goal.
Using a foam roller, tennis ball, lacrosse ball, or any other hard ball that you have around the house, focus on rolling out the muscles between and around your shoulder blades, and your upper traps (trapezius muscles of your shoulders). This is a very common place for stored stress in the form of muscular tension and will make a huge difference in making you feel more relaxed and at ease. While you're at it, be sure to stretch out your hamstrings, glutes, pecs, and neck. Your body will thank you and you will be a LOT more relaxed after this than you were before you started.
OK, so you do everything mentioned above and you still can't sleep. That is very likely because we still haven't done anything to shut off that hyper active brain. This is where meditation comes in. Nothing has even come close to improving the quality of my sleep, managing my stress, and helping me maintain strength and positivity in situations I otherwise would not have been able to do so more than meditation.
You can approach meditation from any angle you would like. Whether that be a spiritual approach, or a scientific approach. Any way you slice it, it is going to bring you peace.
When you are laying in bed at night, unable to sleep because you are solving all of the worlds problems, it is because you do not know how to quiet your mind. The reason you can't quiet your mind is because you don't practice, which essentially is what meditation is.
I recommend starting with ten minutes per day. Start by sitting down, but sit with some dignity. That means a straight back, and chin up. Take three deep breaths. Visualization goes a long way here, so visualize breathing in positivity, and breathing out tension. Now the idea is to give your thinking brain a rest, and getting back into your body, so focus on what you feel instead of what you think. Feel your breath, feel your pulse, feel your butt on the ground, your stomach rising and falling. The important thing is really just to feel. This technique will not only teach you to quiet your mind, but also to stay focused on the present moment which will serve you well during your waking hours.
Many people will have trouble keeping their mind still, and that's OK. You will get better with practice, and the better you get the better you will sleep, and the deeper you will relax. To help you along though, there are many aids which can be very helpful, and keep you on track during your meditation. I have used many Youtube videos (search 'guided meditation), and an app called 'Calm'. These are great tools to use when you are just learning how to meditate, as well as moments when your mind is particularly active.
As with anything, practice makes progress, and progress in meditation will mean easier and deeper sleep, stress management, the ability to focus on the moment which means greater and sharper production.
Try it out, and remember, you can't go to sleep until you are quiet.