For parents of young children, falling asleep isn’t so much of an issue. By the time your head hits the pillow, the exhaustion from a full day of parenting is usually enough to send you off to dreamland. But what happens when your child wakes you up in the middle of the night and you cannot get back to sleep?
Difficulty in sleeping can have many causes. Often it derives from a physical pain or discomfort, or in the case of exhausted parents, it can be the result of an anxious, stressed or overactive mind. It may also begin with a physical cause, but then continue after that trigger is no longer present – the fear of insomnia proving a worry in its own right.
Sometimes it’s hard to admit you are stressed and anxious, particularly if you have a habit of intellectualising your worries, putting a brave face on things or soldiering on. It’s only when you have a manifestation of your stress or anxiety, such as difficulty sleeping, that you realise the extent of the pressure you are under.
Natural techniques for falling asleep
Over the years I’ve collected together a number of natural techniques individuals can use to switch their minds into off mode and get the rest they need.
The first technique in the book and one of the simplest, is what I call ‘The Incoming Tide’. It’s simple enough that it can be taught to a child and it was one of the first techniques I learnt –taught to me by my father when I was a young and unable to sleep one night.
Preparing for the technique
Before going to bed, or sometime during the day, read through the sleep technique, so that if you are woken by a child in the night and unable to get back to sleep, you are able to work through it in a slow and methodical way.
When you get back into bed, find a comfortable position, starting by lying on your back (unless you have some physical difficulty in doing so or suffer from sleep apnoea). If you find yourself shifting into another position during the technique, that’s fine, but generally try to lie motionless. If you have an itch then do scratch it, but apart from that try to remain still. And remember – the aim of the technique is not to reach the end of it, but to fall asleep while working through it.
The Incoming Tide
Imagine that a tide of sleep is coming in and has just reached your feet. The tide of sleep is neither hot nor cold. It is the same temperature as your body. When it touches you, that part of your body falls asleep. You feel the sensation of it, tickling a little, as it touches your toes.
Imagine the touch of the sleep, travelling how a rising tide of water would, rising up from your feet. Think slowly through the sensation of the sleep reaching the joints where your toes meet your feet, tickling the soles of your feet and then reaching your heels.
Feel the sleep creeping around the backs of your heels, rising up to your ankles and starting to touch the bottom of your legs.
Next feel the sleep rising like a tide of water would, putting your legs to sleep a bit at a time. Take care to feel it at every point – your shins, your knees, your thighs, perhaps touching the tips of your fingers if they are by your side. Feel the sleep travelling up your chest and arms. Don’t rush this.
The sleep moves very slowly, sometimes at a barely noticeable rate.
If you twitch or need to move to satisfy an itch, sometimes it can feel as if the sleep has retreated. Don’t be disturbed by this – just wait for a moment, re-gather the sensation of the sleep partway up your body, and then continue from where you left off. Don’t race. Go slowly.
When anxiety or worry is keeping you awake
Sometimes it’s hard to concentrate on the technique if your mind is racing or you are experiencing anxious thoughts. Worrying is our mind’s way of keeping us alert to danger and potential threats, but if we can’t turn off worry, or if that worry starts to dominate our thinking, it can go beyond what is useful and instead become destructive to our emotional well-being.
The key is to recognise that because these thoughts are not balanced or entirely rational, they can contribute to and can worsen your physical feeling of anxiety, leading to a vicious cycle in which anxiety or worry create negative thoughts, and those negative thoughts in turn create worry or anxiety.
For example, the thought: ‘If I take that job, I’m likely to fail.’ is not likely to be balanced. More balanced thinking might be: ‘I do have all the qualifications for that job. It’s likely I’ll be able to do it once I’ve got used to their systems.’
If you have negative thoughts when you are trying to get back to sleep, don’t set up a challenge to them or start having a silent argument with yourself, simply recognise that the thought is unbalanced, replace it with a more balanced thought and concentrate instead on the sleep technique.
Specialised sleep techniques for when daily stresses, anxiety or worry are keeping you awake
The Incoming Tide technique is a great starter technique, and great for kids too, but you might need something more specific if you are repeatedly kept awake by a racing mind or because of thoughts related to stress, anxiety or worry.
If this is the case, there are seven other techniques in How to Sleep: A Natural Method which you might find helpful. They are distilled from the thinking of cognitive behavioural therapy, mindfulness and meditation, taking lessons from each of these methods on how best to quiet your mind and fall asleep, depending on the exact cause of your sleeplessness.
Article by Lucinda Ford, author and expert in health and wellbeing.
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