You get home after a long day and your body and mind are tired. You’re ready to jump into bed, let the cool mattress and warm sheets envelop you, and drift off into much needed, peaceful sleep.
Except, it’s an hour later and you’re still awake. Despite your exhaustion, your mind won’t shut down and allow you to drift off. Your thoughts are abuzz with things you didn’t get done today, things you need to do tomorrow, memories from the past, worries about the future and everything else in between.
When a busy mind threatens to keep you awake, meditation and relaxation exercises like progressive muscle relaxation and diaphragmatic breathing can help to clear the mind, relax the body and promote restful sleep.
The following technique combines elements of breathing, meditation, visualization and self-hypnosis to pack a relaxation punch that can put even the most stubborn busy mind to sleep. I’m sure you’ve heard of the sheep counting trick, well this visualization also uses counting to help you get to sleep, but with no livestock involved.
How it works:
Visualization gives your busy mind something more soothing to do than replaying random thoughts. In addition, the process of counting backwards can have a calming effect on the mind. Think about anaesthetists who ask patients to count backwards as they put them to sleep before surgery, or the process of hypnosis where counting is often used.
How to do it:
Close your eyes and take a big, slow breath in. Concentrate on letting your stomach rise as you inhale, and as you exhale, let your stomach fall. During your out breath, imagine your entire body sinking down into the mattress below you. Repeat this a few times imagining your body sinking a bit further with each exhalation.
Start to picture a writing surface in your mind. It can be a piece of paper, or a chalk board, or even a stretch of smooth, wet sand on the beach. Now pick a number. You can simply start at 100, or a higher or lower number as you wish. Imagine drawing that number on your surface in any colour you wish with any tool you wish, like a pen, pencil, marker or your finger. Once you’ve drawn it, imagine erasing it then drawing the number before it, then erasing that and so forth.
As you begin to count backwards….100…99…98…continue to slowly breathe in and out, using each exhalation to let your body sink further into the bed.
What if you lose count?
You most certainly will! But that’s a good sign. You will find that it becomes harder to keep track of the numbers as your brain drifts in and out of sleep. The more often you drift off and wake back up to find that you’ve lost count, the closer your brain is to finally drifting off to sleep for good.
When you lose count, simply pick a number close to where you think you left off and continue to visualize the count down in your mind.
What happens if you reach 0 without falling asleep?
Simply repeat the countdown. This time you can pick a higher number to start from, or visualize drawing and erasing the numbers a bit slower, or time the drawing of each number with your out breath.
A busy mind takes time to slow down, so if your mind is going a hundred miles per hour, be patient and trust that your thoughts will slow and your body will relax if you maintain your gentle focus on counting yourself to sleep.