If you struggle to get a good night’s sleep, you're probably already familiar with the usual advice, such as following a calm bedtime routine.
That is a reasonable step. But what if it's not enough? What if when your head hits the pillow, you’re still tossing and turning and your mind is racing?
This is a situation where a practice called mindfulness can really help. Mindfulness is all about paying attention to the moment, and being truly aware of yourself and your surroundings.
By all means, follow a relaxed and regular routine before bed. Give your mind a break before the start of this routine by cutting off any stimulating activities like sending e-mails. Turn off the computer, the TV, the radio and – yes you can do it! – your phone.
Then once you’ve started your routine, give it your full attention. If you’re having a nice warm bath, notice how the water feels against your skin. Observe the bubbles. Enjoy the smell of the soap.
If you like a bit of light reading before bed that's fine, as long as it's nothing too challenging or upsetting. It doesn’t work for everyone, but some people find that reading before bed distracts the focus of their attention from any worries.
Train of thought
Once you’re in bed, your brain may still be crowded with busy thoughts and questions. Is there something you forgot to do today? Are you facing a difficult situation tomorrow?
It helps to see these thoughts as passing trains. You are standing on the platform. And as each train races by, you can decide whether to get on board, and how long to stay there. You can always jump off that thought train at the next station. Better still, you can simply watch it glide past without you.
This is the kind of detached observation that gives mindfulness its power. You are not trying to stop the thoughts, or judge them, or ignore them. You only watch them go by.
Breathing to sleep
Breathing mindfully is another powerful technique. Place your hands on your stomach, so you can feel your breath go in and out. Feel your bed supporting you and the duvet cocooning you. Observe your breathing – is it fast or slow, deep or shallow?
As with your thoughts, don't try to control your breathing in any particular way. Focus on your breathing and let it happen, allowing your body to drift into its own, restful rhythm.
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