Not being able to sleep is irritating. Immensely so.
And when we’re in manic phases or dealing with anxiety in our lives, drifting peacefully off to sleep is about as easy as climbing a mountain with a sackful of kumara strapped to your back. Sacking that’s made of that really annoying sacky material, that burrows into your skin like gangs of greedy children trying to claw their way into a piñata.
The paragraph above is a prime example of what happens when you can’t sleep. Your mind drifts.
I like to listen to podcasts to help me sleep. I find concentrating on the voice and letting the words sink into my conscious mind quite soothing, but when the conscious mind is jumping up and down and telling you it wants to go and ride Space Mountain, my usual tried and true method fails.
I told my therapist Lyndon about this recently, and he came up with a four-point plan for getting to sleep when the brain won’t let you.
But before I leap into that, a brief sidebar on why it’s important that you get a good sleep every night. I know I might be sounding like your mum at this point, and if that’s the case, just imagine me in an apron and an ill-fitting wig.
Sleep deprivation is the number one weapon in the arsenal of modern-day torturers, after slicing off thumbs and doing unspeakable things to your genitals. Why? Because these bastards know that if you’re kept away from sleep long enough, you essentially become brainwashed.
In Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive, the authors cite research by psychologist Daniel Gilbert that shows we may be easier to influence – either positively or negatively – when we’re tired.
“In a series of studies, Gilbert has found evidence supporting the hypothesis that upon hearing someone make a statement, the listener immediately accepts it as true, regardless of whether it’s actually true…when people are tired, they’re more likely to be in a heightened state of gullibility because of the diminished cognitive energy and motivation associated with exhaustion.”
Translated into layman’s terms: “Yeah, whatever, I don’t give a shit. You want to build an oxidation pond in my backyard? Sure, just keep the noise down, I’m trying to sleep.”
There’s more at stake here than just feeling crappy, umotivated, and wading through the day as if it’s made of golden syrup. Your interactions with others can be affected, and you are putting yourself in a vulnerable state.
So, here’s the four-point plan – give these a try and see if they work for you:
1. The brain dump
There’s stuff in your head. You’re distracted. Get it out of there. Take yourself out of the bedroom, flick on the computer or pick up a notepad and just write. All those cyclical thoughts that are going on. Write them, write them, write them. You can find more encouragement on how to do this in an earlier post of mine, “Writing As A Lifesaver”.
If that’s the case, Lyndon says to tell yourself that the writing process is about putting those thoughts into another space to come back to later, and in doing so giving yourself permission not to think about it.
If they are emotions masquerading as facts, seeing the evidence in front of you in ink or pixels should help to put things in perspective.
In fact, while you’re doing that, you could…
2. Make a cup of tea
Oh god, he’s turned into Nana now. Make a cup of tea? Should I get out a packet of wheat digestives as well? How about some napkins? That way I could just bash the thoughts out the side of my head and mop them up off the table.
No, really – tea. But not just any tea.
When talking about coffee and energy drinks a while back, I mentioned that I’d switched to green tea as a way of curbing my caffeine addiction. What I didn’t realize at the time was that green tea still has caffeine in it, albeit much less.
Lyndon suggested chamomile.
As I approached the herbal teas in the aisle at Pak’n’Save, I felt myself edging down the slippery slope. I’m going to turn all new age. I’m one step away from incense and petals in the bath. Because chamomile is A FLOWER! You’re asking me to drink a FLOWER.
Listen to this, from the side of the box:
“The chamomile daisy is renowned not only for the delicate, gentle flavor it imparts to a cup of tea, but for its ability to calm you down after a day of overexertion. And once you’re feeling a little more relaxed, the cold tea bags make an excellent balm for irritated eyes.”
Or for slapping the stupid face of the person who wrote that copy.
Anyway, I bought the bloody tea. And actually, it’s really nice. I drank it while writing the above, and I really had to force out that anger. I feel so relaxed I can almost breathe.
3. Guided breathing
I’ve heard a lot about this breathing malarkey, and to be quite frank, it should really take care of itself. I don’t want to sit in a room for an hour concentrating on breathing in and out. I might as well be in a coma – at least then I’d be asleep.
But seriously, I have in the last couple of weeks had a few nights when I’ve been very wired before going to bed. Even after taking my nightly dose of clonazepam, it’s taken longer than usual to kick in and make me sleepy. Maybe I should give this breathing thing a go, I thought.
Me being me, I decided to see if there was an app for it. If this is supposed to be about letting go, then all the better if a machine is telling me what to do.
I found an app called Pranayama in the App Store – there’s a free and a paid version, with the paid version letting you do all sorts of amazing things like breathe in space (I have no idea what the paid version does actually).
The free version takes you through a very simple 7-minute programme of inhaling and exhaling. On the screen, there’s a figure demonstrating how you should be sitting and taking in the air (filling your stomach first, then chest). There’s also a little pie graph, and some soothing synth noises to indicate when to breathe in, and when to breathe out. The pie is split up into one-third inhaling, and two-thirds exhaling.
I found this difficult to do at first, but with the headphones on and the sounds going, I was locked into a programme so unless I physically got up and switched it off, it’d be hard to get off track for too long.
Afterwards, I had a slight head rush from the infusion of oxygen, but in a good way. And I felt one hell of a lot more relaxed. When I climbed into bed, I already could feel the clouds of sleep drifting my way.
Of course, if you’re still not ready to sleep, then reading is another good old standby. Reading is preferable to watching television, I find, because it tires your brain out quicker.
Television is more of a stimulus, with its bright flashing lights and sudden noises, particularly when you crash into an ad break and the woman from Big Save Furntirue starts screaming about the dining suite apocalypse.
Concentrating on the words, comprehending them, and getting lost in the world of the book can work very quickly to tire you out.
A word of warning – be careful what reading material you choose, because if it’s too exciting, you may find yourself staying up till the wee hours to finish it (thanks Patricia Cornwell).
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What other methods do you use when you can’t sleep? Please share your thoughts below.