I want to sleep but I cant. It has happened to all of us at some point. We’re tired. Exhausted after a long day. At the limit of our strength. But thoughts do not let us sleep. We close our eyes and sleep does not come. The mind is activated. All worries, real or unfounded, come back stronger. All those contents that have remained silent or repressed during the day, seem to scream in our ears at night.
In fact, insomnia and recurrent anxious thoughts often go hand in hand. Our first impulse is usually to get rid of those thoughts that do not let us sleep by trying to block them. However, this attempt to turn off the mind often has the opposite effect and ends up creating more problems than it solves.
How to relax your mind to sleep beyond counting sheep
1. Repeat a word like a mantra
One of the simplest solutions that will help you turn off your mind for sleep and get rid of those intrusive thoughts that plague you at night is called “articulatory suppression.” Perhaps the name of this technique is intimidating, but it only consists of mentally repeating a word at a rate that makes it impossible for any other thought to appear, which means 3 to 4 times per second.
In practice, you must turn that word into a kind of personal mantra. That will cause a blockage of the original intrusive thought that prevents you from sleeping. Ideally, you should choose a syllable or pronounce a short word that does not have any emotional meaning so that your mind does not make negative associations that activate it.
2. Distract yourself with visualization
At night, worries are often accompanied by intrusive images. You not only think about problems, you also often vividly imagine their consequences. In those cases, visualization techniques can be a great help in winding your mind down for sleep, although it will likely take a bit of practice before it’s effective.
A study conducted at the University of Oxford revealed that distraction with images is more effective than simply trying to distract yourself in a general sense by thinking about something else because it gives the mind something specific to do, preventing it from being tied to thoughts, worries and concerns.
Therefore, choose a setting that is relaxing and easy to imagine in detail, whether it is a quiet beach, a green bucolic meadow or a beautiful sunny afternoon in the garden. Once you have chosen the setting, the goal is to immerse yourself in it as deeply as you can by recreating the sights, details, sounds and smells of the environment. You will fall asleep without realizing it and, what is even better, you will be able to rest more deeply.
3. Experience gratitude
Negative thoughts often pull you into a worry loop and develop a negative outlook that makes insomnia even worse. In fact, a study conducted at the University of Geneva found that when people brought up their regrets at bedtime, they took longer to fall asleep than those who thought about what they were most proud of.
On the contrary, researchers from the University of Manchester found that people with insomnia managed to sleep better when at bedtime they focused on positive thoughts and things for which they felt grateful.
Without a doubt, noticing the good things in life, everything for which you can feel grateful, will help you dissipate the dark clouds of worry and help your mind achieve the necessary serenity to give way to sleep. Therefore, when you put your head on the pillow, instead of thinking about all the problems of the day and all the worries of tomorrow, try to focus on those things that you can feel grateful for and allow that feeling of calm to take over you.
Schmidt, R. E. & Van der Linden, M. (2013) Feeling Too Regretful to Fall Asleep: Experimental Activation of Regret Delays Sleep Onset. Cogn Ther Res; 37(4): 872–880.
Wood, A. M. et. Al. (2009) Gratitude influences sleep through the mechanism of pre-sleep cognitions. J Psychosom Res; 66(1): 43–48.
Harvey, A. G. & Payne, S. (2002) The management of unwanted pre-sleep thoughts in insomnia: distraction with imagery versus general distraction. Behav Res Ther; 40: 267–277.
Levey, A. B. et. Al. (1991) Articulatory suppression and the treatment of insomnia. Behav Res Ther; 29: 85–89.