You’ve probably read all the common-sense advice on how to beat insomnia. Drink warm milk, no TV an hour before bedtime, no murder mystery novels, and pop a couple of Valerian capsules if all else fails. Well, what do you do when all else – including the Valerian – fails? Here are a few proven suggestions that may help you to fall asleep, so that you can awake refreshed and ready to start a new day.
1. Define your core values and live by them.
I’m not going to preach to you about living a moral life. But guilt will eat into your dreams, haunt you, and cause you to wake in a cold sweat. The fear of being discovered as something less worthy than you would have others believe will leave you wide-eyed, biting your nails instead of sleeping. Guilt doesn’t come from doing the wrong thing; guilt comes from knowing the difference between right and wrong, doing the wrong thing, and having enough of a conscience to be ashamed of it. So, live according to your own values and principles – act ethically towards others in the pursuit of your happiness – and guilt should never be an issue.
“Not so easy!” you say? No, it’s not, but it should be. Just as there is “productive pain,” or pain that tells us there’s something wrong and we must act or risk injury or death – and “unproductive pain,” such as a stress headache that we know does not signal a brain tumor, and so can safely take Advil to banish it – there is “productive guilt” and “unproductive guilt.”
Productive guilt is that which drives us to atone or make amends for our wrongdoing. Unproductive guilt is what we feel when we’ve done wrong and fear the consequences, but aren’t sincerely sorry enough to proactively set things right. Unproductive guilt is simply a form of fear.
2. Make your bedroom a safe sanctuary and banish fear.
First of all, make your bedroom uncluttered, clean, fresh-smelling, and soothing. Clean the room, rid it of clutter and other distractions, freshen the linens, plump the pillows, and indulge in a little aromatherapy if that works for you. Avoid candles; lit candles have no place in the bedroom, when you are trying to sleep. Do use soft lighting – maybe just a closet light – to signal your mind and body that it is night and time for sleep. In Alaska, they have heavy, black “blackout curtains.” I’m tempted to get some for my own windows, because even a little light bothers me at night.
Next, crawl into bed. Savor the feel of the sheets and blanket. Be aware of the sounds and smells surrounding you. Breathe deeply, slowly, rhythmically – and relax. Breathe by letting your tummy lift up as your lungs expand into your diaphragm. Remember that you are safe, secure, and will be ready to tackle any challenges tomorrow brings, once you are rested.
Finally, let go of fear.
There is internal fear – for example, that unproductive guilt and fear of being discovered as a wrongdoer or a fraud. There is worry – usually about things like “how to pay the bills,” or “how to finish that big project at work,” or “will the plane crash while we’re on vacation?” Some fears concern things that are within our control; others do not. Learn to recognize the ones that are outside your control, and work on releasing those fears – let them go like a child’s helium-filled balloon, into the cool light of the moon. Trust in your higher power, and let go. Visualize each worry-balloon. What does it look like? Is it a monstrous perversion of a giant balloon like the ones carried in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade? Is it a tiny, little worry that looks like a shriveled prune and flies off in curlicue formation, making high-pitched, whiny noises as you let it go? Open your fingers – are you clutching it with white knuckles? Let it go.
As for the worries you do have some control over, table them until morning. There is nothing you need do or fear, tonight. Your body needs rest; if there is one thing you should fear – because it is within your control – it is keeling over from sheer exhaustion and sleep deprivation. Take back your control and sleep.
In fact, if you just relax and sleep, your mind will continue to work on solving the problems that have been occupying it all day. When the noise and distractions are gone, and you have laid your body to rest, your mind begins to unravel the Gordian knots of the day. You need do nothing at all but sleep, and let it work. The less you interfere with the unfettered workings of your subconscious mind, the better. If you wake, breathe deeply, reassure yourself there is nothing to fear, and sleep. Your conscious mind likes to distract your creative unconscious with niggling doubts and insecurity. Left alone, your subconscious will simply solve its puzzles and enjoy the challenge. There is no doubt about its ability, but that the conscious mind tells it to doubt.
3. There is no party.
I’ve had many sleepless nights, but rarely is it due to a real inability to get to sleep. More like an unwillingness to shut everything down, for fear I’ll miss the party. I use the term “party” loosely. It’s more like watching a venomous snake – it’s as if looking away, for even a second, would cause it to strike out with venomous fangs. Recently, this has been dubbed “social media insomnia,” but in truth, for some of us, it predates social media. Let me clue you in: There is no party worth attending at 3 AM. There is no “breaking news” that won’t be running on endless repeat at 6 AM, 11 AM, and again at 6 PM and 11 PM – and everything in between if it’s really all that important. Yes, I was awake when the tsunami washed over northern Japan. I watched in horror, and I watched endless replays…for days. Weeks. After 9/11, I couldn’t sleep unless the TV was on – something new and awful might happen. As if there was anything I could do about it, if it did. I lost a lot of sleep for nothing.
This guy thinks there’s a party – look how miserable he looks: