How to train your mind to fall asleep
Sleep: you may love it; you may hate it, depending on your relationship with it. I work with lots of clients to help them improve their sleep, so here I want to share with you some very tangible, accessible tips to help you have a dreamy, nourishing deep sleep.
Unfortunately, sleep is a real issue for many of us. Especially with everything going on at the moment, collectively, we have been going through something huge and we are constantly being bombarded with information, news, and speculation about what is going to happen going forwards. It is very easy to forget that we are still going through a pandemic!
All of this information is going to seep into our subconscious mind and, inevitably, have an effect on our sleep.
It also goes without mentioning that many of us are now working and sleeping in the same environment, so the boundaries between the two have become a little blurred.
So, if sleep is something you struggle with, it’s worth thinking about which of these things resonate with you most (and both may!):
- Difficulty falling asleep.
- Difficulty staying in deep sleep throughout the night.
Before I share some tips to improve these things, let’s talk about the importance of it.
The importance of sleep
Sleep is imperative - above your three litres of water a day, your five pieces of fruit or veg a day, above exercise, healthy nutritious food, meditation, yoga, etc. Sleep is number one on the list. It is vital for our mental, physical and emotional well-being.
Not getting good quality sleep has obvious short-term effects, including low mood, tiredness, lack of productivity, stress, increased hunger levels and much more.
We all know how it feels when you’ve had a rough night sleep; groggy, moody, perhaps an increased yet unnecessary desire to reach for that extra sugar fix or that 3pm coffee. It really can debilitate us on a day-to-day basis. But, perhaps more importantly, in the long-term, it can have a severe impact on us both mentally and physically.
Mentally, it leads to things like depression and anxiety, decreased brain function, memory loss, and psychiatric disorders. Physically, it can lead to hypertension, heart attacks and strokes, obesity, diabetes, weakened immune system, lower fertility rates, and much more.
It was not until I read Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep, that I started to become more educated on the topic of sleep, and nurturing my relationship with it became imperative.
And the problem is education. We are not taught just how important it is from a young age. Yes, our parents, teachers or GP might tell us to get our seven to eight hours of kip a night, but it pretty much stops there. Many of us are unaware that sleep has all of these negative impacts.
So, of course we aren’t going to prioritise it. Of course it is going to be something way down on the to-do list and of course we aren’t going to know the very simple ways that we can induce a beautiful deep sleep.
It’s like we are just expected to easily and effortlessly fall asleep, stay asleep and wake up the next day feeling nourished. Like it is a natural human thing. And, if we can’t, we end up beating ourselves up, we end up telling ourselves these stories and attaching ourselves to these labels:
- “I’m a bad sleeper.”
- “I have insomnia.”
- “Insomnia runs in my family.”
- “I am just someone who really struggles with sleep.”
- “I really don’t need that much sleep to function.”
But, one of the very important rules of the mind is that it will do absolutely anything you tell it. And so, it will respond to all of these words and sentences, it will hook on to them and respond. And what the mind says yes to, what the mind responds to, the body will too.
So, it really does all start with your thoughts. Thoughts lead to your beliefs, which lead to your feelings, which lead to your behaviours.
I invite you, right now, to take a moment, some deep breaths, and think about what your thoughts and beliefs are around sleep? Where did this belief come from? Who gave it to you? Who gave it to them? Why do you still believe this years later?
And take some time on this. Go deeper than just the surface level stuff that you may think are causing a lack of sleep. Become aware of your thoughts, become the master investigator of your mind!
Sleep and the rules of the mind
For some of us who struggle with sleep, even the very word can be scary, because our mind automatically associates it with the times where we lie awake for hours and when the mind-stuff, the chitter-chatter, gets louder and louder and it is hard to control.
Now, we must change the habit of thought, in order to change the habit of action (i.e. difficulty when sleeping). So, here are some simple rules of the mind that will help you take back control of the words and thoughts you are using around sleep.
1. The mind will do absolutely anything you tell it to
So, start telling it how amazing you are going to sleep, how easy it will be for you, and how much deep sleep you are going to get.
2. The mind will only respond to the pictures and words you give it
So, be very careful with the pictures and words you give it. Even if you make a passing comment like, “Oh, I am just someone who really doesn’t sleep very well” or “I don’t think I am going to sleep well tonight.”
Because your mind will respond. But also, news flash… You’re not. No one is. As babies, we slept easily and effortlessly. As humans, we are designed to sleep in order for optimal well-being. So, start telling your mind how easily and effortlessly you fall asleep.
3. The mind will take you towards pleasure and away from pain
So, if you struggle at the moment, perhaps you are attaching it to a time of pain. You must make the time which you go to sleep an extremely pleasurable time. You must make the idea of not falling asleep easily, painful. So, the mind will take you towards pleasure (i.e. falling asleep easily) and away from pain (i.e. not falling asleep easily).
Sleep problem number 1: Falling asleep
So many people say to me that they struggle to fall asleep, and when I ask them what their pre-bed routine is, they normally answer with one of the following; “Watching an episode of X to switch off”, “Doing a high-intensity exercise class to get me shattered”, or “Going on my phone to reply to emails or look on Instagram.”
All of these things are a no-no.
We must consciously set ourselves up and prepare ourselves for the best night’s sleep possible. Just like we would prepare ourselves for an important job interview, or a fitness class…
Here are some of my top tips to prep yourself:
- Dim lighting. I especially love the Himalayan Salt lamps to produce warm, cosy light.
- Playing soft, relaxing music.
- Having a hot bath.
- Reading a good old fiction novel.
- Listening to a yoga Nidra on YouTube.
Now of course some of you may be thinking, ‘but I have four kids to feed, tuck up in bed and then have to eat my dinner and reply to all my emails, by which time it is 11:30pm! There is no way I have time for all these things.’
But you’re wrong. Because these things take no time at all.
10 minutes is all it takes. 10 minutes of your time, before falling asleep, will save you two hours of tossing and turning before you finally fall asleep.
So, on this note, and made with nothing but love, here is a sleep meditation I have created for you! It is as promised, 10 minutes (or so) and will help you have the most deliciously, deep and nourishing sleep possible. Listen to it and please share with anyone you may think will benefit.
Sleep problem number 2: Staying asleep
It is one thing falling asleep, but then actually staying asleep is another thing. And staying asleep is really important, as this is when we get our deep sleep or REM sleep - the time when all the magical benefits of sleep take place.
I highly recommend tracking your sleep cycle using your Fitbit, Apple Watch, or an app I use is called Sleep Cycle.
These can help to really get to know the patterns that are arising.
Now, I guarantee that by preparing well for a good night’s sleep and familiarising yourself with the rules of the mind to improve your words and thoughts around this matter, you will not only fall asleep easier, but you will stay asleep longer and get all the deep sleep you need.
I hope this helps and I hope you have the deepest, nourishing night’s sleep.