You’re exhausted. But as soon as your head hits the pillow your mind starts racing. How can you quiet your brain so you can fall asleep fast?
I, too, occasionally have a hard time sleeping. So, I came up with a simple five-step process to help me relax and fall asleep fast. I call it, “Dr. Jo’s D.R.E.A.M Formula” because it uses the word, DREAM, as an acronym.
You can use just one step, all five, or some number in between. The key is to find a process that works for you.
Those thoughts that are keeping you at night are likely thoughts about the past or the future. Since you can’t change the past and there’s probably nothing you can do about the future (in the middle of the night), it’s time to get back to the present moment.
Focusing on the breath is a great place to be in the present. Since the brain can only think one thought at a time, when you’re focusing on your breathing, it’s difficult to think of other things. And, that’s the first step of the DREAM formula – to take some deep breaths.
When you inhale, focus on taking full breaths and blowing up your “belly” (the lower part of your lungs). Then slowly let it out. And, intentionally focus on some aspect of your breath – such as the sound of your breath or the feeling of your breath in your lungs or the feeling of it coming in and out of your mouth or nose. You’ll notice that the rate of your breathing is slowing down.
Watch THIS QUICK VIDEO for simple instructions on an easy way to slow down your breath.
With each exhale, incorporate some relaxation. There are many ways to release that tension that’s keeping you awake.
Some people find it helpful to tense a specific part of their body and then relax it. Perhaps start from the toes – squish up your toes and then relax them. Then tighten your legs and then relax…and so forth, up the body.
Personally, I like starting from the top of the body since I tend to accumulate most my stress in my face and my shoulders. I don’t tighten parts of my body, I just focus on relaxing or releasing tension with each breath.
With my first exhale, I’ll relax my forehead. With the next exhale, I’ll let the tension in my cheeks go. The next exhale releases my jaw, and then my shoulders, chest, legs, etc. If I notice the tension building back in my head, I start back up there. There’s no one way to relax your body, experiment with works for you.
It helps to write down all your worries, your “to do’s”, etc. so that when you lay your head on the pillow and thoughts come into your mind you can say, “It’s down on paper. I won’t forget, but there’s nothing I can do right now.”
But, it’s likely that those concerns will start creeping back into your brain as you lay in bed. And, that’s ok, because this is when we incorporate step three – to focus on “erasing them” from your mind.
As you take your deep breaths and relax on your exhale, don’t fight those thoughts that pop into your mind. But, don’t focus on them either.
Perhaps imagine them drifting away on a cloud or on a leaf floating down a quiet stream. Some people visualize taking those thoughts and putting them on a fluffy cloud and watching them drift away. Some put those thoughts into a box in their mind’s eye and place them in a closet.
I have this strange way of erasing my thoughts. I imagine a little guy holding a paint roller “painting” over them. In my imagination, I’m using white paint (which logically doesn’t make sense since nighttime is dark, but it works for me).
There are no rules on how to “erase your thoughts”, just find a way to notice those thoughts but not get worked up about them.
It’s hard to think of two things at once, so it helps to repeat a peaceful word in your mind – to prevent those thoughts and worries from popping back into your brain. As I exhale (and relax my body), I say the word, “peace.”
But, you can use any peaceful word that helps you relax. Some people use the word, “calm” or “joy”. The word itself doesn’t matter, just find a word to associate with this level of relaxation.
This nighttime affirmation might even help you during the day. The more you include a peaceful affirmation into your nightly routine, you’ll build an association with this word.
When I can say my nighttime affirmation (the word “peace”) in the middle of a stressful day, I immediately feel my shoulders come down and a sense of relaxation take place in my body.
If you’re still awake after all the first four steps, try putting a different imagine into your brain. Picture a calm, peaceful place.
It could be someplace you’ve been or it can be imaginary. Some people choose the beach, a babbling brook, or a favorite place from your childhood. Others think of being on top of a mountain.
Though I like to hike mountains and love the views, I can’t think about hiking when I’m trying to sleep because my brain starts imagining a slip off the side of the mountain. Seriously!
There are no right or wrong ways, but experiment with these five steps and find a nighttime routine that works for you. The more you practice these steps, the faster your body will respond and put you into a peaceful state of sleep.