Sleep is the best meditation. ~ Dalai Lama
Growing up getting ready for bed always included a prolong routine. It was with this schedule that I would begin getting ready for bed at least an hour before my actual bedtime. Sleep has always been a huge challenge for me. As the evening would turn into night I would become increasingly anxious.
There was something about knowing that the majority of people were tucked away and asleep, that made me feel scared and incredibly lonely.
As I became an adult I continued to struggle with my relationship with sleep. This became a huge challenge as my job was incredibly demanding and needed my mental focus. If I didn’t sleep well the night before or woke up with an anxiety hangover, I knew the day was going to be hell.
Through my mindfulness practice, I have begun to take a deeper look into my attitude towards sleep and become interested in what was really causing so much dread. The biggest trigger for a fitful sleep is going to bed anxious for the day ahead or knowing I need to fall asleep ASAP. Usually, as the night crept along, my anxiety worsened, and my system was flooded with stress hormones and adrenaline, chemically keeping me awake. Then I would wake up, so miserable, with dark circles under my eyes and wandering around in a hazy fog. The whole day was fighting the sensation of feeling exhausted. This feeling, it felt like hell, and my fear of having this feeling was the root of the initial anxiety.
I have read so many books about the quality of sleep, anxiety before sleep, the need for sleep, etc. and the truth is, when you are riddled with fear, awake and alert, there is not much to do but get through the night. To this day, I still have an complex relationship with sleep. I definitely notice that nights I feel lonely, I find I am anxious about something in particular. That while I feel quite tired before bed, the moment it comes time to sleep, my mind will be wide awake reminding me to be afraid of nearly everything.
Like with most things, when you finally turn on the light to your fears (feeling tired, a restless sleep, thinking the world will come to an end) you don’t see a vicious monster about to attack you.
Instead, you see the vulnerability and causes of all these primal fears.
I get it – if I am anxious the night before, I will most likely have a shitty following day – but I survive. It doesn’t kill me, which is what the root of most anxiety stems from, the fear of not surviving.
So, while I don’t have the answers to those nights when you know chasing sleep will only make it slip farther away, I do have tips on keeping the mind stable and balanced before bed.
1) If you notice you are feeling anxious in the evening, acknowledge this as soon as you can. Identify, “the mind is feeling anxious because of a, b, or c.”
2) Start getting ready for bed as early as possible so that you are not rushing around, inciting frenzy right before we are asking the mind and body to relax. So, before you sit down to watch your favorite shows, make sure to eat your dinner, clean up your dinner, pack your lunch, get your clothes picked out, take a shower, wash your face, etc.
3) Indulge in a numbing activity. Love reality TV or have a favorite show that literally gives your mind a moment of reprieve? Take full advantage and savor this time. You are all ready for bed as soon as the show is over.
4) Now engage in a calming activity. For this part of your ritual, take some measures to limit your screen time. This is the first step where the mind is going to deliberately slip into a more relaxed state. So, this is a great time to listen to music, read a book, journal or meditate. This is the time where you are deliberately feeding your soul and doing something that is replenishing your account instead of numbing (already indulged that in the third step). The good part about this step is even if you are feeling anxious or stressed, your mind, body, and soul appreciates the act of powering down. The benefits will be received
5) Hop into bed feeling relaxed. Remind yourself that you have the most luxurious bed, with the coziest pillows and softest covers. Muster up gratitude for finally getting to officially shut down. This is also a time where all momentum has subsided and whatever you set your intention for with your sleep or the following day, has no obstacles in its way as you sleep.
Good luck and Good night!