We fall asleep when we are distracted from trying to fall asleep.
If the thought of a good night's rest is foreign to you, first of all, I'm so sorry. Suffering from sleep issues is no joke; it can negatively affect one's mental, emotional and physical health. And ... you are not alone, research shows that over 68% of Americans struggle with some kind of sleep issue. Personally, I think that might be underreported based on how often this topic is brought up with clients, friends and family.
Sleepiness can affect one's vigilance, reaction times, learning abilities, alertness, mood, hand-eye coordination, and memory. Sleepiness has been identified as the cause of a growing number of on-the-job accidents, automobile crashes and multi-model transportation tragedies.
While everyone's sleep issues are unique to them, there is therefore not a one-size-fits-all model to help. However, there are some things that can help support a healthier sleeping environment, which can help reduce the suffering around our sleep issues. I often compare these tools to when we are ill; we tend to nurture ourselves more when we don't feel well (hopefully). We might rest more, wear more comfortable clothing, eat nourishing soup and lay with our favorite blanket. These things don't necessarily take away the illness, but they help comfort us during times of difficulty/suffering. When we provide ourselves an environment during times of suffering, we're offering self-compassion, which inherently is on the path to healing.
Think of this meditation as an offering of compassion to yourself. It might not heal your sleep issues, but it's on the path to relieving the mental suffering around your sleep issues.
Yoga Nidra (yogic sleep) is the powerful practice of conscious rest that systematically relaxes and unwinds our physical, emotional, and mental tension. Yoga Nidra helps to break down these patterns through a guided bilateral body scan, breath awareness and visualizations to reach resting states usually only experienced in the deepest levels of sleep. Yoga Nidra can help reduce stress on a visceral level, improve sleep cycles and can contribute to healing deep psychological wounds. True healing begins with deep rest.
You can find my free guided yoga nidra mediation at Insight Timer
Do you ever find yourself going from experience to experience without actually settling in when you arrive? Just going through the motions but never really being present in the experience or feeling like you are in a race to complete your day? I often ask client's when they come in how they are feeling in this exact moment, and more often than not, people respond with, "Hmmmm I don't know, I haven't actually checked in with myself." This is so common in our day-to-day lives, especially in a society that reinforces and glorifies being "busy".
The problem is when we don't take a moment to truly settle in, we are actually abandoning ourselves and not giving ourselves the true opportunity to have a felt sense experience, which is where we build true memories and connections with ourselves, others and our experiences.
Next time you transition to a new place, experience/situation or engage with a new person, I invite you to try this Somatic Body Snapshot to practice the art of settling in. Try to be kind with yourself, stay open and get curious:
After you take this snapshot of yourself, maybe thank yourself for the gift of truly seeing yourself. From here, maybe take a few deep breaths with your hand on your heart to offer a moment of compassion and kindness to yourself for showing up and holding space for yourself in this exact moment, acknowledging exactly where you are without trying to change or fix it.
Our felt sense is so incredibly powerful to our healing and growth. Insight and reflection can help, of course, but the bodies experience of our reflections and insight are key to integration and re-wiring the brain and nervous system.
Next time you find yourself in reflection or analysis of an issue/experience, I invite you to drop into your body and observe your overall felt sense ... What sensations are you aware of in your body? How's the quality of your breath? Bring curiosity to your posture and body position (are you slumped forward, caved in, holding yourself/crossing your arms, sitting up-right, relaxed, numb, etc.?) Track any desire to move in a certain way and then I invite you to act on that desire or if you prefer, just imagine acting on the desire.
I invite you to take a few breaths after this exercise and if there's room, add some length to your exhale to help bring the nervous system to rest and digest, where we feel safe and in the moment. This is the space from within where we think more clearly and make decisions that are based on our response to the moment vs. a reaction from the past (often times subconsciously).
This is integration. Being able to experience both out thoughts/reflections while simultaneously experiencing our bodies response to said thoughts/reflections.
We all have one, the infamous Inner Critic. Many of us think the way to overcome this is to get rid of it all together or to ignore it and do anything to shut it out of our minds. I have learned that by pushing it away we simply make it stronger and sometimes even end up in a mental war between the inner critic thoughts and the part of us trying to convince ourselves otherwise. This is exhausting and to be honest, not sustainable.
What if we learned to be curious about the Inner Critic and see it as a part of us that's there to try to teach us something and maybe even there as a way to protect us.
Research says that if we build a relationship of curiosity with our Inner Critic and learn about it in the way we would when meeting a new person, we end up feeling more integrated, less anxious and more productive. The goal is for the Inner Critic to become background noise, which provides us the opportunity to step back and observe the voice, and how it may be serving us in the here and now vs. fighting it and taking ourselves out of the present moment. When we bring a sense of curiosity to the voice, we're able to dis-identify with it and therefore, use to when it's helpful and set it aside when we discern that it is not serving us in the moment.
So how do we build a relationship with the Inner Critic based on curiosity? Here are some steps to help create the shift:
1. Name it. "Hello Inner Critic (or whatever you choose to name it). I hear you. I'm aware of your presence in this moment. Thank you for showing up to protect me."
2. Be curious. Learn about it's function: how long it's been there, when it was born, who's voice it's taken on (e.g. is this how someone else has spoken to you before?), what it looks like, how it feels in your body (e.g. tight chest, shallow breath, disconnection from body, tension, etc.)
3. Address it's needs. What does it want, what are it's fears, how can we ease it's fears in a more functional way?
4. Look at the role of negative beliefs. What are the beliefs that the Inner Critic believes and tells us to be true? Do I think them to be true when I look at them? Again, be curious.
5. Be patient. Our relationship with our Inner Critic doesn't change overnight. Many of us have lived with it since we were young children. Remember, progress over perfection. Remember, the goal is to not get rid of it but to face it and discern it from our own thoughts and beliefs and explore it's presence with curiosity and compassion.