Do you ever get the feeling that your brain is racing and won’t turn off or shut down so you can sleep? I sometimes suffer from what I call ‘butterfly brain’ where my thoughts flit here and there and never stay in one place long enough to form a complete sentence. I learned a long time ago that this makes it very hard to go to sleep at night; or I fall asleep and am wide awake just 15 minutes later with my thoughts still racing. So what to do? I hate milk so warm milk is out of the question; reading doesn’t work because if what I’m reading is that boring I won’t read it; I have been known to stay up half the night reading because I can’t put the book down. So here is what works for me:
First, I relax by tightening my muscles starting with my feet and working up, then relaxing them in the same order. Then I imagine a tiny hole in the top of my head and watch all the thoughts fly away. The next thing is to focus on breathing; I count every exhale up to 4 and start over. It is a lesson in mindfulness because if I’m not paying attention, I’m way past 4 and have to start again. It’s amazing to me how just focusing on 4 exhales over and over is relaxing. It also takes the focus off the butterfly thoughts.
Usually these techniques work for me. If they don’t, there’s always that book I want to finish reading!
We all live such busy lives it’s sometimes hard to find time to truly relax. Here’s an exercise to help:
Lie on your back on the floor or on the bed with your hands and arms lying next to your body. Try to breathe evenly but don’t focus on your breathing. Starting at your toes, curl your toes under and tense the muscles in your feet. Focus on tensing the muscles in your ankles, then your calves, your knees, thighs, and all the way up your body, including your shoulder, neck, and facial muscles. Hold the tension. Now starting with your toes, relax the muscles in the same order in which you tensed them.
This exercise is so you can feel the difference between tense and relaxed. During the day, check your muscles. Are they feeling tensed up? Relaxed? Now that you can tell the difference, you should be able to relax muscles that are feeling tense. Pay close attention to back, shoulder, and neck muscles, especially if you sit at a desk all day.
Breathing is essential to life. But did you know that how you breathe can be important, too? Take an inventory, right now, of how your body is positioned as you’re reading this. Are you sitting up straight? Or are you slumped in your chair or hunched over the keyboard? If you are not sitting up straight, your lungs can’t expand to their full capacity, which means you are not taking in enough oxygen. Imagine a string attached to your body that goes up through the top of your head to the ceiling. Now make sure that string is in a straight line. You should be sitting with your back as straight as possible; your chin at a 90 degree angle to the floor; your shoulders relaxed; your feet flat on the floor so your thighs are parallel to the floor. This opens up your chest cavity and allows your diaphragm and lungs to expand properly. Sitting tense and hunched over a desk or computer keyboard will make you tired.
Place one hand on your abdomen. As you breathe in (through your nose, not your mouth) focus on moving your diaphragm so your hand moves outward. Now slightly open your mouth and ‘whoosh’ out your breath. Repeat. Did you feel your body relax as you exhaled? This is a simple breathing exercise you can do any time during the day to relieve stress. You only need to do this 2 or 3 times to feel more relaxed.
Here’s another one: Place the tip of the tongue between your 2 front upper teeth. Now breathe in through your nose to the count of 4 while focusing on your abdominal breathing; hold the breath for the count of 7; exhale through your mouth to the count of 8. This exercise should be done while lying down the first few times as it may make you feel dizzy if you are not used to deep breathing.
And finally: if you have trouble falling asleep because your mind won’t ‘turn off’ here’s an exercise to try. Breathing normally, count the number of times you exhale up to 4; then start again. So 1,2,3,4,1,2,3,4, etc. By focusing on your breathing, you are telling your mind to be quiet so you can relax and sleep.
Let me know if these work for you, or if you have other suggestions.
Thanks for reading!