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Tina and Michael LeBlanc

Tina and Michael LeBlanc

Here’s the scene: You have a busy day at work and with your family, and you finally get everything done before you go to bed. You turn off the light, hit the pillow….and start thinking. Instead of easing into sleep you start worrying about your bills, that argument with your spouse or everything that needs to be done tomorrow.
 
You try to stop thinking about it, but no such luck. Around and around you go in a thinking merry-go-round, getting more and more frustrated because you know you are tired but you can’t get your mind to unhook from your worries. And getting frustrated just keeps you awake.
 
Getting your mind to unhook from the thinking merry-go-round is easier than you might suspect. It’s about establishing some new habits that get triggered when your head hits the pillow.
 
There are two things that need to happen simultaneously for you to step off the merry-go-round and allow your tired body to do what it really wants to do – to slip slowly into a deep rest.
 
 

The first thing you need to do is to calm down your nervous system.

 
This means getting your body into a state of low energy in order to prepare itself to enter the first stage of sleep. This is done by purposeful and consistent deep belly breathing.

 

The second thing you need to do is to re-focus your mind.

 
You need to learn to direct your attention to items not related to your personal life and that require some concentration, but not enough to keep you awake.
 
Interested in learning how to unhook from the thinking merry-go-round so you can get to sleep sooner?
 
Here are 3 techniques that work.
This technique is not only for math lovers. It’s intended to distract you from the worries that typically occupy our thoughts when things quiet down.

 

Remember – you need to include both calming breaths

AND thinking about non-personal things

 

How to do it

  1. Once you settle into bed and close your eyes, bring your attention to your breath.
  2. Start taking slow, deep belly breaths, keeping your attention on how your body is relaxing. If your mind wanders to other things, gently bring your attention back to your breath.
  3. Once you have taken 8-10 belly breaths, bring your attention to the number 400.
  4. Start at 400, take a deep breath, and subtract by 3 down to 397.
  5. Take another deep breath, and subtract by 3 down to 394.
  6. Continue this process as long as you need to. You mind may wander, and if so gently bring your attention back to the counting backwards and the deep breaths.
  7. There may be times where you need more than one breath in between each calculation. Don’t rush the math! Ensure that you subtracting at a calm pace.
The reason we use the number 3 is because we want to ensure you have to keep your attention on the calculation, and using even numbers results in the process being so easy that your mind will wander more.
 
You can change the numbers in this technique if you like. Some of the more astute math folks like starting with a larger number, like 2000, and subtracting by 13, or by 9.
 
Choose the numbers that are slightly difficult, but not frustrating. The goal is not to get the calculations perfect, but to keep your mind away from your to-do list while calming your body.
This strategy is geared toward you using a room of your house as the object of your focus to keep your to-do list at bay when you are trying to sleep.
 
Choose a room where you are very familiar with at least 30 objects and that brings you a positive or calming state when you bring it to mind. Let’s call it your ‘Happy Room’. It’s not necessary that you are exact with the location of the items in the room, or even accurate with the items, as the goal is to have something to focus on.

How to do it

  1. Once you settle into bed and close your eyes, bring your attention to your breath.
  2. Start taking slow, deep belly breaths, keeping your attention on how your body is relaxing. If your mind wanders to other things, gently bring your attention back to your breath.
  3. Once you have taken 8-10 belly breaths, bring your attention to a room in your home.
  4. Imagine walking into this calm or positive space, and bring your attention to an object in the room. Think about its colour, shape, weight, location. Ornaments, furniture, light fixtures, pictures, mats…everything in the room can be used.
  5. While considering the object ensure you are taking deep breaths to accompany the thoughts.
  6. Take another deep breath, imagine turning your attention to the next object, and walk toward it. Pick it up if you can and examine its colour, shape, weight, and location. Take deep breaths as you turn this over and examine it.
  7. If your mind wanders to something outside of the room, take a deep breath and gently return your attention to the room.
  8. Continue this process. If you notice that you have completed the room but are still not sleepy enough, imagine leaving that room and entering another room to continue the process.
An alternative to this is to choose a calming, safe or positive place you have visited (your cottage, trip to Mexico, your favourite hiking trail) and visualize yourself there. Imagine the smells, sights, feelings, sounds.  This guided imagery process is very helpful for helping us get into a resting state.
Keeping our mind away from upcoming to-do’s or past emotional events, and coupling that with the purposeful calming of our body, gives our body a chance to do its thing and drift off to sleep.
 
However, there are times when our anxiety is strong, making it difficult to unblend from our worries. In this case we’ll need a more challenging mental routine to follow to ensure our worries don’t win out and keep us up.
 
In this strategy you will walk backwards from two points – the end of the alphabet and from the number 26. This double challenge makes it difficult for our mind to wander to our worries.

How to do it

  1. Once you settle into bed and close your eyes, bring your attention to your breath.
  2. Start taking slow, deep belly breaths, keeping your attention on how your body is relaxing. If your mind wanders to other things, gently bring your attention back to your breath.
  3. Once you have taken 8-10 belly breaths, bring your attention to the end of the alphabet. We are going to begin a process of working backwards from Z.
  4. When you have Z in your mind, take a deep breath, and bring up the image of the #26.
  5. Take another deep breath, and go to Y.
  6. Another deep breath, and go to 25.
  7. Continue the process of deep breath, letter, deep breath, number while working backwards to A and #1.
  8. If you feel like you are moving too quickly with the letters and numbers, slow things down by inserting more deep breaths. The last thing you want to do is get agitated because it’s too difficult or too fast.

Final Thoughts on Re-focusing for Sleep

Having one or more strategies in place for when you close your eyes is a game changer. With these in our back pocket we are no longer just ‘wishing’ that we can stop the worry merry-go-round when our eyes close. We actually have a plan that will pay off with better sleep.
 
Coupling both mental distraction games and deep breaths is a recipe for successful sleep. These strategies will take some practice to make them routine. Give yourself a chance to make them work by trying them repeatedly over several weeks.
 
If you find that the mental games are either too hard, or too easy, adjust by either simplifying or making them more complex to fit your needs.
 
There’s no right or wrong way to couple these two strategies. Find the ones that work best for you and incorporate them into your nights.