A long time ago, maybe 10 years ago, most people got ready for bed, got into bed, maybe read for a bit, and then turned out the light and went to sleep. The vast majority of people did this without a TV, radio, CD, white noise maker, or nature sounds other than those happening outside their window.
A large number of people cannot go to sleep without an artificial device or a pill. It’s not that we aren’t tired, we are exhausted. It’s that we can’t be alone with our thoughts. The idea of spending even five minutes awake and in silence terrifies us. We are afraid of our thoughts. They come rampaging in at night, with demands and fears. So we reach for a pill, leave the TV on and get. . .a crummy night’s sleep.
Sleeping with the TV or radio on interrupts natural sleep patterns. We don’t get the rest we need and feel cranky the next day. Pills can leave you groggy, sleepy and not rested. And that’s the least of it.
So here is a simple way to get the rest you need and drift off to sleep peacefully:
1. Create a ritual about going to bed. Start it about 45 minutes before you want to go to sleep. It can be perfectly easy–make sure the dog or cat is in or out, the doors locked, lunch packed, clothes put out. So you don’t have to worry the morning routine.
2. Make a list of things you need to get done the next day. If you don’t make the list, you will start making it once you are in bed and the three things you have to get done will turn into an endless list of failure and regret. Making a list of chores, goals, or things that have to get done allow you to relax.
3. Get ready for bed. Brush and floss your teeth, wash your face, get into your nightclothes. Whatever else you do to get into bed. If you are addicted to the TV, turn it on, but have the volume so you can barely hear it. If you have a timer on it, set it for the smallest possible time–five, 10 minutes. If you don’t have a timer, turn off the light and the TV.
4. Take control of your thoughts. When unwanted worries show up, imagine holding a hand up, palm forward, and ask them to step aside. Then create a different thought pattern. One of the following works well:
—You have won a huge lottery. Millions. Your family is taken care of, your retirement is set, taxes are paid. Now what? How will you spend the rest of the money?
–You can have any house you want. Design it. What have you always wanted in a house? Where would it be? What kind of roof? What kind of landscaping? Add all the details you can imagine for every room.
–You don’t need to work anymore. You can do whatever you want. Be the CEO of a huge organization, a cab driver, a musician, an artist. You can change the world in any way you want. What would you do? What does your first day look like–from breakfast on?
These thoughts are challenging enough to make you want to add details, but not stressful enough to keep you awake. You’ll go to sleep in the middle of planning something fun. You may start to have interesting dreams and creative ideas. Not a bad result for a good night’s sleep.
–Quinn McDonald is a writer, life- and creativity coach. She teaches communication skills, including writing and giving presentations as well as how to make and use an art journal, even if you can’t draw.