Three ways to manage a sleepless night

by Erica Quam

Do you have times when your to-do list is overflowing and you have so many thoughts in your head that you can't even fall asleep at night?

I call this the "brain buzz". I've had quite a few of these sleepless nights in my life. When it literally feels like your brain is buzzing - there are so many thoughts going on all at once. 

When this happens it feels a little out of control. It feels like your brain is in charge and there's nothing that you can do except to "try to fall asleep". 

Just like you tell your dog to sit, you sometimes have to tell your brain to sit.

How do you do that, you ask?

Here are 3 strategies:

1. The Brain Release - take out your journal, a yellow legal pad, or a just simple sheet of paper. Write down everything that's going on in your head and put it down on paper. Write down your worries, fears, things you are dwelling about from the past, and things coming up that you are thinking about. Set a timer for 10 minutes. Don't stop writing until the timer goes off or the thoughts stop coming.

Once you have everything down, take a step back and look at what you've written down. Begin to organize it. Your brain loves order. Cross off all the things that you don't have control over. Circle the things that you do. 

This exercise alone can usually make such a huge difference, that you start to yawn and are ready to lay your head down again and fall asleep.

2. Prioritize - Take 2 minutes to set a priority for tomorrow. 

What's my number one priority tomorrow?

So many times we allow our minds to wander wherever they want to go and we have to reign them back in. Train your mind like you train a dog.

Priorities are decisions. When we haven't set any priorities, we have lots of unmade decisions in our head. These unmade decisions take up a lot of energy. When you can set a priority it will direct your mind to take aim. 

Next, simply identify your very next step. Get clear on that. Then get ready to catch some zzz's.

3. Let go and breathe - Try lying down with your calves resting on the seat of a chair, or your bed (depending on how high your bed is from the floor). Rest your arms along by your sides. Close your eyes and place something over your eyes - like an eye bag. When your eyes are busy, the brain is busy. When your eyes are still, the brain can become quiet.

A simple eye bag (I like one with flax seed which is cooling and lavender which is calming) allows the eyes to relax away from your eyelids and you move from your frontal brain back into the back brain - the brain of meditation.

Being on the floor vs. trying to just do this in bed opens up your chest and allows the breath to flow more freely. Focus on your breath. Feel the cool air moving in and the warm our moving out. Observe the beat of your heart and allow your breath to be longer. Try lengthening your exhalation to be twice as long as the inhalation and consciously let go of any thoughts and any areas of tension from inside. 

Try this for 10 minutes or whenever you notice a yawn. Be ready to crawl back into bed and fall into a much deeper sleep.

Have you found other helpful strategies that have worked for you in the past? Share those in the comments below.