300…297…294…291…288…Every night when my head hits the pillow, I try to lull myself to sleep by counting backwards. Doing simple math like counting sheep is not enough for active minds so research shows you have to make more complicated calculations, such as mine where I start at 300 and go backwards by threes. Yes, I ultimately get to zero and then start again at 500 counting backwards by four as it mixes up the numbers. Flipping the off switch in our minds shouldn’t be this complicated but millions of people struggle with insomnia and resort to desperate measures like my math challenge. In fact, 30% of adults experience short-term insomnia and 10% of adults suffer from chronic insomnia.
There are many causes for insomnia including physical pain, mental health or behavioral difficulties. Daily life has many dimensions that keep our minds whirling and often what keeps us up one week is different than the next. Our minds are cluttered with the tasks and emotions of the day and agitated about what is going to happen tomorrow. So much so that our minds are still running when we go to bed while our body is at rest. But the overarching theme for insomnia often can be traced to not trusting the flow and process of life. It is anxiety based, which is future-oriented, worrying about tomorrow. A meeting, presentation, a relationship that is bumpy, a challenging family reunion or just wondering how to get through the day. We toss and turn trying to fix it, change it, deal with it or just overthinking it to our detriment. And then it feeds off itself, as chronic insomniacs very well know, where the main source of your stress is the stress you’re feeling for not falling asleep! You look at your clock every five minutes, and now get more stressed about tomorrow because you realize you will now not get adequate sleep. It’s a perpetual downward cycle where your bed and nighttime become the enemy as you cannot seem to surrender to it.
So how do we let go and blissfully fall into deep sleep? Let go is the operative word as that’s precisely all we have to do, just let go. Awareness is so critical in dealing with our messy minds, so perhaps start with noticing what is draining your energy. It may not be the simple obvious answer so dig deep into your consciousness and don’t be frightened to face your reality. Be gentle on yourself, regardless of the circumstances, as the vast majority of challenges we ruminate over typically work themselves out. In fact, in a survey of seniors asking them their biggest regret in life, worrying was the number one answer. We tend to worry about far too many things, big and small, most of which resolve themselves with time. So, the simple solution is simply to let go, stop clinging to the issue, replaying it over and over in our minds, and simply let it go for the evening. There will be plenty of time and renewed energy to deal with it in the morning – plus a fresh perspective – so detach from it for the evening. Problems can feel their darkest and most extreme in the middle of the night, often releasing that negative emotional energy by sunrise simply by the promise of a new day.
500…496…492…488…484…A wonderful affirmation I use while counting down is I now gently release all thoughts of the day and slip into a peaceful sleep, knowing that tomorrow will take care of itself. Just try to let go of everything I am clinging to, putting faith in tomorrow that all will be fine. Because, inevitably, just about everything does turn out okay. Overthinking, even overdrinking, a problem rarely sheds any light or resolves the issue. The paradox is we are at our best when rested so it makes even more sense to get the proper rest to face whatever challenge we are weary of facing tomorrow. If we can not get caught up in all our thoughts and emotions and simply trust the flow and process of life, we can all lead healthier and happier lives.