What to do when you go to bed and all you do is toss and turn!
I just came back from London – one of my favorite cities – and delivered a talk at Warwick Business School while there. It was an engaged audience and an earnest woman asked me for help with a persistent problem. Many others indicated interest when she explained her situation.
And, in the hundreds of talks and workshops I have conducted all over the world, this topic has risen again and again. It is a universal problem and seems to be afflicting more and more people.
It is likely that you, too, have been afflicted by it at some time. Or you will be.
She was passing through a rough patch at work and thought she was in real danger of being pink-slipped. She said, “When I go to bed, I just can’t fall asleep. I’ve tried counting sheep. I’ve tried a glass of warm milk. I’ve tried vigorous exercise. They simply don’t work for me.”
We all know that getting an adequate amount of sleep is essential for good health and optimal mental functioning. ‘Adequate’ may vary with individual and age but at least seven hours is a good benchmark.
So why do we fall short?
Why do we toss and turn and fall into fitful slumber from which we emerge bleary-eyed and tired to power our way through yet another day with caffeine imparted by coffee or colas?
The reason is your mental chatter. That incessant stream of insistent thought that is always with you, that paints dark scenarios of the future and forces you to dwell there.
You spend enormous amounts of your emotional energy contemplating the two or three things that are wrong in your life.
More precisely, on the two or three things that you have arbitrarily decided are wrong with your life.
And you completely ignore the fifty to five hundred things that are pretty darn good about your life.
I point out to my audiences that they are incredibly privileged. They don’t have to wonder where their next meal will come from. They have beds to sleep in and roofs over their head.
When I point this out, they acknowledge that they are privileged.
YOU are privileged. In saner moments you also recognize this.
But you don’t feel privileged. You feel put upon and stressed out.
And this is because you let your mental chatter take you to your areas of disturbance in life and you expend your emotional energy there.
Starting tonight, try this:
Beginning five minutes before you go to bed consciously think of the many ways in which you are truly blessed and fortunate.
Experience the feeling of gratitude. Feel it arise from the soles of your feet and well up through your body and gush out through your face.
This is not just a ‘thinking’ exercise. You cannot just make a checklist and go through it. Food to eat, check. A roof over your head, check. Good health, check.
You have to actually feel the gratitude, not just think it.
It may take you some time to get the hang of it. Persist till you actually experience gratitude.
Then go to bed.
Your sleepless nights will come to an end. Many of my students report that they began the exercise but never finished it because they fell asleep.
I trust that this will also be your problem.