*This is a guest post by Benjamin Schoeffler, a certified medical hypnotist who uses meditation, psychology, and practical neuroscience to help insomniacs become sound sleepers.
If you’ve ever laid in bed completely exhausted but unable to sleep (and for multiple nights in a row,) you may have insomnia. This could be a short-term bout of insomnia or something longer term, but the cause is usually the same for both: Your. Brain. Won’t. Let. You. Sleep.
Your racing mind has you thinking about everything from the mistakes you made today, to what might happen in the future, to random things like how to build a space suit for a giraffe. (Because they did build some for chimpanzees in the early days of the space program, your brain tells you.)
If your brain just won’t slow down and let you sleep, here are some actionable ways to steer it into dream land.
The Real Reason Your Brain Is So Chatty
I’ll get right to the point: Anxiety is the main driver for most people’s racing minds. That can be particularly strange if you don’t feel like you are stressed and anxious. You may not even know you are experiencing anxiety, when you actually are.
It comes down to how the brain works.
The human brain was evolved to protect you and keep you alive. Therefore it has a bias to remember and think about things that might be dangerous or prevent you from living. That is why if you ever complete a project and you get 10 compliments on your performance, but one negative critique, you will probably focus a lot more on the negative thing rather than all of the positive feedback. In fact, you might even forget you had received any compliments at all.
Why Insomnia Is Even Worse Today
Back in the caveman days, there were a lot of dangers around, but there was also a lot of downtime. I mean, what else are you going to do at night after a successful hunt besides stare at a fire or try and invent some bongo drums? This time was spent reflecting, relaxing, and connecting with others, much like a meditative practice. It’s also the reason why camping in the outdoors can be so enjoyable and relaxing.
Today, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and the 24/7 news cycle try to snag your attention constantly—even if just for 10 or 20 seconds. Advertisers use even more extreme methods to catch your eye.
This leads to short attention spans and people defaulting to a ‘context-switching’ mode. This is when you switch from one task to another very quickly.
One minute you are looking at Facebook, 10 seconds later you get a text message that draws your attention, then there is a link in the text message so you click the link to check it out, and are then drawn into a funny advertisement, which leads you to wonder if you should purchase the product … all within 60 seconds!
This is how the brain learns how to race—and how to keep you up at night. Your brain has learned this behavior, but it can unlearn it as well.
3 Top Ways Insomniacs Can Quiet the Mind and Sleep
The solution to insomnia is relatively simple if the main reason you can’t sleep is because of a racing mind: Change your brain’s default mode from one of anxiety to one of calmness. These are what I’ve found to be the most effective ways to do this:
1. Mindfulness Meditation
One of the simplest ways to change your mind’s default mode is through meditation. The type of meditation I practice and teach is mindfulness because there is so much scientific research backing it up.
There is even data that directly suggests mindfulness meditation is effective at helping your shut down your brain, shut down your body, and sleep deeper. Let me drop a science bomb on you, courtesy of the National Institute of Health:
“…mindfulness might be useful in the treatment of insomnia as a means to reduce pre-sleep cognitive and physiological arousal. They suggested that people tend to engage in goal-directed and controlled information processing, (e.g., problem solving and decision-making) during the day and that sleep is facilitated by cognitive deactivation and a reduction in the amount of controlled and strategic information processing. This cognitive deactivation is paralleled by physiologic deactivation characterized by a decrease in muscle tone and a slowing of the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. In this way, mindfulness may help facilitate cognitive deactivation and physiological de-arousal by allowing the individual to disengage from their daily concerns and strivings.”
I know that’s pretty heavy on the jargon, so let me translate: Meditation makes your mind more calm so you aren’t thinking about solving your problems while you’re trying to sleep. It also allows your body to relax, which is required for you in order to fall asleep.
It stops the over-thinking and you change your brain’s default mode to one of calmness, rather than context switching all of the time.
There are tons of ways to learn mindfulness-based meditation. From free youtube videos online, to in-person meditation courses. You can also check out my course Deep Sleep for the Busy Mind, which will teach you how to meditate and give you a host of tools to help you fall asleep.
2. Cognitive Behavioral Techniques
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT for short) has been shown to improve insomnia in as little as one session. In one randomized control trial, 50 to 60 percent of people with insomnia who had a single session of CBT were able to sleep better.
It means the vast majority of people shouldn’t be reaching for the sleeping pills to sleep better, rather they should learn better mental strategies to fall asleep naturally.
What are some of the key techniques of CBT? One of the most common is keeping a sleep journal, which allows you to track the things that impact your sleep. Other lifestyle factors can also affect your sleep, like caffeine intake (are you drinking a triple shot espresso every day?), exercise, alcohol, and stress levels.
Another common strategy is addressing sleep hygiene issues. If your bedroom is not a peaceful place, it can severely impact your sleep length and sleep quality. Sometimes a simple adjustment like getting ‘black out’ curtains to make your room darker can be the difference from being awake for hours at night, to being able to fall asleep within 20 minutes.
One of my favorite ways to help people with insomnia is hypnotherapy. I’m a medical hypnotist so I’ve been able to see firsthand how hypnosis can help people fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer, and wake up with more energy.
Hypnosis can help insomniacs go on date nights with the spouse without feeling exhausted, contribute creative ideas to meetings at work, and have energy during the day rather than just trying to fight off sleep.
“Significantly more patients had a normal night’s sleep when on autohypnosis alone than when they received placebo or Mogadon (a sleep medication).” (Credit: Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine)
Through hypnosis, you enter a heightened state of learning that combines the best parts of meditation with a deep sense of focus. This allows you to learn how to use your subconscious mind, the part of you that controls automatic behavior.
This is also the part of you that controls when you fall asleep and how deeply you sleep, which makes hypnosis the perfect tool to use with insomnia.
Where to Begin?
You can find all of these recommendations—CBT therapists, hypnotists, and meditation teachers—in various places online or locally.
Another option is my online program, Deep Sleep for the Busy Mind, which takes all of these tools and makes them available to you from the comfort of your own home. The program is specially designed to help reduce anxiety, reprogram the subconscious mind, and help you relearn a better way to sleep naturally. I designed it from years of experience helping people solve their sleep issues. It includes:
- Daily mindfulness meditation instructions to teach you how to meditate
- Sleep journals to identify the causes of insomnia
- Checklists to identify the most effective sleep hygiene issues
- Hypnosis audios to help you fall asleep faster and address the subconscious causes of sleep.
There are three different tiers of the Deep Sleep hypnosis program – basic, premium, and exclusive – choose the one that works best for your budget and needs. Plus, you can use the coupon code ‘MelissaMindfulness’ at checkout for 15% off the program as well as a free bonus gift exclusive to the Mindful Minutes audience. I also offer a 60-day money-back guarantee if you don’t love the program (but I know you will).
Take action now—things don’t change unless you decide to make a change.
About the Author:
Benjamin Schoeffler is a certified medical hypnotist and has been specializing in sleep and anxiety for many years. He’s also the host of the Shut Up, Brain podcast and creator of the online program Deep Sleep for the Busy Mind , where he helps people reduce anxiety by using meditation, psychology, and practical neuroscience.