As a business owner, you might find you can’t sleep at night even though you’re dead tired. You may struggle to shut your brain off.
We are often under stress–-and a lot of it. Shutting your brain off and getting to sleep can seem impossible. Insomnia can be your constant companion.
Keeping all those balls in the air is a significant cognitive load that leads to mental fatigue and stress.
Our minds are a significant–if not our greatest–asset.
Thinking creatively, and puzzling long and hard over how to solve problems is key to our business success.
Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to shut your brain off, even though you need to sleep.
Yet we often find our minds can be our downfall.
It can be hard to shut your brain off so that when you are exhausted, you can sleep at night.
Racing thoughts can plague our days and our nights, making it hard to focus, hard to relax and hard to sleep.
You’re frustrated. “Why can’t I sleep at night even though I’m tired???”
When you have racing thoughts:
- You can’t slow your thoughts down.
- The same thoughts go around and around and around in your mind.
- You can’t shut the thoughts off and fully relax.
- It’s difficult to focus on anything other than your thoughts.
- You keep thinking about a problem.
- You replay a conversation over and over.
- You start catastrophizing, or thinking of worst-case scenarios.
How to shut off your brain if you can’t sleep at night
The bad news is that the nature of the mind is to think. Thinking is its job.
You actually can’t shut your brain off.
We can’t stop our minds from thinking. We can’t stop having thoughts.
But there’s good news.
The mind can be trained to be more helpful, and there are strategies you can use to work with a busy mind and racing thoughts so you can get some relief.
There is a mind-body feedback loop that we can use to help calm racing thoughts and promote sleep.
There are four keys to encouraging sleep: use the body’s relaxation response; communicate experientially, be consistent, and practice sleep hygiene.
Use the relaxation response when you can’t sleep at night
Just as a car has a hard time with a sudden stop–the passengers can keep hurtling forward even though the car isn’t moving any more–the stress hormones keep hurtling forward even when the body has stopped.
The body’s physiology needs support and time to slow down, and when it does, then the mind can relax.
Here is a video of a short, relaxing movement practice you can follow along before bed.
Breath awareness practice can also be helpful.
The mere act of placing your attention on your breath can have an impact.
You don’t have to change or lengthen your breath to encourage the body’s relaxation response.
Here’s a guided breath awareness recording you can use at bedtime.
In order to use the body’s own resources to help you relax and sleep, you need to communicate experientially.
You may have noticed how telling yourself to relax, shutting the brain off, doesn’t always have the desired effect.
But you can engage in behaviours and take actions that send “relax” messages to the body and mind.
- Develop and maintain comforting bed time rituals. Predictability alone helps the mind and body relax because it knows what to expect.
Making sleep easier is a learning process. The more we repeat our rituals, the more the body comes to know what’s happening and will start to engage the relaxation response faster.
- Engage your senses. Use as much comforting sensory input as you can. Apply or diffuse essential oils that calm and help promote sleep. There is research that supports the calming effects of lavender.
Vetiver and bergamot are two other essential oils for which there is anecdotal evidence that they help sleep.
Any scent you find comforting or relaxing can help, because apart from the direct physiological effect of a scent, emotional association is also a powerful relaxation inducer.
As mentioned above, consistency is an important aspect of supporting sleep.
Whatever strategies you choose, it’s important to keep up with them.
For one, strategies don’t work if you don’t employ them 🤪
But also, repetition is how we build habits, and over time habits help us build new neural pathways.
Much as we might want to be able to go to bed, lay our heads on the pillow and fall right asleep, sleep doesn’t just happen.
Sleep hygiene is the technical term for behavioural interventions that have been shown by research to promote good sleep.
Good sleep hygiene means having both a bedroom environment and daily routines that promote consistent, uninterrupted sleep.
When you consult your doctor for sleep problems, they will always assess your sleep hygiene, usually by asking questions about these practices.
Good sleep hygiene practices
- Maintain a regular bed and wake time schedule (even on weekends). This teaches the body what to expect and helps it engage the relaxation response.
- Create a sleep environment that is dark, quiet, comfortable and cool. These are parasympathetic nervous system cues that help the body and mind relax.
- Avoid eating and exercising at least 2-3 hours before your regular bedtime. These are activities that stimulate the body.
- Avoid stimulants (e.g. tobacco, coffee, tea, soft drinks, chocolate) close to bedtime (optimal is to avoid for 6-8 hours before bed).
- Avoid alcohol close to bedtime. It does initially make you feel sleep and relaxed but it leads to disrupted sleep cycles later in the night.
- Avoid screen time 3 hours before bed. Light, especially blue light, inhibits the production of melatonin, the hormone needed for sleep.
Yoga Nidra for sleep
If you’ve tried all these things and are still struggling to sleep, you might like to try distracting your mind.
As I mentioned, the mind’s job is to think. Left to its own devices, for a number of reasons it will worry or ruminate.
Yoga Nidra is a guided practice for the mind that you can do lying down. It’s a form of conscious sleep that encourages deep relaxation. There is research on the calming effects of Yoga Nidra and there is evidence that Yoga Nidra can be an effective intervention for PTSD.
Here is a Yoga Nidra practice I recorded for you to try out.
But I tried all the things and I can’t sleep at night!!!
If you still can’t sleep, rather than lying in the dark getting more and more frustrated, it can help to give it something to think about. Listening to audio books, dharma talks, or sleep stories can help.
Make sure whatever you choose to listen to encourages feelings of calm and happiness.
A good contemporary romance is far better than a detective novel because of the emotions they elicit.
Dharma talks are often good because they address uplifting topics such as compassion, generosity, etc., and because they are given in the context of meditation practice, are often delivered in a soft and calm tone of voice. Insight Timer and Dharma Seed apps are two free resources.
Sleep stories and sleep podcasts abound. The Calm and Insight Timer apps have sleep stories, as does Audible, and a simple google search for sleep podcasts will show you plenty of options.
If you’d like help with your racing thoughts, or support to manage your stress and mental health, why not book a free “assess and recommend” call with me to see if we’d be a good fit to work together.