I need rest. Sleep restores and prepare my mind, body, and spirit so I can be the active, creative, positive mom-wife-friend-writer-consultant I want to be. This means making the most of precious nighttime hours, when nothing demands attention, when my surroundings are quiet.
Though the night is quiet, my mind is not.
A noisy train of thoughts whirs and clacks around the winding tracks of my brain. Sometimes this locomotive whistles and chugs the moment I hit the pillow, sabotaging sleep before it even begins. Other times it comes as a midnight train that interrupts my slumber.
The train of thought keeps me up at night.
So I’ve been searching for techniques to quiet the mental noise. Rather than wrestle with the question, “What keeps me up at night?” (that list of worries takes care of itself), I’m exploring ways to get more and better rest.
By talking with friends, exploring yoga and meditation, studying scriptures, and reading trusted authors, I’ve begun collecting wisdom and experimenting with new ways to find rest. I assembled some of this learning into a handout that sparked three weeks of conversation for a group of working people at my church:
After just a few minutes with these collected words, my friends and I began producing ideas for ourselves and each other. In that conversation and in several others since, I’ve collected a growing list of restful strategies:
Keep pen or pencil and paper on your nightstand.
When to-do’s or anxieties overtake you, make a list or free-write. One friend does this in the dark, so as not to wake her husband. It doesn’t matter if her writing is legible. She may never read what’s on the page. She just has to get the worries out, to clear her mind and get back to sleep.
Let a song or hymn fill your mind.
The more calming and repetitive the better. One friend likes Taize hymns.
Reconsider your bedtime ritual.
My last few actions before bed usually involve checking the calendar, laying out clothes, organizing/packing for work and school, setting an alarm, maybe even checking email. All these activities propel my brain into tomorrow, which feeds my inclination to fret about missing a train, forgetting a meeting, handling a tough situation. One practical friend suggested doing these future-focused things earlier in the day—before or after dinner, perhaps. She even goes so far as to plan the week’s outfits on Sunday. Good idea.
Embrace the idea of segmented sleep.
Your six to eight hours need not come all at once. Give yourself permission to be awake awhile—maybe to read or listen to music or just lie still. That alone could eliminate the stressful feeling that you’re not getting enough rest … so you can rest.
Pray yourself back to sleep.
For best results, express gratitude rather than a list of concerns. Saying “Thank you for keeping me calm”—even if you’re churning with worry—can shift your mind to a more trusting, restful place.
Ground yourself through touch.
One friend has a small bowl at his bedside, decorated with a cross. Touching the four points of the cross helps him connect with a calming sense of faith. A former Catholic still picks up her rosary, returning to tactile, rhythmic prayers she learned as a child.
Inspired but unfamiliar with rosaries and prayer beads, I researched and made several sets of prayer beads for friends who have joined me in this quest for rest. I gave them all away without reserving a strand for me. Maybe this weekend I can string another set.
Repeat a comforting phrase.
This could be a scripture, a poem, or affirmation. Regardless, repeated words become a mantra.
A yoga instructor explained to me that a mantra is a “mind protector”—a phrase that occupies the mind, leaving no space for destructive or anxious thoughts to invade. I love that imagery. It makes the whole idea of mantras more palatable to me. I’ve been playing with phrases like “I have enough, I am enough” and “breathe, release.” I silently recite the first half of the mantra on an inhale, and the second half on an exhale. Of all the techniques I’ve learned so far, this is helping me the most—not just at night, but any time I need to find focus or calm.
Help me learn some more. Please share your insights about finding rest. (Just don’t tell me what keeps you up at night. I’ll only be tempted to worry for you.)