It’s the end of a long day and all you can think about is sinking into your warm safe bed and falling asleep. Once you’ve taken care of all your responsibilities and finally get to jump in bed, you toss and turn and lay awake all night long with repetitive negative thoughts or worries running through your mind.
If this sounds familiar to you, don’t worry, you aren’t alone. Many people have trouble sleeping due to persistent thoughts about their past or worries about what the future holds. It seems that these pesky dark thoughts always show up at bedtime. When the hustle and noise of the day finally comes to an end and you get to rest in silence, there is nothing to stop your mind from wandering.
Research shows that thinking negative thoughts right before falling asleep causes poor sleep quality, restlessness, and even nightmares.
Changing Your Brain’s Default Mode
Our brain’s default mode is known as “mind-wandering.” This mindset, linked with thoughts of the past and future, surfaces when we don’t have anything directly occupying our attention. It also often involves worrying about what others think of us and tends to lean towards the negative. For some people these thoughts become obsessive and their brain becomes trained to think of sleep as something unpleasant. This can lead to chronic insomnia and even depression. In order to combat this situation and get the rest that is so desperately needed, the brain needs to be reprogramed to think of sleep as something safe and positive.
The first step towards retraining your brain is something called cognitive behavioral therapy, which is a fancy way of saying that whenever a negative thought pops into your head, replace it with a positive one.
It sounds ridiculously simple in theory but many people have a tough time with this one. Some people find it easier to think negative thoughts than positive ones, and becoming positive takes more effort.
You need to recognize the negative thoughts for what they are, push them away, and think of something positive instead. You can think of an inspirational quote, an affirmation, a shortlist of your gratitudes, or simply about something that brings you joy.
Here are some examples of positive sleep affirmations from SleepLikeTheDead.com:
- Sleep is pleasant, relaxing and even blissful.
- Sleep is to be enjoyed. It is a time of rest and rejuvenation.
- Falling asleep quickly is easy and effortless.
- Falling back to sleep if one wakes up during the night is effortless and occurs quickly.
- It’s easy to relax and stay relaxed in bed.
Fall Asleep Filled With Gratitude
A recent study in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, led by psychology professor Nancy Digdon, showed that participants that practiced a gratitude exercise just before bed each night slept better. Writing in a gratitude journal for just 15 minutes at night helped people worry less at bedtime and consequently fell asleep faster and stayed asleep throughout the night.
Reflecting on all the good things in your life makes you worry less and feel more positive. By focusing on the right things you can train your brain to think happy thoughts on autopilot. Instead of obsessing about an argument you lost with a co-worker, you’ll be thinking about the praise you received from your boss. Rather than worrying about how you’ll get everything on your list done tomorrow, you’ll think about all the great things you accomplished today. This simple change of your thought pattern will help you drift off to sleep in record time.
Take a few minutes in the evening to write in a gratitude journal, focus on 3 to 5 things that you are feeling grateful for. If you want to take it one step farther you can write a thank you letter to someone or something that has made you happy this week. If it’s about a real person in your life you can even deliver that letter and help spread the optimism and positivity to others. You can brighten someone’s day with your own gratitude and maybe help them sleep a little better at night too.
A Few Extra Sleep Tips
Positive thinking will help you acheive a better sleep quality, but there are a few other things that could help you out as well.
One is having a darkened, quiet room to drift off to dreamland in. Another is having a weighted blanket to sleep under. Weighted blankets are designed to provide “deep touch pressure.” This type of pressure, that mimics the feeling of being held, has been shown to increase serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps you stay calm and feel happier.
Now you’re ready to put on your jammies, write in your gratitude journal, say your sleep affirmations out loud, and then fall asleep to dream of wonderful things.