Tossing and turning all night? I’ve done it and you’ve done it, but what can we do when we know it’s time to sleep and we lay awake in bed? Using prescription medication as a sleep aid subjects you to many possible side effects like diarrhea, headache, and heartburn. In fact, some sleeping pills can cause you to sleepwalk…YIKES!!! There is also a risk that one becomes dependent (addicted) to the sleeping pills. There are a few simple techniques you can do to try and get some well-needed sleep (without the side effects).


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If you look up insomnia on any internet search site you will learn that roughly 1/3 of the population suffers from being unable to fall asleep and stay asleep and that same number will experience some form of insomnia during their lifetime.  Causes of insomnia include: family history, obesity, stress, and depression.  Poor sleeping habits, alcohol, tobacco, and eating before sleep can also cause or worsen symptoms of the sleep disorder.  Even still, those who live and lead healthy lifestyles aren't immune from having difficulty sleeping.

I work 24 hour shifts in the Emergency Services field and sleep is at a premium.  Being up and/or facing stressful scenarios during my work shift wreaks havoc on my sleep cycle the work day and the days that follow.  What works for me is worth trying yourself.  It will cost you nothing and is easy to implement.  What I'm about to suggest is not difficult to learn nor difficult to do...you have nothing to lose!

Aside from getting comfortable and setting the sleep mood, what works for me is forcing my mind to focus on external stimulus that isn't there.  Confused?  Let me explain:  I like to focus on something peaceful like say playing a round of gold at my favorite golf course.  It's early morning and the sun is starting to rise and peer through the trees.  As I approach the first tee I can hear the morning birds chirping and both feel and see the morning wind as it blows the trees and the wisps of the tall grass (I find it helps to be descriptive of your surroundings).  The smell of freshly cut grass is a reminder that I need to water my lawn later.  I'm not joined by anybody else which allows me to take in the sights, sounds, and smells of my surroundings.  I place the ball in my hands and the tee is between my pointer and ring fingers as I'm slowly walking on the firm grass up to the tee box.  I place the ball and tee into the ground and take a step back and size-up the 1st hole.  It is a rather easy par 4 about 300 yards to the putting surface playing straight with only a few sand traps in front of the green.  I take a few practice swings focusing on the fundamentals I've learned like taking a deep breath on the back swing and following through as I exhale.

The more you visualize mentally and imagine the sensations you encounter, the more at ease you will be.  You will be aware of your surroundings and that's what we're focunsing on.  Only 17 more holes to go!

Being aware of your breathing reduces stress and you are less likely to have your mind wander off.  Much is written about breathing to relax and the importance to focus on your breathing during activities like yoga.  Often times during stressful situations taking a deep breath and counting to four is just what one needs to get back to a calm and collected self.  For me, breathing was something I already did and I never paid much attention to it until I developed difficulty getting to sleep and staying asleep.  A relaxed mind and body make for a better chance at getting the needed Zzzz's!

A good way to start 'learning' how to take deep breaths is to get in a comfortable position in which you normally sleep, and if you're unsure what that is, try getting into the position you find yourself in when you awake from sleep.  Start by focusing and being aware that you are breathing normally before you take a deep breath.  Now close your eyes, even if it's already dark, and concentrate on slowly inhaling through your nose letting your belly fully expand (you may need to push your chest out or roll your shoulders back to allow your lungs to fully expand).  Hold the air in for a few moments but not too long that you start to feel discomfort.  Let the air out just as slow as you brought it in while your mind only focuses on the breathing and nothing else.  You can start your mental imaging attempt (golfing in my example and case) by doing some deep breathing before you let your mind take you away to another place.  There are many, many internet pages dedicated to the suggestion or a regimen for breathing like an absolute number of reps. (like exercise) or trying other breathing techniques which may very well help, but if you're just 'learning' how to deep breathe now, save those other regimens until you get comfortable with the idea of incorporating it to your sleep attempt(s) and/or daily life.

Obviously, should you suffer from insomnia and it is disrupting your lifestyle and daily activities you should seek the care of a competent, qualified Physician.  The techniques presented are not to be construed as qualified medical treatment but rather techniques you can try to help aid in you falling asleep and staying asleep.  Any hobby (like hiking your favorite forest, bowling, or flying a kite in an open field, to name a few) will suffice if you focus on what you see, feel, hear, smell, or touch and focus on being intentional with your breathing like deep breath in through the nose and slowly exhaling out your mouth.  Being able to reduce any stress by focusing on your breathing or imagining you are elsewhere using mental imaging techniques (hitting the perfect golf shot, the sound of the morning wind, etc...) have helped and continue to help me.  I pray they also bring you some relief!