It’s 3AM and you’re staring at the ceiling, in a panic because you can’t sleep and you have a very busy day tomorrow. VERY busy. Obviously, it’s too late to figure out what to do at that point. You need a plan. You need to know what to do ahead of Insomnia Panic time. And here are some natural remedies for sleep that work for me. And that’s no small thing because I had chronic insomnia for 10+ years and I rarely have a sleepless moment now. So here’s where to start:
Part I: Progressive Relaxation
Your body needs to be relaxed and not only will this relaxation treatment work physically, it also relaxes your mind, because instead of concentrating on how miserable you are, you’re focused on something positive. I’ve tried lots of different routines and this is my favorite but I’ve edited it a bit so here are the steps with the original directions in black and my changes in blue. The site suggests holding each position for 4-10 seconds, but I usually hold for at least 20 seconds and often longer. Relax for 10 seconds of so between each posture.
Hands: Clench them.
You can get a much stronger ‘clench’ if you hold something in your hands. For example, squeeze a pillow as hard as you can. Experiment with both methods and see which one you like best.
Wrists and forearms: Extend them and bend your hands back at the wrist.
I much prefer to interlace my fingers and press my palms against each other. It’s a much stronger hold.
Biceps and upper arms: Clench your hands into fists, bend your arms at the elbows, and flex your biceps.
Shoulders: Shrug them.
Forehead: Wrinkle it into a deep frown.
Around the eyes and bridge of the nose: Close your eyes as tightly as possible. (Remove contact lenses before beginning the exercise.)
I really dislike both of these so I have two alternatives.
1. Put your index finger at the very base of your eyebrows, near your nose. Slowly move your fingers to the middle of your eyebrows and hold for at least 10 seconds, stretching that eye area. Repeat for a total of three times.
2. Have the four fingers of both hands meet in the middle of your forehead. Slowly bring your fingers back to your hairline, stretching your forehead. Repeat for a total of three times.
Cheeks and jaws: Smile as widely as you can.
Around the mouth: Press your lips together tightly. (Check your facial area for tension.)
If you put your finger, or a clean pen or other object, between your lips you will get a much stronger stretch.
Back of the neck: Press your head back hard.
Front of the neck: Touch your chin to your chest. (Check your neck and head for tension.)
There is a difference between bringing your head forward, as though you’re looking at the floor – and bringing your neck back toward your chest without bringing it forward and down. The second way is best.
Chest: Take a deep breath and hold it, then exhale.
Back: Arch your back up and away from the floor.
Stomach: Suck it into a tight knot. (Check your chest and stomach for tension.)
I learned from the late Ian Jackson, who was a breath expert par excellence, to always focus on the exhale, allowing the inhale to occur naturally. So with this exercise, exhale strongly before the inhale.
Hips and buttocks: Press the buttocks together tightly.
Thighs: Clench them hard.
Lower legs: Point your toes toward your face, as if trying to bring the toes up to touch your head. Then point your toes away and curl them downward at the same time. (Check the area from your waist down for tension.)
This one makes no sense to me. So what I do is curl my toes as far forward as possible and hold for at least 10 seconds, then I stretch them away from me and hold for at least 10 seconds.
Part II: A Quiet Mind
If your body is relaxed, the next step is to get your mind to quiet down, to SHUT UP! Obviously, rehearsing the consequences of insomnia is only making it worse. Focus on your breath, inhale and on your exhale quietly say a word to yourself. “Peace” and “love” are recommended but the word that works best for me is “drowsy”. After quietly thinking this word for a couple of minutes I’m usually gone. I think it’s best to focus on what you want to happen, like quiet, calm, silence, rest. Just make sure that you don’t chose a word/phrase that brings excitement. “I’m a star athlete” or “I have the Midas touch” won’t help you rest.
Insomnia treatment begins now, not when the moment occurs when you’re panicked about sleep.