A priceless skill I wish everyone to master.
From time to time, when I can’t sleep, my mind starts wandering and I involuntarily end up talking to myself about many different things. Here is where good and bad things happen. Though, I must admit, if your mind begins that little dance when you’re supposed to rest it’s probably a sign that something is bothering you. I said probably, yes, because sometimes your brain just wants to fly away in that semi-conscious dreaming limbo that precedes sleep. But lying to our inner self is more harmful and common than I’d like to admit.
“I know what this is. It’s just myself, talking to myself, about myself.”
— Thomas Shelby
Actually, I never suffered from insomnia or anything like that, though there was surely a time in my life when falling asleep felt instantaneous. So how do you cope with the bad thoughts that haunt you at night?
Albeit it sounds a bit simplistic, I believe something like “clear your mind and you’ll fall asleep” is good advice in this case. Easier said than done. But being able to fall asleep when I need to was a skill that I had to acquire in order to keep my mind fresh. Being sleepy on the day of an important event, heck, even on a normal working day, is not an enjoyable situation!
At first, I tried to force myself into not thinking at all when I went to bed. Probably not a good idea since I had just switched my mental focus from “bad things” to “striving to clear my mind”. Better than earlier, but still hard to fall asleep.
Now, I know what you’re probably thinking: “But isn’t all of this just trying to ignore your concerns about whatever it is that’s keeping you from falling asleep while you just said that lying to yourself is bad?”. Damn right. That’s where the problem’s at. You won’t sleep well until you solve your inner conflicts, but at the same time not resting enough surely doesn’t help with that. Sounds kind of like an Uroboros, an ancient symbol depicting a snake or a dragon eating its own tail.
Then I realized that the important thing is convincing yourself that it just makes no sense to think and let your mind wander around when it’s bedtime, be it bad or good thoughts (yes, sometimes it’s even hard to fall asleep when you’re excited about something that may happen the very next day when you wake up, for example).
Whatever it is that's on your mind, now you need to rest, and you will handle those things when you wake up if that’s the right time to do so. What you have to do now is just close your eyes, relax, breathe deeply and slowly. You’re slowly starting to feel good, sinking your head into your pillow, releasing every last muscle in your body. Then suddenly you fall asleep.
Well, sadly that’s not how it usually goes. At times in the past, I didn’t even get to try this stupid little trick because my train of thought was so thick that I didn’t even realize it was preventing me from falling asleep. Yet, I succeeded a few times and I felt proud of myself when I did.
That was probably the first time I managed to force myself into doing something my brain was preventing me to do. I’m sorry to let you down here, but if what you were expecting was some sort of magic trick to fall asleep at your will this is not where you’re gonna find that kind of content.
I think the important lesson here is that rational thinking alone can’t rule your brain, meaning that in certain situations you can’t (or should I say “you won’t be able to”?) force yourself into doing the right (or best) thing just because that’s the right (or best) thing to do from an unbiased risk versus reward point of view.
This is because our so-called willpower may not be enough to reach that amplified threshold that it needs to surpass in order to make you do the right thing. We all know that slacking off isn’t gonna help us achieve our goals, but everyone’s lazy at least from time to time. The guy being abused by his boss at work knows he should try to move away and find a new solution, but he’s still there enduring the pain. The girl who likes her friend, but is too shy to confess her love in the scare of what may happen. I, who knows that worrying at night while in bed prevents me from falling asleep, and nonetheless can’t help it.