One of the things that bothers me the most is reading about sleep hygiene is how the articles always talk about relaxation techniques or visualization but then leave you on your own to figure out how to do that.
Basically, it's all about distraction. The goal is to get your brain to focus, not allow it to ruminate on the bills, tomorrow's tasks, your OCD, etc.
I remember doing Jane Fonda's yoga (yes I'm that old). At the end of the work-out you would lie on your back on a mat and do progressive relaxation and deep breathing. I never understood the command to follow your breathing. What the heck does that mean?
I could however, Tighten and relax muscle groups starting at my toes and working my way up. The problem was, here I was ALL RELAXED and then my brain would say, "OKAY, Now what?"
And the racing thoughts would LUNGE forward into my consciousness again.
So... I taught myself to be on a beach in Hawaii in my mind. I didn't know it at the time but I had taught myself visualization.
"What is visualization, DoctorDiva?"
Visualization is a way to imagine yourself someplace calm and quiet and to fully engage your brain in the process. That way, that pile of bills on the table, and the list of stuff you have to do, has no where to go in your brain, but to be squashed up against your skull while you listen to the waves, and feel the sun, and ...Oh. yeah. I digress.
The best teacher I ever had for this was a surgeon turned psychiatrist. Can you imagine--- a surgical approach to psychiatry? She was magnificent. She didn't use much of the touchy-feely approach, but taught problem oriented solutions that worked.
She taught us a visualization technique by taking us through it. By the end, all of the old geezers in the class were SOUND asleep.
Close your eyes.
(Oh Wait. You can't read this with your eyes closed)
Okay, after you read this, CLOSE YOUR EYES.
Picture a blackboard. Picture the number 10 and try to relax your body 10 times more than it is at this moment.
Picture the number five. Relax your body five times more than it is right now.
Picture the number two on the blackboard and relax your body two times more than it is right now.
Now picture yourself in a hallway. My hallway is in a castle with suits of armor and paintings along the walls and a wooden floor with a runner down the middle. Make it what make whatever you want. But you need to actually put yourself in the hall.
Walk down the hall. Feel your feet on the floor or the carpeting with each step.
Focus on what's around you.
At the end of the hallway there's an escalator.
Put your hand on the banister and your feet on the top step and actually feel yourself going down. As you are going down the escalator relax.
Get off and go down another escalator, again concentrating on how it feels to be on the escalator and as you go down, relax even more.
Get off and go down a third escalator, and relax even more.
At the bottom of the third escalator, you enter another hallway.
Walk down the hallway to the end where there will be a set of double doors.
Throw open the doors to your relaxation place.
One of my patients likes swimming with the dolphins.
I like to be on a beach in Hawaii. Pick what works for you and then BE THERE.
Feel the sand under your feet. Concentrate on the warmth and brightness of the sun.
Hear the waves and the seagulls.
Look around. What do you see? Be there.
By this point you should be incredibly relaxed or completely comatose.
If at any point during the process your brain turns on and thoughts invade, visualize yourself shoving the thoughts up against the walls of the hallway where they disappear.
Sometimes, if my thoughts invade and I can't relax, I have to start at the beginning again.
Eventually, I get to my visualization place.
It's a rare night where this does not work. It takes about 10 minutes in total. It also takes about
six months of regular practice and then you will be able to skip the whole chalkboard/hallway thing and can go directly to your visualization place.
You will have trained your body to relax to the point where you can just open the doors and feel yourself relax.
Good night and Good Dreaming.