Some time ago, I posted a blog about my troubles falling and staying asleep — Insomnia: How I Deal With It. I must say that my sleep has dramatically improved in the last month. Since very young, I can remember taking at least 30 minutes, and sometimes up to an hour to fall asleep. My mind has always seemed to activate strongly just as I slipped myself under my bed covers. This has, at times, been very frustrating.
In the last three weeks, I have consistently been falling asleep within 10-15 minutes. From talking about my sleeping patterns to friends, it seems like many of them require only 3-10 minutes. While I am not there yet, a couple of things in my evening routine have helped me.
First off, I follow a guided meditation, mostly from Sam Harris’ Waking Up app. I tend not to listen to Sam himself, but to individual meditation courses from other teachers. There are countless there, and it is an invaluable resource to get introduced to new methods of meditation (Zen, koans, compassion-based etc). Generally, though, I struggle to follow along as my mind’s inertia pushes me through landscapes of thoughts. Ironically, I often start to grow still by the end of the meditations, which usually last about 10-15 minutes. As I sit for an additional 10-15 minutes in silence, I further calm myself.
After being satisfied with my meditation, I lay down in bed and immediately start a progressive muscle relaxation exercise. The goal is to contract parts of your body and then relax them. I go from the feet, calves, upper legs, buttocks, abs, hands, forearms, upper arms, back and chest, neck and finally the face. It is a little bizarre when you first try it, but honestly, it is so effective! After every muscle group contraction, I relax for about 20 seconds. Sometimes, I fall asleep before finishing the exercise. At least for me, it is an incredible way to release tension and anxiety, as well as for my body to feel heavy and sleepy. If you have never tried it and take more than 15 minutes to fall asleep, I would invite you to try it to see if it helps you.
Being able to fall asleep reasonably fast and remain asleep for most of the night has changed my waking hours. I used to loath sleep, but I now look forward to its restful and rejuvenating purposes!
Edit on the morning after writing the above: I experienced my first night of insomnia in months right after writing this post. How ironic! As an excuse, we were receiving phone calls from family throughout the night as it was morning in France and my grandfather was suddenly about to be sent to an Alzheimer's center, separated from his wife after 56 years of marriage, so that was a bit on my mind too.