What’s Keeping You Up at Night?
We’ve all had nights when, as soon as we turn out the light, our brains switch on and ramp up. Thoughts race through our head. We replay conversations, start planning for the day ahead or begin contemplating our future.
With our brains fully alert like this, sleep begins to seem impossible. And this can then become the focus of our mental activity.
“Why can’t I sleep?”
“I’m going to be so tired tomorrow, I won’t be able to do X, Y or Z.”
“If I fall asleep now, I’ll get 4 hours sleep.”
As anyone who has experienced this will tell you, the more you try to force your brain to switch off and will your body to sleep, the less likely it is that you’ll drift off. The more you try, the harder it becomes.
A New Solution
Dr. Guy Meadows, Co-founder and Clinical Director of The Sleep School, promotes the use of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) as a solution to this nocturnal brain activity.
ACT draws on the principle of mindfulness that we can notice and observe our thoughts and feelings without engaging with them or allowing them to impact our present state.
Rather than trying to block out or push away our thoughts or feelings, which requires a certain amount of mental alertness unconducive to sleepiness, ACT encourages you to notice and accept them as they are. Including the negative ones. Instead of expending energy trying to control and analyse the situation, this calm acceptance helps to relax and quiet the brain; creating the space for natural sleepiness to occur.
Remember your body knows how to sleep. It doesn’t need your brain to tell it what to do. Trust that your natural sleep cycle will kick in as your brain begins to wind down rather than problem solve.
ACT in Action
Try to label or describe your thoughts and feelings as they occur, for example, “I’m feeling as though I won’t cope tomorrow if I don’t fall asleep now.” This action of acknowledgment creates a pause and prevents your brain from immediately jumping on each thought or feeling and running away with it, keeping you awake.
Why Your Sleep Rituals Might be Keeping You Awake
By holding on too tightly to nighttime rituals, we might be preventing our bodies falling asleep naturally.