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5 Exercises That Helped My Anxious Mind Fall Asleep

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By Katharine ChanPublished 2 years ago 5 min read
Top Story - July 2022
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5 Exercises That Helped My Anxious Mind Fall Asleep
Photo by Lux Graves on Unsplash

Momsomnia, restless nights, insomnia, broken sleep.

Why can't we just go to sleep and wake up all refreshed?

I suffered from insomnia when I was in grade 8. For 3 months straight, I didn't sleep.

It was a freaky experience and I will never forget it. It was a combination of fear, anxiety, stress, and numbness as sleep deprivation ate away my presence, leaving behind an empty 13-year-old shell.

Right before bedtime, my anxiety levels would peak and my mind would race about what happened during the day and the worries about what would happen that night.

In bed, I'd lay awake, glancing at the alarm clock every hour, switching from my left to my right, hoping it would be the last side before I fell asleep.

When my alarm would go off, I became a zombie, rolling out of bed and going through the motions of my morning routine. Cloudy thoughts would fill my groggy mind as the school day ground to a halt.

During the time between coming home and going to bed, I would count down the hours before bedtime and the vicious cycle would begin all over again.

At the end of the 3 months, I was able to sleep again.

How?

I created strategies for myself to overcome this. Since then I haven't had much trouble falling asleep.

That was until I became a mom.

At this time, I'd say 80% of the time, my daughter sleeps through the night. However, I've only slept through the night 20% of the time.

Why?

"Momsomnia".

I've heard of this before from other moms. I remember my mom telling me how she'd lose sleep worrying about us and I just assumed she was a worrywart.

Honestly, I didn't think I would ever experience it because of what happened almost 20 years ago.

Well, it came back and I've had to rediscover all those strategies again. I even created a few new ones.

It's been helping my "Momsomnia" so I thought I would share my tips for anyone having sleepless nights.

These are exercises that can be done at the moment when I am unable to sleep. They are great to incorporate with preventive habits such as reducing caffeine intake, getting regular exercise, maintaining a sensible diet, eliminating screen time before bed etc.

1. Remember this Quick Decision Tree

Credit: Katharine Chan, sumonsleeve.com

So often I cloud my mind with things that I don't have control over. And when it's 2 am, those thoughts start to take over and it paralyzes me. There is the rare occasion where I actually remember to do something that needed to be done at that moment. For instance, taking the chicken out of the freezer or putting the wet clothes in the dryer so they don't smell like mildew.

However, most things that keep me up at night cannot be resolved at that moment. So it's better to put those aside and go to sleep.

And when that doesn't work, I like to practice this simulation exercise

2. Imagine an Empty Box

  1. Close your eyes and imagine you have a box in your hands.
  2. Every thought that comes to you, put it in the box. Physically move your hands to simulate this.
  3. When you have run out of things to think about, close the box. Pretend to have a lid in your hands and push it down on top of the box
  4. With the virtual box in your hands, push it to the side of your bed as though you're putting it away.
  5. All those thoughts are now in the closed box and you can deal with them in the morning
  6. Go to sleep

The physical motion of putting something away makes it feel like I'm crossing off a to-do list; those anxious thoughts are off my bed and away from where I need to rest. It helps compartmentalize my anxious feelings as though I'm tidying up my mind.

3. Try This Body Part Sensing Exercise

I was watching an episode of Friends when I came up with this one.

Remember the one where Phoebe has a crush on one of her massage clients but she can't fool around with him because she'll get fired.

So she decides to think about the most boring topic (Chandler) while massaging him so she won't get turned on.

She ends up thinking about Chandler's ankle hairs before she realizes she's spent over 2 hours massaging the guy.

Anyway, this exercise aims to bore you to sleep by making you physically aware and mindful of how every part of your body feels, keeping those intrusive thoughts at bay.

Close your eyes

Start with your toes and think deeply about your toes: the shape, the nails, the skin, their colour, the little hairs (if you have any) etc.

Now slowly wiggle each of your toes and feel them deeply: How do the joints move? Are your toes cold? Are they hot? Are they sweaty? What's the texture of the bedsheets that rub against them? How does the comforter feel? etc.

Once you're finished with your toes, move on to the balls of your feet with the exact same dedication to detail

Try to focus all your attention on a single body part and don't get sidetracked by other thoughts

Don't take shortcuts like going from your ankles to your hips. Really take your time to discover the physical sensations for each part of your body.

Keep your movements slight so you don't stimulate your sympathetic nervous system, which would increase your heart rate and blood pressure.

The longer it takes for you to move from your toes to your head, the more bored you will be and the easier you will be able to fall asleep.

4. Stare At Your Eyelids and Forget Your Tongue

I stole this one from my husband. During a sleepless night, I would sometimes start wondering if my eyeballs are looking straight.

Then with my eyes closed, I would start looking from side to side, up and down, and all around, to see if I would notice if they weren't straight.

This would just delay me from getting to sleep.

So my husband told me to stare at my eyelids, the black screen of death and I don't move my eyes.

At the same time, let my tongue fall naturally into place inside my mouth. This helps me relax my jaw and relieves the tension built up in the muscles connected to my skull.

5. Try Focusing on Your Breath

I wish I knew Dr. Andrew Weil's Breathing Exercise when I was 13. I tried the 4–7–8 breathing exercise recently and it worked for me a few nights.

  1. Take 4 seconds to breathe in.
  2. Hold your breath for 7 seconds.
  3. Take 8 seconds to breathe out.
  4. Repeat

This technique has been shown to effectively decrease your heart rate and increase the oxygen levels in your bloodstream.

These 5 exercises have helped me fall asleep and keep those anxious thoughts at bay. Although sleep is tough for any parent with young children, I hope these tips help you get through the night a bit better.

This was originally published on my website on December 28, 2017.

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About the Creator

Katharine Chan

Sum (心, ♡) on Sleeve | Author. Speaker. Wife. Mom of 2 | Embrace Culture. Love Yourself. Improve Relationships | Empowering you to talk about your feelings despite growing up in a culture that hid them | sumonsleeve.com/books

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Nice work

Very well written. Keep up the good work!

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Comments (4)

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  • Justine Crowley7 months ago

    I am all for deep breathing in bed if I am struggling to fall asleep. That works. In for 4, hold, and out for 6. Each to their own on the rhythm. I like your decision tree graphic as well.

  • Stage Frameabout a year ago

    The Quick decision Tree solves a lot. Thanks

  • N.J. Gallegos 2 years ago

    I'll have to give these a try. I've found that since doing meditation (usually not right before bed) that I have an easier time going to sleep and I'll often copy the beginning steps of meditation. It works!

  • Mariann Carroll2 years ago

    I actually read this before going to bed. Your techniques are relaxing. 🙂

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