It’s a vicious cycle, and one that probably sounds all too familiar: You’re stressed and need to sleep to feel better. But you can’t sleep because you’re stressed.
Proper sleep is crucial for feeling and performing at your best. Without it, we become forgetful, moody, and even a bit irrational at times. Common advice says to simply turn off your cell phone, avoid caffeine after 2 pm, and maybe even buy a fancy new mattress online. But what happens if none of that works? What if you can’t find your body’s off-switch?
Preparing your whole being for sleep often takes more than just turning off the lights and closing your eyes. It’s a process that should address your entire being – heart, mind, and body.
One popular sleep technique rooted in mindfulness that can help you do this is one we’ve affectionally named “Putting the Three Kids to Bed”.
As any parent knows, putting a child to bed and getting them to fall asleep can be difficult. It’s even harder with multiple children. A well-choreographed routine for each kid is required.
So we are going to mindfully treat your heart, mind, and body as three children and understand that it takes different amounts of time and preparation for each to go to bed. We’ll put them to sleep in a set order, and over time, you’ll become more in tune with each, and learn how to be more deliberate in falling sleep.
Turn Off The Mind First
Your mind is not like your phone; it doesn’t just have an off-switch that shuts it down. Ruminating about the day’s events or future can keep you from falling asleep, or wake you up in the middle of the night. So we’ll start with your mind first since it’s the slowest kid to get to bed.
Try setting an alarm that signals it’s time to put your mind to bed. For me, I have an alarm every night that goes off at 10 pm with a reminder to stop thinking. This is my signal that it’s time to give myself a break from anything intellectually stimulating. I stop checking my email and I stay away from intense TV shows and hard reading. For a lot of folks, meditation is a great way to start calming the mind.
Next, Work On The Heart
Once your mind has been put to rest, turn your attention to how you’re feeling. Oftentimes at the end of the day, there are a lot of emotions swirling around inside you, especially during times of stress.
Find something that’s emotionally soothing to you. It might be listening to ambient or relaxing music, Or reading a light novel (remember, nothing intellectually stimulating!). You can also try dimming your lights and lighting a few candles to create a mellow and emotionally relaxing atmosphere.
Finally, Relax The Body
Now that your mind and heart have been put to bed, time to get the body physically prepared for rest.
A really effective method of relaxing the body is to do a quick 10-minute yoga session or some light stretching. I find that bodywork tools like foam or trigger point rollers and light resistance band stretching can also work wonders. You can even do these stretches while bathed in the candlelight and calming music you put on for your heart.
Once your body has been unwound, your heart mellowed, and your head calmed, sleep should be effortless.
Most advice on sleep ends before the sun comes up. But when you have three kids, they wake up at different times, so we need a routine for after the alarm clock goes off as well!
We’ll wake up the three kids in the opposite order of how they went to bed. First the body, then the heart, and finally the mind.
Wake Up The Body First
Whatever you do, resist the urge to jolt your mind awake by checking your phone first thing in the morning. Give your body some time to wake up to put yourself in the best shape possible for the day. Treat your body to a shower (bonus points if you can stand a cold shower!).
Light stretching or a quick morning yoga session is another great way to start your day.
You can also enjoy a warm cup of morning coffee or tea or even breakfast.
Next, Wake Up The Heart
Now that your body’s up and about, it’s time to wake up your heart. We must say this again – avoid email or anything that requires meaningful thought!
Instead, wake up your heart by playing some uplifting music, or connect with a loved one via touch or conversation. I often like to spend a few minutes gazing outside to connect with how I’m feeling and with the outside world. Giving myself a moment to recognize the emotional state I’m in puts me in a much better place to have a productive day.
Finally, Wake Up The Mind
Now that your body and heart are alive, we can awaken the mind and dive into work mindfully.
I like to start off by creating a to-do list for the day so that I’m working with intention and meeting the goals that mean the most to me. Alternatively, if you have something on your mind that you know absolutely has to be done that day, you can start off by tackling that one big hairy audacious thing. By tackling this first, you feel accomplished and can look forward to all the other less important things to do.
Sometimes mornings can feel rushed. But just as with any other morning routine, you can almost always find the time to wake the three kids up, even if you only spend a few minutes on each. If you’re really crunched for time (or you have actual kids of your own who require waking up), try waking up two kids simultaneously. For instance, listen to uplifting music while you make breakfast to wake up your body and heart at the same time.
Same goes for the evening, you can put your mind and heart to bed at once by listening to soothing music as you meditate or do bodywork.
Waking up in this order can seem counterintuitive. Most of us, myself included at times, tend to start with waking up our mind first and diving straight into work. At the sound of the alarm, we reach for our phones and start digging through emails and messages.
Intentionally waking up the mind last trains your mind to not wake up in the middle of the night because it’s used to being jolted out of bed. The mind knows it can be on snooze a bit longer because the body and heart always wake up first. I’ve taught this simple technique to many people, and it’s a game changer.
Finally, it’s important to note that, for the three kids technique to work, you can’t skip out on basic sleep hygiene.
Make sure your bedroom is as dark and quiet as possible. Most people sleep well in a slightly cool room, 68 degrees or lower. Minimize the amount of light in your room with blackout shades. And give yourself a set bedtime each night by setting a go-to-sleep alarm, so you can start putting the first kid – your mind, to rest.
Let us know how this technique works for you. Sweet dreams!