One of the challenges I have with getting a good night’s sleep is settling my mind down at lights out. There are various things that I do that I believe have helped me sleep better in general: regularly meditating; keeping a good routine; exposing myself to day light every day; taking an adequate supplementation of essential fatty acids; but the final hurdle seems to be calming my thoughts down for long enough for me to drop off. Even when I’m really tired and really ready to sleep my mind can be really active jumping from one stream of thought to another, not quite ready to let go.
I often find a drop of marjoram or clary sage essential oil on my pillow can really help to settle my mind but I’ve recently discovered another technique that is often quite effective. In the past when I had big problems getting to sleep I would often get up and lie down in another room to listen to a yoga nidra audio. A very small part of that audio involves practising an alternative nostril breathing awareness. (This is different from the usual alternative nostril breathing practice in that you don’t physically close off the other nostril). I’ve found that this small part of the yoga nidra, practised alone when I’m struggling to settle my mind, is a really effective way of distracting my thoughts for long enough to fall asleep. And it’s really very simple.
You bring your attention to the air entering and leaving your nostrils as you breathe. Its usually possible to notice the difference in quality between the air entering your nostrils and the air leaving your nostrils. Often the air your breath in is cooler or sharper and the air that you breathe out is warmer and softer. Then the idea is to focus on one nostril at a time in a particular pattern:
Breathing in, notice the sensations in your right nostril.
Breathing out, notice the sensations in your left nostril.
Breathing in, notice the sensations in your left nostril.
Breathing out, notice the sensations in your right nostril.
Then breathe in and out paying attention to both nostrils at the same time and start again.
It’s almost like you’re breathing in through one nostril then out through the other, in through that seconds nostril and out through the first, except it’s only happening in your awareness.
You can also add counting:
The kind of focus involved in this exercise usually means that I am easily distracted from my thoughts. In order to be able to really notice the different sensations I find myself breathing quite slowly and deeply too, which helps me relax. This combination of distraction and relaxation often does the trick when my active mind is keeping me from sleep!
Do you have any other tips for switching off your mind when you’re trying to sleep?