For tens of millions of Americans, getting a good night’s sleep is an elusive dream.
Good news: Via self-hypnosis, it’s usually possible to overcome sleeplessness — even if you’ve struggled with the sandman for decades.
First Things First
Sleep remains mysterious, even to longtime sleep researchers. But falling asleep clearly involves slowing the mind and body. People suffering from insomnia find that all but impossible.
If you haven’t already, take these basic steps to curb mental and physical arousal before bedtime…
Avoid caffeine. It takes at least three hours for blood levels of this stimulant to drop. Think twice before having that late-afternoon cola… or that after-supper coffee or tea.
People who are especially sensitive to caffeine should avoid it after early afternoon — even the small amounts in chocolate, coffee yogurt or any dessert made from coffee beans.
Even the tiny amounts of caffeine in decaf coffee can cause problems for some people.
Many cold remedies, diet pills and headache medications also contain caffeine.
Avoid alcoholic beverages for at least four hours before bedtime. Alcohol causes drowsiness right away, but it leaves you wakeful in the middle of the night.
Make sure your bedroom is quiet and completely dark. Even dim light — a distant street lamp shining through half-closed blinds, for example — can make for restless nights.
Avoid mental stimulation for at least one hour before bedtime. That goes for thriller novels… demanding mental work… loud, stimulating music… action TV shows… etc. A less involving book or calming music should be okay.
Have a light snack before bed if you are hungry. Good choices include a small cup of soup or a glass of warm nonfat milk. Avoid sugary foods.
The Power of Suggestion
People troubled by insomnia often become convinced that sleep is simply impossible.
The power of positive suggestion enables you to bypass the doubts and worries of the conscious mind… and communicate directly with the subconscious mind. That part of the mind doesn’t say, “I can’t.”
For most people, the process takes a few weeks.
Relax and Visualize
During the day, practice calming your body. Teach yourself to use the power of visualization.
Sit in a quiet, comfortable place. Focus your attention on something in front of you — a plant, the back of a chair or even a spot on the wall. Take three slow, deep breaths. Relax as you release the third breath, letting built-up tension drain out of your body.
Imagine the numeral 25. Slowly count backward, visualizing each numeral in turn.
When you reach one, pause for a few seconds. Then count forward to three. Open your eyes. You should feel relaxed and refreshed.
Practice this exercise twice a day for seven days. You’re learning not only to relax, but also to enter a hypnotic trance that makes you responsive to positive suggestions.
Continue to practice relaxation during the day, and add a session at bedtime.
As you lie on your back in bed, rest your hands gently on your chest. Choose a positive suggestion to give yourself — something short and direct.
Example: “Tonight I will sleep deeply and peacefully… and I’ll wake up tomorrow morning feeling great.”
Repeat the suggestion 10 times slowly in your mind — or out loud, if doing so won’t disturb a bedmate.
Each time you repeat the suggestion, gently press your fingers into your chest. This helps “anchor” the suggestion in your body. Keep your eyes closed at all times.
After a week, it’s time for…
Putting It All Together
On an index card, jot down your autosuggestion. Carry it with you. From time to time throughout the day, find a quiet place to sit and relax. Focus your gaze in front of you. Then hold up the card and focus on your suggestion.
Breathe deeply as you imagine yourself doing what you’ve written. Feel and see the result you desire.
As you exhale, let the card slip from your fingers. Inhale and exhale deeply again. The third time, let yourself enter a state of deep relaxation.
Instead of counting down from 25, let the suggestion on your card repeat itself over and over. In your mind’s eye, see yourself sleeping peacefully… then awakening refreshed and fully rested.
Do this twice a day for three weeks. Give yourself the same suggestion at night, and soon you’ll be sleeping better than ever before.
Secrets of Suggestion
The message you give yourself must be believable. If you’ve had insomnia for years, it’s unrealistic to suggest that you will sleep for 10 hours at a stretch. Your mind will reject the idea. Pick something less extreme.
Examples: “Every night it’s easier for me to fall asleep quickly”… “I’m learning to sleep peacefully through the night”… “The power of my subconscious mind will help me sleep peacefully.”
Some people find it helpful to tape-record their autosuggestion and play the tape at odd times during the day and at bedtime.
This auditory reinforcement can be especially helpful for people who are unable to visualize vividly.
To make the recording: Write down three positive suggestions about sleep. Practice saying them aloud until you feel comfortable repeating them. Strive for a steady rhythm. Don’t worry, you’re recording this for your ears only — to send a message of relaxation.
Record slow-tempo instrumental music in the background. Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 21 or another calming, classical selection is good. As the music plays softly, tape yourself repeating each suggestion several times. Pause between each one. Return to the first suggestion and again repeat it several times.
Let the tape end with the music gently fading away.
By Alex Lukeman, PhD / Author of Sleep Well, Sleep Deep: How Sleeping Well Can Change Your Life