Just moments ago, you were in a deep sleep. But now, for some unknown reason, you're wide awake. You toss and turn. Your mind races. Getting back to sleep isn't easy. And when you do, you still wake up tired.
"It's a common problem," says author Courtney E. Ackerman, in the introduction of her new book, "Midnight Meditations." "But the good news is that you don't have to sit and stew while you wait for sleep to overtake you again."
Ackerman, who holds a master’s degree in positive psychology and program evaluation from Claremont Graduate University, has pulled together 150 techniques aimed at calming your thoughts, stilling your thoughts and returning you to sleep. The techniques are broken down into five categories: breath meditations, body meditations, thought meditations, emotion meditations and visual meditations.
She recommends trying out a variety of the techniques to see which ones suit you best: "You might find that certain methods work better in specific situations. For example, breathing exercises might help when you're stressed, while body-focused meditations may be more effective when your body is stiff or sore ... Different meditations will hit the spot at different times."
There are a few things to know before jumping into a meditation. First, make sure you check out the book's "how to use this book" guide. Then follow the directions — set an intention before you meditate, chose a position to meditate in (hint: lying flat on your back is the most conducive to falling back to sleep); decide whether to keep your eyes open or shut. More importantly, the author writes, you should make sure you acknowledge that you'd rather be asleep, decide to be open to whatever exercise you choose to try and give the exercise a chance to work.
While many of the exercises in the book sound a little silly, I decided to try one called "be a starfish." The name was the first thing to catch my attention, but it was the description of being "great" for people who "usually get small to sleep (eg. curls up into a fetal position)" that motivated me to try it. First, as instructed, I gave myself permission to "be large and to take up space." Then, I laid on my back, with my eyes open and my arms and legs stretched out. After a few calming breaths, I exhaled and stretched my legs and arms longer ... I woke up the next morning. Mission accomplished.
Perhaps by doing the exercise, I did, what Ackerman suggests is the best way to get back to sleep — "forget that you 'should' be asleep right now."