Do you ever find yourself staring at the ceiling and unable to sleep, no matter what you try? Often it can be the result of crushing far too much activity into the brain, just before bedtime. Scrolling the screen on your phone or iPad and absorbing all of that ‘white light’ is simply far too much activity for the brain at a point in the day when you should be shutting it down rather than stirring things up and if you have tried this before, didn’t work you will pooh-pooh the suggestion that I am going to make. Not only is a meditation exercise to help you sleep, simple, there is no need even to move your head from the pillow — if you do it right.
U.S. specialist Dr Andrew Weil suggests a simple breathing exercise to help people sleep. Known as the 4-7-8 method, it involves inhaling for four counts, holding your breath for seven and then exhaling deeply for eight counts making a ‘whoosh’ sound. Dr Weil describes it as a ‘natural tranquiliser’. He describes his breathing exercises as part of a practice known as ‘mindfulness’. It’s the ‘buzz-word’ just now. The film stars and TV celebs are all trying it. The idea is to focus on the moment, which helps to let go of anxious thoughts that contribute to sleepless nights.
The problem with this sort of thing is the fact that one person has a good idea and tells another. But each time it is passed on after this it gets diluted. Thus if you are the umpteenth person to hear of this wonder-treatment, you may be missing the bits that really matter, and so if you don’t mind, I will give you my version that is straight from the horses-mouth. It works for me – and I have no reason to think that it won’t work for you.
We spend a huge amount of time worrying about the past and the future. This tendency is an evolutionary tool — the more you worry, the more you predict what might go wrong. However, when it comes to sleep, this tendency is unhelpful. After all, what can you do about things in bed – nothing! In essence there is little point in worrying about things at that time of night. So here is my suggestion:-
As you lie in bed, concentrate on everything that’s in contact with your body — in your mind, work through a list of every part. For example: I can feel the duvet on my toes, I can feel the mattress against my shoulder blades. In a way you are earthing your body much like and electric cable. Lay flat on your back and have your arms by your side with the palms of your hands facing upwards. This only takes a few minutes. Then it is time to concentrate on a simple breathing exercise.
If you’re starting to worry about something that happened earlier in the day, try not to start an internal dialogue with yourself. Just focus on breathing in through your nose and as you do say the words “I have no thoughts in my head”. Pause for a few seconds to hold the breath and then slowly breathe out through the mouth, this time saying “All my cares and worries are going away.” Repeat this breathing in and out as many times as you can manage and with a bit of luck as I do, after a while you should fall asleep.
When I first started doing this exercise, I found that I lay for a long while before eventually I turned onto my side, yawned and drifted off. However, the more that I tried, the better that I got at it. Last night for example, I went to bed at half eleven. I listened to some soft classical music for a wee while with my eyes closed. After a few minutes, I switched off the music and in just a few breaths I was sound asleep. As they say, practice makes perfect!
The brain uses more calories than any part of your body when you sleep and it is true that you can actually lose weight simply by worrying through the night, but when this happens, you wake exhausted. Whereas, by removing all the extraneous thoughts from your head before you drift off, you leave the body – and the brain with much less to do during the night, gets on with its duties rather than having to deal with the extra load that you put on it.
One other benefit from this breathing exercise is that it can help lower your blood pressure (lots of people these days suffer with what’s known as the ‘silent death’ – high blood pressure). If you read the NHS articles written on the subject, you will see quite a few eminent doctors agreeing that by taking the time every night to breathe as I have explained with (a minimum) 30 breaths in and 30 breaths out, you can actually lower your own blood pressure by 10%.
I was on the train to Glasgow the other day and as I sat I quietly I went through my breathing exercise. Lovely! By the time I arrived at my meeting I was cool and calm and able to make much better decisions that were to my benefit, rather than if I had rushed to the meeting with all sorts of things going through my head.
So there you have it. A simple exercise that will make you sleep better, lower your blood pressure and provide all sorts of other health benefits by helping to remove stress from your life. After all, as they say ‘stress kills’. Give it a try. You might, like me agree that a little practice is worth the effort. And of course, if you have a problem, then send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org and I will personally answer your query and to what I can to help you.
My knowledge is built on years of work at my clinic and the hundreds of health conferences that I have attended world-wide and the information that has been gathered from them and sifted through, leaving the best bits. I hope that you agree.