Forget the lavender oil. This powerful technique works from the inside out to clear emotions and built-up anxiety, ensuring that you’re able to fall – and stay – asleep.
What are the actions you typically take before bed? Wash your face, brush your teeth, cleanse your mind. Wait, you probably didn’t do that last one – but it’s actually the most important of all.
Setting aside external factors, such as room temperature or simply being uncomfortable in your bed, the key reason you can’t get a proper sleep is because your mind is too active.
Scientists have estimated that we have upwards of 50,000 thoughts per day, meaning that by the end of it your mind is utterly cluttered with work, people, news, ideas, fears, to do lists, you name it.
As a (back in the day) frequent traveller, I’ve tried almost every sleep trick in the book, from lavender oil through to classical music. What I’ve come to realise is that while those things can help, they’re working from the outside in and are only effective to a certain degree.
This utterly simple technique – what I call a ‘sleep sweep’ – goes to the heart of the matter: cleansing the mind of built-up thoughts and emotions.
What you need
Right before bed, grab a pen and paper. Go with loose paper, or a notebook that you’re happy to tear the pages from – you won’t be holding onto what you write, so you could also use the back of bills, or similar. (Writing long-hand is essential, one, because using digital devices just before bedtime can disturb your circadian rhythm, and two, because it activates both sides of your brain.)
There are two ways that you can come into it, depending on how you’re feeling:
- Let it flow
If you’re pent up about something, or can’t stop thinking about a particular issue, free flow. Put pen to paper and get it out, writing down whatever comes – it doesn’t have to be logical, the sentences don’t need to connect, it’s simply about releasing it.
If your emotions are directed at a particular person, make this your ‘Dear John’ letter and go to, remembering that this is going to end up in your waste basket, so you don’t need to hold back.
- Ask questions
If you’re not sure what you feel, prod the process with questions such as “What are you thinking about?”. The goal is not to make sense of what comes up, simply – as above – to give it a channel for release.
If you find to do list items coming up, grab a separate piece of paper and write them out (lest they spend the night running round your head demanding to be remembered). Then return to your sleep sweep, diving back in with a simple question such as “What else?”
When to end
Notice the pace of your thoughts as you write. If you start out particularly tense, you may find yourself scribbling furiously to try and keep up with your thoughts. As you continue, the pace of your thoughts will slow down, and your writing with them. Continue until you’ve run out of steam.
Just do it
If you’ve had trouble sleeping anytime in the past couple of nights, do this, even if you feel like you’re too tired – being physically exhausted doesn’t mean your mind has stopped whirring away.
The morning after
Most of what comes out is simply debris. In the same way that you don’t review the sweat or grime on your skin as hit the shower, you don’t need to examine what your mind collected or churned up throughout the course of the day. Cleanse it, enjoy the feeling of spaciousness (and a good night’s sleep!), and move on.