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Sleep: The Ultimate Work and Life Hack

Richard Shane, Ph.D.

Clinically-proven strategies for you to sleep better.

Are you one of the 1-in-3 Americans who has difficulty sleeping?

There is nothing that has as much impact on your life as the quality of your sleep. If you are among the 1 in 3 Americans who suffer from sleep issues, you’ve likely experienced how poor sleep can negatively affect almost all areas of your life, while good sleep can positively impact how you feel and everything you do. When talking about effective life and work strategies, people often use the term, “life-changing,” but that is often just rhetoric or a marketing slogan. However, good sleep truly is life-changing.

Recently there has been significant media attention on the importance of sleep. However, while most sources present general information about how sleep works and the impact of poor sleep on cognitive, emotional, and behavioral functioning, the media provides very little practical information about how to actually get to sleep. 

When strategies are offered to promote good sleep, usually these are simple sleep hygiene tips, such as making sure your room is dark, and that you stop watching television at least an hour before going to sleep. While these techniques can be helpful, most people who experience real sleep challenges do not find them to be sufficient.

Popular media sources sometimes also suggest traditional relaxation methods, such as relaxing your entire body, deep or abdominal breathing, counting breaths, visualization, or meditation. However, trying to calm your mind and relax your body often creates even more anxiety, which keeps you from falling asleep. Meditation and relaxation tools can be an effective method for daytime use, but for many these are not effective treatments for getting a good night's sleep. What we need is something easier and more effective—something designed to help us actually sleep.

In this post, I will offer you easy, clinically-proven steps designed to have you actually cross over the threshold into restful sleep. The intention of this post is that you will sleep noticeably better the first time you use these simple steps.

If you’ve previously tried strategies that didn’t help you sleep, it makes sense if you’ve built up some skepticism about trying something new. As you try the steps in this post, it’s OK if you have some healthy skepticism. These steps are not dependent upon you believing in anything, so you can have the attitude, “Prove this to me.”

As a behavioral sleep therapist for over 20 years, one of my primary discoveries about sleep, which has been an important contribution to the field of sleep medicine, is that there are several body sensations that are like neurological switches for sleep. When you engage these body sensations in a simple way, this establishes a neurophysiological pathway that calms the mind, emotions, and body, and causes sleep to occur naturally. While there are a number of these neurological switches that when used together bring the body into a natural state of sleep, in this post I will share one with you that you can try tonight.  


Principles and Guidelines That Make Sleep Easy

When people are stressed or anxious, or their mind is very active, they usually try to deal with that in their mind and emotions. But thinking and emotions don’t have physical form, so trying to calm them can be like trying to chase a cloud — a frustrating and difficult undertaking. 

However, when you are stressed or anxious or your mind is active, there is almost always a corresponding tension in your body. Body sensations are physical and definite, which makes the process of calming them easier. 

An important factor in this approach is that you don’t have to try to calm your mind or emotions, because that is the struggle that makes sleep more difficult. Instead, in the midst of whatever is going on in your mind and emotions, there is a simple way to have core body tension soften and become comfortable. This is like a switch in your nervous system that leads to deep comfort in your body and allows your mind naturally to become quiet by itself.

As you try out the strategies below, if your mind wonders, “Am I doing this right?” realize just like there is no right way to drink a glass of water, there is no right way to do any of this. Your body will settle into its own natural way of experiencing this process. This can help relax any part of you that is perfectionistic or wanting to “get it right.”

While I present a number of steps below, you don’t need to use all of them. Enjoy the steps you like best and let go of anything that doesn’t feel like a good fit for you. 

Lastly, you don’t need to concentrate. If your mind drifts or you are distracted in any way, simply bring your awareness back to the sleep process, and please do that without adding self-criticism about having drifted. 


Simple Steps to Sleep

Below are simple steps to get you to sleep quickly, easily, and deeply. These clinically-proven steps are designed to be easy to use, and are based on the neurophysiology of sleep. Read through the bullet points listed below a few times. Then close your eyes as you try out and experience the process, even briefly. I recommend first doing this during the day without the intention of falling asleep. You will then be familiar with the steps and then easily use them when you are ready to sleep.

  • Settle into a comfortable position. If your tongue is pressed against the roof of your mouth or your teeth, allow your tongue to relax and feel softer. If your tongue is not pressing, allow it to relax a little more. It can rest anywhere in your mouth, even lightly touching the roof of your mouth or your upper or lower teeth, just not pressing.
  • Allow your throat to have the feeling that happens when you yawn. Your throat can begin to feel more open and the inside of your lower throat can begin to feel softer.
  • If your tongue or throat gets tense again, allow them to relax. Relaxing your tongue and throat helps your jaw and neck begin to relax.
  • As you breathe regularly, without changing your breath, gently feel the rise and fall of your chest. This helps you begin to sense the feeling of your breath moving inside your chest.
  • As you exhale, feel your chest move inward toward deep in your chest. Feel the sensation of comfort softly flowing deep into your chest—the area of the heart.
  • Rest in calmness deep in your chest, like resting on a soft pillow inside you. Feel your awareness inside you, protected and safe, away from the things you usually think about. Your mind and emotions become quieter and your body calmer as you gradually ease closer to sleep.


    Refinements That Make This Even Easier

    If you have even a little time, read the above steps one more time and then close your eyes and experience them again to become even more familiar with them.

    As you experience these steps, you can let go of the pressure to fall asleep or back to sleep, because even if you do not fall asleep quickly, you feel comfort deep in your chest and rest in that. That feels good and healing, which reduces anxiety about not yet being asleep, making sleep easier.

    Using these steps, have your initial intention be to enjoy even the tiniest improvement in your sleep. That removes any pressure, which makes sleep easier. Even the small improvements you experience will gradually deepen into better and better sleep.

    I hope you have found these steps to be helpful to support you to sleep more easily. These techniques are based on the Neurosomatic Patterning for Sleep, which have been clinically-tested and successfully used by Fortune 500 companies and individuals across the world—and I hope they contribute to a better night’s sleep, and life, for you as well.

    The above article is reprinted from Psychology Today by permission from Richard Shane, Ph.D. To learn more about Dr. Shane, visit him at sleepeasymethod.com or the App Store.

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