Controlling the Monkey Brain: Falling Asleep

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The first topic of Sara Karanusic’s Controlling the Monkey Brain series deals with the topic of falling asleep.


Troubles with falling or staying asleep are a common frustration of many, students in particular. We all know that good quality sleep is pivotal for your brain, memory, cognitive performance, body recovery, energy levels and mood. Seven years of bad sleeping habits ultimately led me to depression, anxiety, extreme moodiness, utmost lack of productivity and will-power, laziness and so many other problems.

What is your scenario of not being able to fall asleep?

  • Being physically tired, but not able to fall asleep.
  • Stressing over university workload, deadlines, internships and placements, jobs etc.
  • Excitement due to something coming up, like travelling or some big event.
  • Having an upside-down biorhythm or inconsistent sleeping habits.
  • Having to wake up early, but not being sleepy at all.
  • Remembering/thinking about having to do or complete something.

If you have been trying to fall asleep but cannot, it’s better get up from bed and do something. You need to teach your brain that bed is only for sleeping. Being wide awake in it at night for long hours might condition you to associate it with something else.

Your mind is wide awake and overthinking, but your body is dying for some rest. Your mind is a monkey and you let it jump around. You allow it wander, think about everything and everyone, speculate, fantasize, and daydream. Maybe it is due to stress or being overwhelmed from all the responsibilities.

However fulfilling it might seem to create scenarios and think about re-organising your life at 3 AM, it is extremely counterproductive. You are not calming your mind, but essentially activating and inflaming it with alluring thoughts, ideas and plans.

Even if it seems like you cannot help yourself and thoughts come and go on their own, there is a way of controllingthem. So you might have to learn how to disciplineit and acquire the skill of not thinking about anything. One must consciously learn how to discipline and restrain their mind.

Once you get up, the sacred rule is not to scroll through your phone, computer, watch TV or interact anything with a screen. It is essential to do things that soothe and calm you down. Prepare yourself for sleep instead of activating your mind and postponing the sleep schedule.

Start preparing yourself for bedtime. Sleeping is in many ways an act of self-care. Signaling to your body that bedtime is approaching is not only beneficial, but also necessary. These are minor things that you could and should do every night before you fall asleep.

Finish anything that keeps you uneased because you have not done it yet. Maybe it’s not even urgent, but it might be keeping you awake. Your brain subconsciously keeps reminding you of it, so you’ll be calmer once you finish it.

  • Tidy your room: Might sound dreadful, but often the mess around you is reflected in your mental state. Out of sight, out of mind.
  • Eat that thing you keep thinking about: Eating before bed is generally a bad idea, but sometimes you cannot calm down. Just remember – keep it light. It is about satisfying the craving, not eating a full meal.
  • Prepare everything for tomorrow morning: If you’re going somewhere prepare what you will wear, put the things in your bag, the water bottle in the fridge, write a to-do list for tomorrow.
  • Avoid the Screens: You probably do not want to, but if you already have a problem self-discipline is a way to see changes. More information pollutes your sleepy mind and makes it more attentive and awake. Catch yourself lying when you say you are going to ‘just check something real quick’.
  • Kill Blue Light: Turn on Night Mode on your devices for at least an hour or two before going to sleep.
  • Tea and Water: This should be a necessary part of your night routine. Once you drink something warm, you get cosier. Being hydrated is always good – you have to go through eight hours without drinking.
  • Prevent getting up again: Pee, grab a snack, bring water next to the bed – finish everything before laying down and bring the necessary in arm’s reach.
  • Read: Either a book or maybe on a Kindle. This is better for lulling you to sleep than TV or your phone.
  • Wash: Shower, was your face and moisturise it, and put on fresh sheets.
  • Play one of these from on a low volume – low enough that you can only hear it when you are laying perfectly still: Theta Waves, Delta Waves, White Noise, Brown Noise, and Isochronic Tones
  • Yoga: It does not matter if you have never done it before; the only thing you need for a yoga session is your body, lungs and a blanket or a mat. Do the bare basics – think of it as breathing mindfully and deeply while stretching. You can 100% afford to take 10 minutes out of your day, in your room, just before sleep to perform this little act of self-love.

Meditation Tips

Why don’t you try the following;

  1. Lay down on your back in bed, arms slightly away from your body, legs stretched, eyes closed. Preferably without a pillow.
  2. Breath deeply, as slow as possible, while feeling and thinking about the breath. Fully fill in your lungs and hold it in for a second or two. Then breathe out so slowly that you can feel a physical relaxation in your muscle that comes with this exhale.
  3. You might focus on counting the breath rhythm like 1-2 or 1-10 and repeat, or any other mantra. Maybe focus on one spot like throat, nose or abdomen and feel how breathing in and out makes that part feel.
  4. Meditation is a simple but tough practice that wants you to focus on the breath. Every time you catch yourself thinking about anything else, be aware that you got distracted and go back to your breathing again. This is all about training your brain to obey the simple task of paying attention to breath.
  5. Think of yourself as an entity passing by, currently settled in your body, in your bed, your room, and your flat. Isolate yourself from the sounds and thoughts. Imagine watching them pass by like cars on the street. Let the sounds touch and bounce off you. Essentially acknowledge them, but postpone them.

The frustration you might be feeling due to lack of (good) sleep may cause you to be further sceptical about some of these methods, but they have been helping me out for years now. Once you lay down to sleep, kindly put away every thought that comes running through your head. Encounter it and say ‘this is a thing that belongs to tomorrow morning’. Try focusing on your body and sensations you feel. Breathing is a good anchor that you always have with you to put you back in touch with the moment.

See our article featuring tips on how to improve your mental health.

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