How I (Finally!) Learned to Turn My Brain Off Before Bed
Lately, I’ve been trying to focus on honing habits that aren’t just good for my body, but for my mind, too. And (like many other sleep-deprived Americans), refining my sleep schedule was a main priority on that list.
I know I don’t need to tell you that catching the right amount of zzzz’s per night is super important for maintaining healthy brain and bodily functions, but not everyone realizes how important it is for your mental well-being, too. When I’m sleep deprived, I turn into an emotional, irrational, short-tempered, annoying version of myself who — ask any of my family or friends — is not pleasant to be around. Caution: if you see me out rocking my under-eye bags that day, do yourself a favor and stay away. Far, far away.
Unfortunately, I wear my eye bags (not confidently) wayyy more often than I’d like. You see, sleep is one of the things that pretty much goes out the window when your schedule is packed with classes and work, forcing you to stay up until 2 (or 3 or 4) a.m. plugging away at what seems like a never-ending to-do list.
But recently, even if I DO make it to bed (also known as my favorite place on Earth) at a reasonable hour, I often lie awake for hours on end stressing about what the heck I’m going to do with my life once I graduate school or thinking other unnecessary thoughts about things totally out of my control. Sometimes my brain can really get on my nerves! Am I the only one who wishes this thing had an off switch? Like, seriously, I am trying to catch a REM cycle over here, dude.
I’ve tried to shut my brain up in almost every way possible — putting many of Arianna Huffington’s sleep tips to the test — but nothing I did seemed to do the trick. This was up until I decided to give meditation a go. I’d always been interested to see if, being the type-A human being that I am, I could actually get myself to zen out. But I was always a bit hesitant. Something about meditating just didn’t seem too promising.
Despite my skepticism, I decided to start small, downloading an app called Headspace. Now, obviously, there are tons of meditation apps you can try out, but Headspace takes you through 10 minutes of guided mindful meditation for 10 days to teach you the basics and ease you into it, which I liked. I could commit for 10 days. Plus, the guy who talks you through the meditation has a really soothing British accent, which didn’t hurt with my commitment levels.
After the first night I tried the 10-minute guided meditation, I was actually a bit in shock. I’m not kidding you when I say that I literally have not slept better in months than after those 10 minutes. Months. I woke up a bit dazed, wondering how in the world this calm, mysterious voice telling me to “Count my breaths: ‘one’ in through the nose, and ‘two’ out through the mouth ” lulled my mind quiet in just a few minutes time when it generally takes me hours. Since then, I’ve been a regular at the meditation game.
Before actually trying my hand at meditation, it always seemed intimidating. I never understood how someone could get themselves to think about nothing. I could picture the whole thing: me, sitting there awkwardly on the floor, having thoughts and then forcing myself not to think about them, which in turn would just make me think about them even more, you know? Just thinking about trying not to think made my brain hurt. But turns out, it’s not like that at all: You’re allowed to let thoughts come and go and you’re allowed to tune in to the voices outside your window. It’s not a forced or unnatural experience like I had envisioned it to be. As long as you’re present and aware of your breath, you’re fine.
So there you have it: My secret to (finally) quieting down my screaming mind come bedtime. And the neat thing about meditation is that you can do it at any time of day — it’s not limited to just bedtime! The british-accented human on the Headspace app actually recommends doing it first thing in the morning, to give yourself a little more “headspace” for the day. So, if you’ve ever been curious about meditation, but too scared to try, I say give it a go. You never know: You might find yourself being a little more mindful and a little less mind-full … get it?
Psst: Have any special tricks to quieting your mind before bed? Let us know in the comments!
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