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Learning How to Sleep Peacefully

By Arlene F. Harder, MA, MFT

Many things can prevent us from falling asleep and staying asleep, even without lingering worry over the ten o'clock news about the latest terrorist threat. We add that to our personal pile of worries and projects that didn't get done on time and the large list of to-do's that we carry in our head. We remember intense conversations we've had that day and our ego wants us to continue looking at the opinion of the other person and see what we should have said or not said. Add to this the body's physical discomfort of aches and pains and we have the recipe for a sleepless night.

Unless we can break this cycle of mind chatter over things we can no longer do anything about, we won't get the restorative power of sleep we need so that we can face the next day refreshed. And even more frustrating, the accumulation of the day's stress is often held in muscle tension. During the day, we may have needed tension to get through all we had to get done, but when we go to bed, we need to let go of the tension and relax those muscles.

Please Note: Eventually this will become an article, but it is now in the form of an imagery script or exercise. And as with all the imagery scripts on this website, you can use this in several different ways. First, simply read it as you would read any article, with the purpose of learning something and exploring how that might apply to you. On the other hand, you may want to get into the piece more deeply by reading it several times to yourself, pausing when you come to breaks identified by three periods (. . .) in order to have time to experience that section in whatever way feels comfortable to you.

Or, you can try to experience it as a regular imagery exercise is usually done, that is, first read it into a tape player (or have a friend or family member read it for you) and then, as you listen to it, close your eyes and follow along in whatever way feels right to you. To learn more about the technique of imagery, I suggest you first read Using Imagery Scripts. You might even want to take our Imagery Classes, which are easy to do at your own pace and can teach you about this effective technique that can give you ideas for how to fall asleep in peace (and go back to sleep when you awaken too early).

Throughout the script there are various techniques that your mind can use to quiet its chatter, relax your body and allow you to enter the world of peace and deep comfortable sleep. Each is designed to follow the general pattern of falling asleep that most people experience. However, you are not most people, your mind has its particular habits of using images, thoughts and problems to prevent you from falling asleep and your body has its peculiar way of holding onto tension. Therefore, as you read this and use it as an exercise, notice what ideas could best allow you to let go of the activities of the day and what ones are best for releasing body tension.

With practice, you will soon discover the images of letting go that will work best for you. Soon your body will relax and your mind will be able to let go of the remnants of life in the daytime world. Then, without any effort, you will notice that the images, thoughts and fragments of thoughts that followed you to bed will change into other images and thoughts that will carry you gently into the healing, peaceful, dreaming unconscious. Or you might want to use these ideas when you awaken in the middle of the night and want to go back to sleep.

When you go to bed at night, you can leave the busyness and problems of the day, replacing the thoughts that keep demanding your attention with images of calm serenity that will carry you gently into a peaceful sleep.

And you begin this journey to sleep by gently closing your eyes and, if you need to, moving your body so that it's as comfortable as possible. . . . And now, allow your body to be completely supported by the bed . . . and remember, as you lie there, that all of your muscles are ready to give up the job they've been doing all day. And because your neck muscles don't need to support your head, they can be very relaxed. . . . Your back muscles don't need to hold your body erect and, especially as you allow the bed to support you more and more, your back muscles relax more and more. . . . And the same thing happens with your leg muscles. They don't need to be tense and ready for movement, as they did when you needed to be awake, so now your leg muscles are able to relax very comfortably. . . .

Notice how easily the muscles of your whole body are able to relax, allowing your body and your mind to let go of the activity of daytime and prepare for the rest and sleep of night. So take a moment now, and experience how each set of muscles lets go of tension and gets ready for a night of peaceful relaxation, a night in which they can be renewed and prepared for another day, especially noticing any sensation of warmth or heaviness that lets you know your body is relaxed. . . .

And now continue your journey to sleep by taking some very special and deep abdominal breaths, breaths that will signal your readiness to move into the calm and peaceful world of restful dreams. . . . After a few of these deep breaths, breathe according to your own natural rhythm, easily and without effort, experiencing the flow of air in and out of your body . . . And as you continue breathing easily and comfortably . . . in and out . . . you find yourself focusing on the breath itself, not the thought of the breath, but the experience of air coming in and going out of your body . . . the experience of your abdomen moving up and down with each breath . . . allowing each breath to assist you in the gradual letting go of thoughts and feelings and sensations in your body that might attempt to distract you from a journey into sleep. . . . breathing in and out. . . . in and out. . . . using the breath, in and out, to release any hold that the past may try to claim on your mind right now, perhaps saying to yourself, "I let go of the past". . . breathing in and out. . . . using the breath, in and out, to release any hold that future plans and concerns may try to claim on your mind right now, perhaps saying to yourself, "I let go of the future". . . . using the breath, in and out, to accept this moment as a time your mind can move with grace and gentleness into the quiet night, saying to yourself, "I accept this moment as a gift of time that allows me to drift off to sleep" . . . breathing in and out. . . .

As you are drifting into sleep, your mind may keep returning to a problem with which you are having trouble. If this is true for you tonight, you might want to use the wisdom of dreams and the unconscious mind to suggest a solution. And so, imagine, if you wish, that in front of you is a small notepad and on the notepad you write a question you would like answered. . . . And now place the notepad in a beautiful boat, one that is floating freely down the gently flowing river that moves into the world of sleep. . . . Let the question float with the boat into the unconscious, so that when you awaken tomorrow your intuition can give you a gift, a gift from the land of dreams through which the boat will pass, an answer that your rational, daytime mind may have overlooked. . . . .

And now, imagine that on the way to sleep you decide to visit a peaceful, beautiful private place deep within, a place where your body and soul can be restored. As you move into this special, pleasant, serene place, you may find that tonight this is a place you have been before and you may enjoy its familiar images and be grateful to have it appear as it has often appeared when you relax or drift off to sleep. Or this night it may be a place that is newly created by the mind's eye and there will be wonderful new things to explore. Wherever you find yourself, as you explore and imagine yourself seated comfortably or moving about in the many different parts of this place, notice what you can see, hear, touch, taste, and even smell. And if tonight this place has no shape, only a sense of comfort and safety, experience what is here in whatever way feels most comfortable to you. . . . Let the pleasure of being in this peaceful place flow throughout your body. . . .

Holding the thought of this place in your mind, imagine that there is a soft and soothing light that enters and also shines gently around your bed. The color of this light may be white or golden, or maybe some other color that represents for you rest and love, healing and comfort. Feel how wonderful it is to have that gentle light all around you. . . . And if you believe there is a spirit or a God that cares for you while you sleep, you may want to imagine this light is a gentle loving being who watches over you.

And now, imagine that this marvelous light, this beautiful, gentle field of energy, is able to release any remaining tension you may be holding in your body. It can dissolve any concerns that belong to the day and that need to be discarded at night, so that you may sleep peacefully. This light can enhance the natural healing mechanism of your body as it gives special attention to any place in your body that needs it. And if you wish, you can invite this light to come into your body, entering from the top of your head and moving gradually all the way to your feet.

And so, imagine now, if you will, that the light passes your forehead and your eyes, ears, nose and mouth, taking away anything that blocks your ability to sleep, leaving in its place a sense of peaceful calm. And then the light comes down through the throat and across the muscles of the shoulder, down the arms to the very end of the fingers, and as it moves, it not only relaxes any place that has unconsciously been holding onto tension, it also leaves a feeling of warm and gentle peace. When you bring your attention back again to your shoulders, you can sense the light coming down into your chest and then into the abdomen, touching every organ with peace and serenity. As it flows along the spine, it unties all the knots and uncoils all the tension your body may have hidden in your back, allowing the back to sink further into the bed and feel wonderfully at ease. And then you sense the light continues past your buttocks and genital area and into the top of your legs, gradually filling your legs all the way to the toes with wonderful soothing light.

And now imagine that this gentle loving light has entered every cell of your body, and has even come into the deepest part of your mind, the center of your being. . . . You experience a wonderful peaceful calm that allows your mind to float into the realm of sleep while your body is resting firmly on the bed. . . . Let yourself experience completely the effect of this soothing, gentle energy within your body, healing and releasing all tension . . . Now you are filled with peace and serenity . . . filled with comfort and love . . . drifting on a gentle journey into the land of rest, sleep and pleasant dreams.

© Copyright 1997, Revised 2002, Arlene F. Harder, MA, MFTarrow up to top of page

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