“Every human being has the built-in power to improve, to change for the better, to significantly restore and often to recover. Tomorrow that person you see in the mirror can be stronger, more capable, livelier, more powerfully centred and still-growing person”
Dr. Michael Merzenich, “Soft-wired: How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change Your Life”
The thing about good sleepers…
Have you ever noticed that good sleepers love to sleep? Maybe they like sleeping because they enjoy a long and peaceful sleep, but could it be the other way around: does the fact that someone likes sleeping actually help them to sleep well?
We now know that there is a powerful connection between what we think and how we behave, and as a consequence, the results that we see.
For example, someone who was not “good at sport” as a child will typically identify themselves as not being a sporty person. Therefore, they will avoid sport as an adult. They might even dread sport or feel anxious if they are put in a situation where they have to be active. After several bad experiences and few positive results, they will be convinced that they will never be good at sport at all and this belief becomes true.
The same goes for sleep. When you believe that you cannot sleep well, or that sleep prevents you from doing all the things you have to do, you think and behave in ways that prevent you from falling asleep easily.
Why is this? Our mind and body respond unconsciously to a context (for example going to bed) that triggers certain habits and beliefs. By not doing anything, we can progressively get out of the habit of sleeping well, or in other words, we let our brain rewire itself for bad sleep.
Neuroplasticity and bed time
This process is explained by neuroplasticity – the concept that our brain is constantly adapting to surroundings and that neurons that “fire together, wire together”. Basically, the more often that we think and behave in a certain way in a given context, the more habitual that pattern of thinking and behaviour becomes.
We can see this as a chain of events: we think a lot when we go to bed and feel tense. Because we are thinking a lot and feeling tense, we have problems sleeping. The next night we think more and feel even more tense, both about our day and about our experience of going to bed. We think and behave as if the outcome has already happened, thereby reinforcing the outcome.
However, we can reverse a habitual negative outcome by intentionally thinking positively. We can trick our mind into new associations with a given context – going to bed, in our case. We can tell ourselves a different bedtime story so that our mind and body can relax in response and, over time, you will rewire the brain to trigger a more positive chain of events.
Calming the mind consciously before bed
We know from meditation and mindfulness that it is possible to calm your mind. This can be a long and difficult journey, although it’s well worth the effort. Another method to change your thinking patterns, which is complementary to these practices, is positive affirmations.
Positive affirmations are a series of sentences that you repeat to yourself in your mind, to practice positive thinking, rewire your brain to associate positive thinking with a given context and strengthen positive thinking patterns. What I like about Positive Sleep Affirmations is that it’s really quick to do and is easier than a long sitting practice, or a practice that you must remember to do throughout the day.
When you practice positive affirmations, you are strengthening neural pathways associated with positive feelings. With our Positive Sleep Affirmations, you strengthen the associations and habits of acceptance, gratitude, security, letting go of everything in your day just before you go to bed, so that you can associate your bedtime with positive thoughts and learn to drift off peacefully into the night.
A Positive Sleep Affirmation creates an effective barrier between your day and night by mentally closing down your day and signalling to your mind and body that it’s time to prepare for the night and that it’s ok to rest and fall asleep.
This can be part of your evening routine, during which you should be extremely disciplined with your thinking patterns, especially in the 10-30 minutes before bed. Use this time to clear away the mental charge from the day and prepare yourself for a peaceful sleep.
How to make your own and practice Positive Sleep Affirmations?
First, pay attention to your inner voice. Notice what thoughts are active in your mind in the evening. Then, re-write your internal bedtime story to be more positive and favourable for sleep. Use the examples below to write your own Positive Sleep Affirmation.
Every night, before you go to bed, say these few sentences to yourself, silently in your mind, to put your mind in the right mood for sleep. Repeat these sentences again and again, with conviction. Focus on the words and their significance, visualise what the words mean to you and listen to the spaces between the words, to let them take shape and consolidate in your mind.
I like to create a personal Positive Sleep Affirmation together with my clients for a specific situation. For example – if someone has a non-restorative sleep because they are mentally going through their to-do list at night, we create a new story that focuses on accepting rest from sleep, so that they can tackle their list effectively tomorrow.
You can see 20 examples of Positive Sleep Affirmations below for different situations. These are designed for inspiration and I strongly suggest that you find your own, that resonates with you. You can pick elements here and there and bundle them or mix them with your own pieces.
20 Positive Sleep Affirmations for any situation
Today, I did everything that I could, and I did the best that I could. There is nothing more I can do now to change what happened.
I am now in my bed, free from the stress, fear, anger, blame from today. I invite in and welcome calm and serenity. It is time now for me to let go of my day and sleep well so that I can be strong and resilient for what comes tomorrow.
I trust that my mind and body know exactly what to do to sleep. All I have to do is to let it happen. There is nothing I need to do to fall asleep. It will just happen when it is time.
I feel calm and safe in my bedroom. This is my space where I can let go, be completely myself and feel completely relaxed.
I have nothing to do now and nowhere to go. No one needs me in this moment. Now it is time to be caring and compassionate towards myself. I deserve to sleep and to rest my body and mind.
I am breathing slowly and calmly. I am emptying my head of busy racing thoughts. I am listening to my breath. I am calm, I am sleepy.
I am grateful for many things in my life that bring me joy and comfort. I have a safe place to sleep, I have people in my life who love me, I have all the inner resources I need to deal with what comes my way.
(A parent) I did my absolute best today. I couldn’t have given more than I did. I cared for my children, I fed them, I played with them, I listened to them, I kept them safe, I loved them. I now give myself permission to close my eyes and rest.
I am letting go of all tension in my body and mind. I am relaxing my head, my face, my shoulders, my stomach, my hips, my legs and my feet. I am releasing tension from my jaw. I feel very relaxed.
Sleeping is the most natural thing I can do. There is no reason that I will not be able to sleep. There are billions of people sleeping right now and falling asleep just as I will. I fall asleep every single night and will fall asleep tonight.
There is nothing more that I can do now to advance on my list of things to do. Everything is written down on a list so that I can let it go. It doesn’t require my attention right now.
I have had a long day and have done many things. It’s time for me to go to sleep and I am tired, I am ready to sleep. I am sleepy, I will sleep, I will stay asleep until I have had enough sleep.
I am now at the end of my day and I am letting go everything that happened today. I am completely in this moment, here in my bed. I am myself, free of any associations, responsibilities.
Now it’s time for me to regenerate myself with a deep and peaceful sleep so that I can be strong and energised tomorrow. There is nothing more I can do now to help other people. The best thing that I can do is to get some rest.
I am going to sleep, and I will stay asleep. If I wake up, it’s not a problem because I will fall back to sleep again. I trust that I will get all the rest I need.
I am doing all that I can to be the person that I want to be in my life and that’s enough. Everything that I do is enough. I am enough.
I don’t need to be anywhere, no one needs me. I am completely switched off and disconnected from everything around me. I will not be unnecessarily disturbed by noises around me as they are not for me and do not affect me.
Everything I have to do will be better handled in the morning after a good night’s sleep. I cannot do anything more now – it is time to sleep.
I am simply me, here now, in bed. I am free of my day. I am relaxed and ready to sleep.
I am relaxed with where I am in life right now and I trust that I will be able to move forwards and come to the best decision, when the time is right.
Positive Sleep Affirmations is just one element of my approach. Sleep is very personal and there are many things that might be preventing you from sleeping well. By working with a sleep coach, you will develop a deeper understanding of your own sleep and create a personal sleep plan.
Yoga Nidra is a 20-minute guided sleep meditation – to help you relax and unwind effectively in the evening or during the day.
Or find out how to train your brain to go to bed earlier.
Sleep well, live well!
By Dot Zacharias, Coactive Sleep Coach and iRest meditation teacher