One minute, you're in the deep REM zone. The next, it's 3 a.m. and you're wide awake, eyes flung open, heart pounding, mind racing like a runaway train -- "Will I meet that deadline?" "Did I turn off the stove?"
You lie there flustered, tossing and turning, until finally you give up -- and spend the next few hours zoned out on the couch watching infomercials.
While you can't ignore late-night anxiety, you can find calm by facing it head on. "Mindfulness makes you aware of the uncomfortable physical sensations that bubble up when your brain refuses to rest," says stress and relaxation expert KRS Edstrom, creator of the Sleep Through Insomnia meditation CD. "It helps break up those I-can't-fall-back-to-sleep thoughts, and lets your mind know it doesn't have to panic anymore."
When insomnia strikes, she suggests briefly getting out of bed (get a drink of water, gently stretch) to break the initial agitation. Then lie back down and, using the following visualization technique, focus your attention on how you feel. By observing the tension in your body, you'll be better able to let it go and catch those precious remaining hours of rest.
1. Lie on your back, close your eyes, and take three deep, slow breaths through your nose.
2. Turn your attention to where the panic or tension resides in your body. Is it your head? Throat and neck? The pit of your stomach?
3. Observe the sensation. Does it feel dull, sharp, prickly, hot? Describe it to yourself objectively, without trying to make it stop or go away.
4. Now imagine drawing a circle around that spot with a marker.
5. Breathe deeply in and out for a few moments, watching the circle expand and shrink. Notice whether the intensity swells, plummets, or changes shape over time. As you relax, begin to envision the circle slowly melting away.
6. As the circle dissolves, let your body grow heavy; imagine that your bones are made of lead, sinking deeper and deeper into the bed. Feel a wave of relaxation flow over you, washing away your remaining anxiety, like sand being drawn out to sea.
7. Drift blissfully to sleep.