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Feeling safe to sleep

A huge thank you to Dr Nerina Ramlakhan for contributing this article. 

Dr Nerina's latest book can be purchased here and you can find her on LinkedIn

For many of us, life is currently fairly intense. Geopolitical events and economic volatility make it hard not to feel overwhelmed. In addition, the exponential advancements in technology, from GPT-4 to the metaverse, mean our world is changing at rapid pace, and we're facing many unknowns. 

It is therefore not surprising that problems with sleep are on the rise. You get into bed and you just can’t let go of the day, tired but wired and unable to fall asleep. Or you wake in the early hours sweating, mind whirring, worried and fearful. Or you sleep fitfully and it’s not restful, so you wake up feeling exhausted, as if you haven’t slept at all. Or a combination of all of the above. 

Indeed, our declining relationship with sleep is reflected in a survey conducted in 2022 by Nuffield Health of 8,000 UK adults. Results revealed that nearly 75% of respondents have poorer sleep compared to 2021 and 1/10 people only get 2-4 hours sleep per night.

Our world is changing and moving so fast; there’s so much uncertainty and chaos. More than ever we need to feel safe and secure. There’s a limit to how much direct control we have over what’s happening out in the world, but what we can do is create an internal core of safety so that we don’t get blown over in the storm.

And how do we do this? We have to find our still point in the eye of the storm. Here’s a simple inner safety-creating exercise you can do regularly throughout the day.

  • Breathe deeply and feel your feet on the ground. Can you relax your feet? Can you feel them soften and spread into the ground? Try it.
  • Wriggle your toes – in your shoes or with bare feet (even better). Breathe deeply again. Sigh out loud feeling yourself drop down into your hips and bottom if you’re sitting. If you’re standing, soften and bend your knees slightly, sigh and drop down into your feet.
  • Repeat as many times as you need to and try to hold the awareness of your lower body and feet as you go about your day.

The more often you get out of your head and back into your body, the more resourceful you’ll be in the face of challenge, the less stressed – and the better you’ll sleep at night. We sleep deeply when we feel safe.

At this difficult time, a reflection on love might also offer some unexpected benefits in relation to your sleep.

In my one-to-one work, we often end up talking about how my clients talk to themselves.  I invite them to start noticing the self-talk and to experiment with directing more kindness and compassion towards themselves.  Their initial reaction might be to feel embarrassed about doing this but eventually they notice that changing their inner dialogue helps them let go of feeling they need to be in control all the time, the incessant mental chatter seems to quieten down, they’re more able to soften and relax…and sleep.

So how do you do this?

I’m going to share with you my special meditation that produces amazing results if you give it a go.  Suspend judgement, try it and see how fast you fall asleep and when you’re in bed tonight repeat these words silently and slowly making your inner voice soft and gentle as if putting a small child to sleep. And this is how it goes….

I love my right foot

I love my right big toe

I love my right little toe

I love all the toes of my right foot

I love the top of my right foot

I love the bottom of my right foot

I love my right ankle

I love my left foot

And so on…..

You will start to fall asleep and lose the meditation.  As soon as this happens go back to the starting point…   I love my right foot….

The more you use this technique the better it will work for you.  And teach your children the exercise too – it even works for my grumpy teenager.  The choice of the word ‘love’ is deliberate – it’s the opposite of the punitive language we’re using towards ourselves when we’re saying ‘you have to get this right!’ This simple form of self-suggestion enables the production of oxytocin, the love and trust hormone, which induces a feeling of inner safety and peace.  And then….when we feel safe we produce melatonin and we sleep. You literally love yourself to sleep!

Try both of these techniques tonight and see how you they work for you.

Live well, love well, sleep well