“The soul becomes dyed with the colour of its thoughts.”
― Marcus Aurelius,
The lights go off and the thoughts come on. Where moments earlier the body was tired and the eyes were heavy, there is suddenly new life and sometimes anxiety in the form of unwelcome thoughts. What is it that keeps some of us awake and how do we stop that troublesome cycle? What difference could it make in our lives to be able to turn off those thoughts that bring sadness or worry, thereby coloring our soul?
When I was a child, we didn’t have electronic devices to tempt us into staying awake later, though a carefully placed flashlight could allow extra reading time for those of us wanting to finish one more chapter in a good book. Today we have smartphones, tablets, and other electronic conveniences offering reasons to stay awake a little longer; just a little too long, and sleep seems to be pushed to the back burner leaving a mind full of thoughts. With studies that show the importance of sleep for a healthy body and mind, steps to lessen intrusions are worth considering.
It turns out that my reading just a little longer as a teenager wasn’t such a bad thing. In a list of positive things to do before going to sleep, reading was number 3 on the list. A study (University of Sussex) showed that those who read for only six minutes could reduce stress levels by 68%. I’m going to guess that reading a book or magazine is the better choice, as a screen of any kind has been shown to be disruptive at night in various reportings.
People who go to bed earlier have fewer problems with thought interference than people who go to bed later. If your thinking keeps you awake, try going to bed 15-30 minutes earlier, and think some happy thoughts while you’re at it. You see, happy and successful people also tend to put aside things that were troubling them earlier in the day and make their last thoughts encouraging and grateful. Find some positive quotes to keep beside the bed that will give you something to fill your mind when negative thoughts try to sneak in, and you might just find that the color of your soul isn’t nearly so dark just because your room is.
Mindfulness might sound like something only important to a yogi or monk, but it really is a helpful tool for all of us. All kinds of thoughts seem to come into our minds when we are trying to find some rest and peace. If we notice the thoughts and allow them to drift through our mind without making them our focus, we will be able to get beyond the worry they often cause us. If we can look at our thoughts as if we are an outsider watching them come and go, we are practicing mindfulness. This takes some practice, but when it works it is a powerful tool on the “ways to better sleep” list.
One of the last things I’ve learned from my study is to get up when you find you can’t sleep. The thoughts that bring worry or fear have a way of lessening or even disappearing when our attention can go to something else. Often, reading, knitting, or just breathing steadily while listening to quiet music for a few minutes is all the brain needs to turn off those worrisome thoughts.
Life is full of wonderful adventures to fill our minds during the day, hopefully leaving us ready for rest at night. Turning off electronics (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and texting) 30 minutes before bed, reading a good book for a few minutes, leaving to-do’s on a piece of paper for tomorrow, and intentionally thinking good thoughts might give those anxious thoughts a run for their money and give us healthier and happier bodies and brains.