Guided Imagery: A Low-Cost, Non-Prescription Sleep Aid
Difficulty sleeping? Guided imagery might be something to try.
Humans are very impacted by their thinking. What you think gets physiologically brought to life in your body. If you spend your time thinking future oriented fear based thoughts, your body is going to be in an active stress response more of the time. It is possible for us to get stuck in this active stress response, otherwise known as the fight, flight, freeze response. When we walk around in this state of stress throughout the day we get physiologically knotted up in a state of physical tension. When we do this day in and day out it can be hard to relax when it is time to go to bed at night. We may lay there, unable to relax and drift off to sleep.
Another way our thinking impacts our sleep process is when we are able to go to sleep ok, but get jolted awake in the middle of the night by these same types of anxiety producing thoughts. We may still be in our bed, but our minds are busy solving the problems of the world. Our thinking speeds up, our bodies get tense, and we might as well start making the coffee. Our night of rest is over.
Many people are on a quest for the best way to interrupt this thought induced sleeplessness. Some turn to medication, some to alcohol, some turn to mindless television in hopes of lulling their mind into a state of quiet. While all of these strategies can work in the short run, they all have negative consequences and can lose their effectiveness in helping you sleep.
Using Guided Imagery to help you sleep
One option that is both low cost and non-pharmaceutical is guided imagery. Guided imagery uses the way our thought world operates to our advantage. Rather than our body bringing to life scary, overwhelming or traumatic thoughts, guided imagery introduces you to new thoughts that are more likely to cause your body to move to a relaxed physical state. Instead of thinking about tomorrow’s meeting, you might be guided to imagine yourself sitting on a rock, warmed by the sun, while listening to the gentle lapping sounds of the waves coming to shore.
Guided imagery is exactly as the name suggests: someone guides you to use your imagination to help you return to your default setting of peacefulness, rather than using your imagination to freak yourself out. Most guided imagery offerings involve a kind, gentle voice and music that is designed to lower your heart rate and physiologically quiet the body and mind. Each imagery is slightly different as the guide invites you to picture different scenes and to invoke healing thoughts around the specific topic of that particular imagery, like grief, self-confidence, combating depression, and others.
At Health4U we highlight the work of Belleruth Naperstak, a social worker who is dedicated to helping people strengthen their relaxation response. If you would like to try one of her guided imagery offerings you can visit the Kaiser Permanente Hospital's Health Promotion Website and listen to or download a guided imagery that speaks to the specific physical or emotional health need that you are addressing. You can also borrow a guided imagery CD from the Health4U library. If you would like to try guided imagery, consider attending one of the upcoming guided imagery sessions offered in partnership between Health4U and the Abrams Planetarium.