I tend to struggle getting back to sleep if I wake up in the middle of the night. The other day, I tried a new technique to go back to sleep, based in social psychology research, and it worked really well, so I wanted to share it.
(For those of you who struggle with the flood of thoughts during meditation, I also think this would help quiet the chatty mind.)
Years ago, I read the book “White Bears and Other Unwanted Thoughts” by social psychologist Daniel Wegner, and the title experiment always stuck with me. When Wegner told subjects not to think about white bears (think polar bears) that was all they could think about. Intrusive thoughts like that can be frustrating, but what if we used this to our advantage?
If thoughts are intruding on a quiet mind or productive thinking, then they are unwanted; but if thoughts are intruding on an internal dialogue that we don't want, then they may be beneficial.
Here’s the tip: If you’re preoccupied by something or can’t get back to sleep, tell yourself not to think about the number zero. Repeat this direction to yourself a few times and you may find that you get sleepy or your mind gets a little quieter.
The reason this helps is that it’s something boring and fairly meaningless that at first you won’t be able to stop thinking about--it short-circuits other thought processes and patterns in your mind--but it's not a particularly provocative or engaging thought, and is not something that you'll ruminate on, so it can be a great transition into sleep or a quiet mind.
Feel free to replace the number zero with anything else boring that does the trick.