Why You Can’t Sleep At Night And What You Can Do About It

It’s harder to sleep in these times. Articles are written every day about the subject. Your reason for tossing and turning at night may be different from mine. But the result is the same. We’re foggy and tired the next day. We keep ourselves alert with coffee, sugar or other stimulants. Then we crash and drag and can’t remember where we left our car keys. Up and down we go. We stay up late to get things done, like “just one-more-email” which stimulates one more. We watch TV to chill before bed but then the theme of the last show we watched takes over our brain and creates restless sleep – if we’re lucky. For many of us, worries and concerns we’ve been pushing aside finally get their time to play out on the stage of our minds without distraction. Where’s that sleeping pill to shut it all off? But that sleeping pill just leaves us dragging again the next day.

We all know the statistics. Not enough sleep affects our emotional well-being, our cognitive clarity, our relationship communications, our performance on the job or elsewhere, our sense of connection to spirit or self, and ultimately our long-term health. We get anxious about not sleeping, which only makes it harder to sleep. Anxiety releases adrenaline which prompts body and mind into action–the opposite of what we need for sleeping. It’s a catch-22. Many of us have tried a lot of the recommended common sense remedies and still often find ourselves lying awake a good part of the night. What are we to do?

If this describes you or someone you care about, there is one place you may not have looked for help that’s about one to two feet under your nose, depending on how tall you are. That place is your heart.

Three Ways Your Heart Can Help You Sleep Better

Your heart beats in a rhythm. Research at the Institute of HeartMath shows that when you are worried, anxious, frustrated – stressed – that rhythm becomes irregular. The more stressed you are, the more chaotic your heart rhythm pattern becomes. So what makes the heart rhythm smooth out quickly? Research shows it’s positive feelings, like love, care, gratitude, appreciation, compassion or joy. These feelings not only feel good but are good for you. They order your heart rhythms, reduce cortisol and increase DHEA (the vitality hormone) to help you sleep more soundly and wake up more energized and refreshed.

When your heart rhythm pattern becomes smooth and ordered, it’s called a coherent rhythm. Below is a picture. You can see how jagged and incoherent the heart rhythm pattern is when you’re anxious or frustrated and how smooth and sine-wave like (coherent) it becomes when you’re feeling appreciation.


What’s cool is that both graphs are of the same person feeling one way then the other within a period of a couple minutes. What’s even cooler is that scientists have found that the smooth, coherent rhythm is the pattern your heart rhythm naturally goes into during deep sleep. So why not give it some help? Here’s how you can:

When you close your eyes at night, tell yourself you aren’t going to overdramatize your concerns about sleeping. Here’s a heart-focused technique we call Attitude Breathing® to help create the coherent rhythmic pattern that can facilitate deeper and more effective sleep:

* Gently breathe an attitude of calm, ease and relaxation for a minute or two. * When relaxed, then breathe an attitude of appreciation, gratitude or love for someone or something–a pet, a time in nature, etc.

* Do this for a few minutes or so to activate the heart rhythms that help release beneficial hormones which reduce stress and restore your system.

If you go to bed with that stressed, jagged heart rhythm pattern, it can disrupt your sleeping rhythms. During deep sleep your breathing and heart rhythms are quieter, your metabolic rate slows and hormonal rhythms change. The stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine (adrenaline) decrease. However, when these rhythms are disrupted, then sleeping restfully or waking up refreshed is hard to come by.

Have you ever noticed what happens when you go to bed without resolving a real or imagined conflict with someone? Your mind won’t stop rehashing what you could have or should have said. Your heart can help.

Respect yourself and the other person. If you can, communicate with her before you go to bed and with open-heartedness and latitude, try to work it out. Check to see if there’s something you need to correct within yourself to help the situation. Apologize if you need to and listen from your heart with an attitude of genuine care. Ask questions to sincerely understand where she is coming from, even if you think you know. If you can’t reach the person, talk about the problem with someone who won’t just agree with you but may provide another point of view. Then talk to the person as soon as you can. Don’t chicken out. Even if the situation doesn’t resolve right away, you can release yourself more knowing that you tried. Breathing the attitude of self-compassion has helped many people in “hard-to-resolve” situations.

Realize that what you do during the day also affects how you sleep at night. When you allow stress to build-up during the day, it throws off your body’s rhythms and can lead to overload, headaches, backaches, indigestion, energy drain and more. Your heart generates the strongest rhythm in the body, and your brain and nervous system entrain to your heart’s rhythm, whether coherent or incoherent. This exciting research is available if you want to learn more.

Getting your heart into a coherent rhythm a couple times during the day helps release stress as you go and helps reset your body’s rhythms for better sleep at night. Here’s how.

Take a coherence break in-between activities, at your desk, on a break, or anywhere. Shift focus to your heart (look at picture of a loved one, remember a favorite pet, or recall a time in nature) and feel appreciation or gratitude. It’s important that the appreciation be heartfelt (not just from the mind) to activate heart coherence and hormones that help bring harmony and stability to your mental and emotional processes. Breathe the true feeling or attitude of appreciation through the area of your heart for a minute or two (without mentally multi-tasking as you do this). Taking coherence breaks also increases balance and resilience and helps you listen to your heart’s intuitive guidance on what else you need to do to release stress.

Creating a Counterbalance: How to Change Stressful Perceptions and Reactions with Inner Ease

Science has shown that positive emotions can help shift and replace our stress-producing feelings and perceptions. This serves to counterbalance the depleting effects from our stressful reactions and also positively affects our psychological and physiological levels.

As we increasingly take charge of our emotions, we can reduce and prevent much of the stress we experience. In learning to neutralize and transform our stress, we become a conscious contributor to our own health, balance, and fulfillment.

To help become a conscious director of our emotional nature and stressful reactions, start with the practice of self-monitoring.

Inner Self-Monitoring

As you start your day, and occasionally throughout the day, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What am I feeling right now? Are my mind and emotions churning out worry and stressful projections regarding future outcomes, or do I feel resilient and balanced in my decisions, actions and responses to whatever the day brings?
  • Am I remembering that I have the choice to take pause and weigh out my heart’s responses and suggestions — before falling into the same old mental and emotional reactions that lower my spirit and drain the energy needed to create and operate effectively?

These types of questions are simply for stimulating the memory that there are pro-active things we can do to mitigate and prevent a significant amount of stress and low productivity.

Breathing the feeling of ease helps to quieten your mind’s static; this makes it easier to feel your heart’s intuitive suggestions for less stressful, more effective ways to handle whatever a day brings. We can’t erase all of our challenges, but we can get a lot smarter in how we deal with them. Connecting with our heart-smarts can become a powerful stress-buster and guidance system for a more fulfilling life.

When you need an attitude lift to re-kindle your resilience: Breathe in the feeling of inner ease and calm for a few minutes. While doing this, hold the feeling of genuine appreciation for someone, a pet, or something you care about. Feelings of appreciation have been proven to benefit our health.

Make a list of a few behavior patterns you would like to change to reduce stress and increase emotional balance. (Emotional balance slows down the burn rate of the energy we accumulate from sleep.)

Positive Self-Talk

Have a sincere and honest self-talk about the attitudes and behaviors you listed. The most meaningful self-talk occurs when the heart – your true self – speaks to the mind. If you feel yourself drifting into mind processing, make a genuine effort to ease back into your heart space. If indecision or self-doubt begin to surface, simple realize that it is your old way of thinking. Breathe ease, and gently return to focusing on the change you truly desire.

Applications for Inner Ease

Identify daily activities, situations or interactions where you think breathing ease and taking a quiet pause could be helpful.

There are many situations that create stress in people’s lives that they take for granted because it seems normal. You can breathe ease in these situations and take charge of your energy. Here is a small list of important times for remembering to breathe ease.

  • Before responding to a vexing e-mail.
  • When overwhelmed with too much to do.
  • While stuck in traffic and running late for an appointment.
  • As your computer reboots.
  • While discerning important issues or choices.
  • When life’s challenges are coming in faster than solutions.
  • When you get caught in other people’s drama and can’t leave the room (breathing ease can help you detach from the energetics and not get pulled in).
  • During meetings – breathe ease for deeper listening, better comprehension, more patience and to stay emotionally poised. But if you lose your composure, breathing ease helps you re-center, especially if you get caught up in frustrations and judgments.

After you learn to breathe ease, you’ll find there are many situations where, while breathing ease, you can imagine that you are drawing in higher quality emotional attitudes which promote health, balance and self-security. Try breathing the feeling of nonjudgment, kindness, forgiveness, increased resilience, compassion, etc. Anchoring these positive emotional qualities has been proven to help transform stress on the spot, along with their wholeness health benefits.

Here is how Ashley created a Counterbalance by Breathing Ease and Taking Pause

Ashley arrived at her workplace and ran into Melissa. She immediately recalled how Melissa snapped at her during yesterday’s office meeting, Through inner self-monitoring, Ashley acknowledged that just seeing Melissa down the hall brought up a feeling of resentment.

Rather than allowing her energy to feed resentment, Ashley remembered to breathe calm and ease while taking pause to sense what her heart felt and might suggest. As she reflected on her awkward communication with Melissa, her perception started to shift: “Perhaps I didn’t communicate clearly with Melissa, as I was in a hurry. What if she was having a bad day emotionally? Then I started to remember my intention to shift from these lower type feelings quicker, because I know in my heart, that nobody comes out ahead when there resentment and separation are involved.”

As always, Ashley was amazed at the difference in perception when she genuinely connected with her heart’s discernment and guidance. As her heart feelings reopened to Melissa, she experienced the warm connection she naturally has with Melissa along with deep appreciation for her friendship.

The heart lights the straightest path back on the road when we spin out.

Practicing inner ease is not just for bailing out of stress, but for maintaining balance and harmonious interactions. Moving with inner ease is not inferring that you have to operate at the speed of a snail, nor is it a sleepy-time relaxation state. It’s about slowing down your inner body language – the mechanical mental and emotional reactions that cause mistakes and do-overs that we conveniently blame on others.

Take a few moments each day for breathing ease, inner-self monitoring and taking pause to sense what your heart would feel about matters, and what it might suggest – then jump on that like a Harley and ride wide open without looking back. Wouldn’t it be nice if it were that easy? Our hearts facilitate us like the new e-bikes: They assist you, especially up the hills, but you still have to pedal. But that’s fair.

Article courtesy of the HeartMath Institute
With contributions by HeartMath founder, Doc Childre