And then they descend like rowdy friends after a drunken party; those thoughts that won't give you any peace. You try to ignore them but they are so damned loud! Before you know it, you are listening to every word they say and none of it is soothing.
In fact, these unwelcome visitors are downright aggressive, questioning you and pointing out all of the things you haven't done or should have done better. 'Why haven't you done your Christmas shopping yet?' 'Why on earth did you say that today in the office?'
They're relentless. They start to question your capabilities too. 'Do you think you'll be able to manage that project tomorrow?' 'Are you sure you haven't bitten off more than you can chew in your new career?' They even question your character. 'Are you a good friend/mother/daughter/wife? Then why didn't you ...?'
You try not to retaliate, but it's no good. They suck you into the debate and you answer back. 'I would have enough time and energy for that project tomorrow if I could only GET TO SLEEP!'
By now you're wide-eyed, your heart is racing and you're hot and bothered. You can feel those stress hormones coursing through your body and you know you'll only drop back to sleep again five minutes before the alarm. It's so frustrating because you understand you're the author of your own sleepless night and now everything that might have been challenging tomorrow is going to be doubly challenging. That vicious merry-go-round of thoughts keeps spinning round and you can't jump off!
My regular yoga practice means that I have far fewer sleepless nights, but they still visit me now and again. One of the best ways I have found to stop them is a simple breathing method. For me the effect is almost magical.
All you do is focus on your breath. You don't count breaths, you don't try to change them. You simply turn your attention to the exhalation. Each time you breathe out, you let it be in 3 stages. You don't hold your breath at any point, you just let it out as if you're descending down three stairs in one flowing but stepped movement. I keep it up for as long as I need to.
Hopefully you will find it as calming as I do and with a bit of luck you will drop to sleep, but I don't make that my aim, I just keep breathing in and gently out down those three steps. Good luck!
I am indebted to Mona Baur, one of the lovely teachers at Whitespace Yoga, for teaching me this technique. Her own inspiration is The Breathing Book by Donna Fahri. It's on my Christmas list.
All photos © Andrew Holman.