Bedtime can be an especially difficult time for survivors for a multitude of reasons. Sometimes it feels like the second my body gets to rest, my mind starts to go into overdrive, making it impossible to sleep. A technique I often employ is engagement of all the senses in a calming manner, just enough so that my mind stays interested and focused but not so much that I can’t also fall asleep eventually.
SMELL: Aromatherapy is a common technique utilized for sleep and you can find little aromatherapy pouches that last for quite a long time sold in various markets, drugstores, or online shops for fairly low prices (I got mine for $5). Another option is to get some sort of dollar perfume or scented balm and keep it open by your bedside. Before I had my lavender pouch, I used an open jar of vix vapor rub, or a bit rubbed just under my nose. *Extra bonus: vix vapor rub/ tiger’s balm is great for a stuffy nose, sore muscles, and bug bites— and the smell tends to keep flies/mosquitoes away!
TOUCH: I find heavy blankets somewhat triggering, so I use a multitude of small blankets instead (if you’re ever in an airport, try asking for a free plane blanket to take home! Those work great). These are easy to move around in but also warm. Additionally, I also sleep with a fake fur throw over my pillow because it’s soothing and comfortable and sometimes the feeling of a pillowcase can be triggering.
SIGHT: For me personally, complete darkness calms me down. If your room doesn’t get completely dark, any sort of cloth over the eyes will do. Others may feel safer with a nightlight. If you don’t have access to a nightlight there are cheaper alternatives; for example glow-in-the-dark stickers, or the light from a strategically placed computer charger. Little lanterns or cheap Christmas lights can also serve as excellent ‘mood lighting’.
HEARING: Some people need complete silence to fall asleep. Noise canceling headphones, earmuffs, earplugs, or even bits of cotton in the ears can help achieve this. Personally I have a playlist of slow, calming music that activates my imagination and distracts me from upsetting thoughts.
If music with lyrics can be triggering, try instrumental music. There are plenty of long, instrumental pieces on youtube that you can play all through the night. One friend of mine liked to fall asleep to Gregorian chants. Another can only sleep with a background of white noise, or rain noises. Personally I find Tibetan gong music extremely calming, and luckily youtube has 11 straight hours of it available.
TASTE: I keep a box of cough drops/mints/jolly ranchers by my bed at all times. Sucking candies don’t really require active engagement and are something pleasant to concentrate on. Flavored chapstick is also good for this!
I like this technique in particular because it includes treating my bedroom as a special, safe, and accommodating place. I enjoy setting up the perfect surroundings each night so that I can get to sleep. It can be incorporated into my daily routine fairly easily. I have found that after many nights of repeating this, just smelling a certain smell or tasting a certain taste can help me switch into a sleepy and comfortable mood much faster than before. My body recognizes the ‘getting ready for bed’ routine.
That said, this is also a technique that is easy to take with you wherever you go. Of course all of the senses do not need to be ‘engaged’ if it’s not possible at a given time. But I find that it’s a good starting point and I hope y’all do too!