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How To: Go to Sleep

Stop counting sheep and recounting your day. Try calming your mind and body instead.

It’s hard to have a good day if you haven’t had enough sleep, and it’s difficult to sleep if your mind is racing after a bad day. Richard Davidson, the William James and Vilas Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the UW and an expert in human flourishing, can help you get the sleep you need to thrive, both physically and emotionally.

Davidson is the founder and director of the Center for Healthy Minds at the UW, where his team uses science and ancient wisdom to teach the skills of resiliency and well-being. Any time people learn something new, sleep is an important part of the process. “In order for certain skills and learning to endure,” he says, “it’s really important that sleep intervenes. Sleep can help consolidate the information [that] we acquire when we’re awake.”

Davidson’s friend the Dalai Lama also knows the importance of a good night’s rest for a better tomorrow — he aims for nine hours a night. Below, you’ll find Davidson’s methods for clearing your mind and waking up on the right side of the bed.

There's an app for that.

Search for the Healthy Minds Program in your smartphone’s app store. This free app developed by Healthy Minds Innovations, a nonprofit founded by Davidson and affiliated with the Center for Healthy Minds, has meditation guides for daily life, overwhelming days, and, you guessed it, better sleep.

Scan for tension.

According to Davidson, there are four pillars of well-being: awareness, connection, insight, and purpose. When it comes to calming your mind and falling asleep, awareness is key. When your mind is racing, Davidson suggests taking an inventory of your body. “Slowly scan through the body and become aware of whatever sensations are present, starting with the head,” he says. “Feel your body being heavy and simply notice whatever tensions might be present.”

Mind your thoughts.

Once you’re done taking stock of your body, move on to your mind. Be aware of the ideas floating around your brain, but don’t give in to any one thought. Create distance between you and your worries. “Don’t get hijacked by the content, but simply try to look at thoughts as if they’re clouds in the sky,” Davidson explains. “See them arising and then changing and then disappearing.”

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