Yesterday, a friend asked me, “Could you write another sleep story? I have used your last one a lot.”
“I could use a new one. I’m struggling with my anxiety about the coronavirus,” she said, sighing.
So here it is. This time I am putting you right in the sequence of events.
The Sleep Story
Imagine that you are walking briskly through a city that you love, taking in the storefronts, walking through galleries and small parks, and enjoying waterfront views. As you begin to feel the strain in your legs from so much walking, you notice the air turning colder and the sky filling with dark clouds. You pull your scarf tighter around your neck and decide to return to your houseboat, a whimsical place that you rented for a weekend getaway. As you turn the corner toward the dock and the houseboat, big drops of cold rain fall. You rush to unlock the door in time to save yourself from getting drenched.
Inside, you feel the warmth hit you as you hang your cold, damp jacket on the hook to dry. You take off your shoes and put on warm thick socks. Raindrops patter softly on the roof. In the tiny kitchen, you turn on the stove to heat up the teapot for a cup of chamomile. Gazing out the windows, you watch the rain falling like pieces of grain pelleting the lake. Small waves rock the houseboat. A novel and magazines wait by an overstuffed chair in front of a picture window with a view of the tree-lined lake. In the distance, seagulls croon. You take your cup of chamomile, sit in the chair, pull down the warm afghan and put your feet on the ottoman. Slowly turning the pages of a magazine, you sip your tea.
The rocking movement of the boat lulls you; the magazine slides down in your lap. Eyes closed, you give way to the softness of the cushions, the warmth of the blanket and lean back feeling your neck, back and legs relax. Nothing else matters now, nothing except the sound of raindrops and gentle waves lapping against the houseboat — all pulling you into sleep.
How to Use the Story
Sleep stories such as this one (and the one in the link above) have a sequence of events that are meant to be learned and rehearsed so that when you get in bed at night, you automatically play them like a movie in your mind. (No lights needed.) For example, you awaken at 3AM and before you even get out of bed to go to the bathroom, you place yourself in a city you love and walk down its streets so that when you come back to bed, you are already unlocking the houseboat door to get out of the rain.
It’s important to create details that work for you if the ones in the story above don’t. Once you have created a sequence that works for you, stick with it, going through it in slow motion— putting on warm socks, making tea, watching the rain, sinking into the chair, pulling the afghan around you, drinking tea — all the while hear the comforting sounds of the rain, the waves, the seagulls. Feel the gentle rocking of the boat. Let the sequence calm you as you fall asleep.
Sleep narratives are part of an approach called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, now recommended as the first line of defense in treating insomnia.