Sleep issues tend to be one of the most common symptoms that accompanies issues with anxiety. When a person’s nervous system stays in a prolonged state of fear (the sympathetic nervous system related to fight, flight, and freeze) it can be hard for the nervous system to enter into the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and relaxation) long enough for deep sleep to occur. According to the American Sleep Association, about 50-70 million American adults have some type of sleep disorder with insomnia being the most common specific sleep disorder with about 30% of adults experiencing short term issues with insomnia and 10% of adults experiencing chronic insomnia. Insomnia is simply referring to trouble falling or staying asleep. Short term issues are defined as a few nights or weeks, and chronic issues refer to insomnia that lasts for months or even years.
With this being such a common issue, it is helpful to build in practices that help the body relax to be able to enter into deep sleep, especially since our quality of sleep and rest has such an impact on our quality of mental health and ability to cope with life’s stressors. One such technique is bilateral tapping.
Bilateral tapping is a technique that your therapist might utilize if they are trained in the therapy modality of EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing). Bilateral tapping simply means alternating tapping on the body, like the experience of walking is a back and forth motion. This can be something that is done using the butterfly hug (crossing your arms over your chest and tapping back and forth on your upper arms or chest) or it can be done by tapping back and forth on your thighs like your playing an imaginary bongo drum on your lap.
The following are different ways and examples of how you can use tapping to help with insomnia to be able to fall asleep.
Tapping In Resources to Help with Sleep:
- Before going to bed, avoid caffeine, the nightly news, your computer, or anything else that will stimulate your mind or body. Take a bath, meditate, pray, do some yoga, or gentle stretches, or listen to relaxing music. Prepare yourself to let go.
- When you get into bed, take some deep relaxing breaths. Breathe up from the soles of your feet, filling your abdomen, chest, and throat with air. Hold the inhalation for a few moments and then slowly release it, letting go from your throat, chest, and then abdomen, deflating like a balloon. Take several of these deep, relaxing breaths, letting your body rest deeper into the bed with each exhale and noticing the feeling of your body sinking into bed and the bed supporting your body as it is relaxing.
- When you feel calmer, bring to your mind imagery that will relax you, with as much detail as possible. You might imagine a safe/peaceful/comfy place, a nurturing figure, or a pleasant memory. Focus on things that are comforting, calming, and relaxing. You can create an imaginary scene that will relax and comfort you such as being wrapped in the arms of a loving mother bear or in the wings of an angel or walking around in a scenic forest surrounded by trees and flowers or sitting on a beach near the ocean in the sun.
- You can also focus on images or memories of letting go, expanding, or opening. For example, you might imagine flying like an eagle, wings spread, soaring and free, or cradled, swinging in a hammock in the forest, or floating on top of the water of a clear, still, blue lake. Feel yourself letting go and expanding with the imagery.
- When you begin to feel sensations in your body of either of the above resources (comforting, calming, relaxing, letting go) begin to tap it in by either crossing your arms over your chest and alternating tapping your shoulders in a hug, or alternate tapping the sides of your legs. Tap as long as it feels good and you feel relaxed.
- While you tap, you can add in more sensory detail, as long as it remains completely positive. For example, you can feel the softness of your mother bear’s fur, feel yourself cuddling into her warmth, and hear the beating of her heart. Or feel the swaying of the hammock, the breeze blowing you back and forth and smelling the forest air around you. Or feel the coolness of the water around you in the lake, see the blue, still water, and feel the sensation of your body floating in the water.
- As you tap, you can also say calming words to yourself such as “I can let go, I can relax, I am done with my work for today, I can drift off to sleep.”
- You could also sing yourself a lullaby in your mind. What lullabies touch your heart and soothe you? Or perhaps there is something you have heard more recently that touches you? You can listen to comforting music and tap as you listen to the music and let your focus be directed towards getting lost in the music.
- If you should wake up in the middle of the night, tell yourself its ok. Bring up your comforting images and tap them in. Tap until you relax into sleep. The goal is to focus on bringing in relaxation to the present moment and releasing/letting go of any tension or racing thoughts keeping you awake.
If you are tossing and turning for more than 20 minutes, your body needs a reset. Get up, go to a different room, and do a quiet, soothing activity, like washing your face, doing a mindfulness meditation, reading a book, or sipping a cup of warm herbal decaf tea for about 10-20 minutes. Turn on as few lights as possible to remind your body that it’s still nighttime and avoid looking at your phone, tablet, laptop, or TV screen, as well as keeping your eyes off a clock. Watching to see what time it is only adds to the stress of not being able to go to sleep which reactivates your sympathetic nervous system and does the opposite of helping you be able to relax and drift into sleep. Remember the goal is to focus on bringing in relaxation to the present moment and releasing/letting go of any tension or racing thoughts keeping you awake. Once you give yourself a break, return to bed, bring to mind your resource images from above, and tap again to reset back to sleep.
Written by Malinda King, MA, LPCC
The above technique was taken from Laurel Parnell’s book called Tapping In: A Step-by-Step Guide to Activating your Healing Resources through Bilateral Stimulation. Check it out with the link below to find many more ways to utilize bilateral tapping to help with relaxation, self care, and coping. https://www.amazon.com/Tapping-Step-Step-Activating-Stimulation/dp/1591797888