Forget counting sheep – if you struggle to drift off at night, chanting sleep affirmations is supposed to help. But can you really talk yourself into sleeping better? Writer Elizabeth Bennett has been finding out.
Who isn’t obsessed with getting enough sleep? Whether it’s banishing blue light devices from the bedroom, trying CBD or practising breathing exercises, there are many wellness hacks out there that claim to set you up for a good night’s sleep. Bedtime affirmations, in particular, are rising in popularity.
Put simply, affirmations are positive, present-tense statements you repeat to yourself or write down. The idea is by repeating these phrases, you can combat negative thinking and have a more positive outlook.
Affirmations can be practised at any time during the day, but pre-bed they can be used to wind down and help you feel relaxed before sleep. Specific affirmations to do with sleep can also be used, for example: “I fall asleep easily and wake up refreshed,” “I let go of all physical and mental tension,” or “I now enter a place of deep and restful sleep.”
While may sound a little woo-woo, it is rooted in science. It comes down to the concept of neuroplasticity – the idea that our brains can be ‘rewired’. “If you tell yourself something often enough, you will create new neural pathways,” rapid transformational therapist Marisa Peer tells Stylist.
“We learn everything by repetition. Our mind reacts to just two things: the words we tell ourselves and the pictures those words create. If we are worrying about not getting to sleep, we are setting ourselves up for failure with these negative thoughts going round and round in our head,” she says.
As anyone who has suffered with sleep issues knows all too well, it is often a mental thing. It’s easy to get trapped in a cycle of sleeping badly, worrying about sleeping and then not being able to sleep well again.
The ritual of repeating affirmations before sleep brings a moment of calm in a moment that can sometimes be full of anxiety. Peer continues: “It’s often the first time we are alone with our minds that day, so we reflect and start going through the ‘should haves’, ‘could haves’ and ‘ought to have dones’, allowing angst to kick in and preventing us from sleeping.
“If we programme ourselves to think positive, calming thoughts about sleep, we relax both our mind and our body, allowing us to enjoy natural, deep sleep.”
The challenge: trying bedtime affirmations for a week
Determined to see whether they have any real soporific value, I decided to try using affirmations before bed each night for a week to see if I’d sleep more soundly. And I wanted to see if speaking a good night’s kip into existence would positively impact my routine the next day.
For a bit of background, I don’t have huge issues with sleep. Once asleep, I tend to stay asleep throughout the night. However, it’s the falling asleep bit that I find tricky. I can’t remember the last time my head hit the pillow and I drifted straight off. In fact, most evenings I spend a while tossing and turning with my thoughts on loop with a few trips to the loo ‘just one last time’. After a busy start to the year balancing a house move with lots of work and social commitments, it’s been taking me even longer to get some shut-eye. So, here’s how I’ve been getting on with sleep affirmations.
I get into bed at a pretty reasonable time after finishing Inventing Anna (a show that has been stealing my sleep of late) and turn off my phone. I use Yoga With Kassandra’s Bedtime Affirmations video on YouTube, which is five minutes of phrases connected to feeling calm and preparing yourself for bed.
While you can write down affirmations and read them to yourself for a set period, I find it easier to listen to someone else and repeat them inside my mind. If you’ve never done this before it can feel a little uncomfortable at first, but you soon get into it. I lie down while listening to Kassandra and feel like I could drift off before the end.
After the session is finished, I shut my laptop and go to sleep. While I don’t fall asleep super quickly, the initial tossing or turning definitely feels reduced. In the morning, I wake before my alarm and feel relatively refreshed. I want to do a HIIT workout, so after completing Wordle, I put on some music and get going – feeling pretty energised.
I meet friends for dinner and have a couple of glasses of wine. After drinking two glasses of wine, my motivation to create a relaxing nighttime routine is lacking – it feels counterintuitive to do something seemingly mindful after drinking. However, I listen to another video of affirmations before sleeping instead of spending an hour scrolling on my phone (my go-to after a few drinks). Despite that, I don’t sleep that well and wake up a few times at night. I still make it to my 8am yoga class, but it feels like a struggle.
I’m at home this evening so watch a video that combines yin yoga with affirmations. This is the same idea as before, but each affirmation is paired with a yoga pose. In some ways, this feels more powerful as you repeat each affirmation for longer. I do this for around half an hour and then read a little bit of my book before going to sleep. I sleep soundly and deeply compared to the night before and wake up feeling more bouncy than usual.
I get into bed at a reasonable time, and after reading my book, listen to the affirmations. I am finding that doing the affirmations as the last step before sleep is the most effective. The only downside to using a video, however, is that you’ve got to have your phone or laptop on.
Normally, I like to turn my phone off an hour or so before bed so I’m not distracted by WhatsApp or dreaded emails, but even when I have the affirmations playing through my laptop, I’m tempted to have a quick check of social media. Despite that, I fall asleep reasonably quickly and wake up before my alarm. I make the most of rising early and do a pilates video at home.
As an experiment, I try chanting affirmations without using a video. I take my notebook and write out a number of positive phrases about sleep and then spend a little time repeating them to myself. Writing with pen and paper is a nicer bedtime ritual than using a potentially distracting device, but I don’t find the process as relaxing as listening to someone else repeating the affirmations for me.
This evening ends up being a failure. I go out with friends, get back late and completely forget about the affirmations. On the upside, I sleep pretty well…
I always find Sunday is the hardest night to fall asleep. The combination of a disrupted sleep pattern over the weekend and thinking about the week ahead often means I take ages to fall asleep. I have a relaxing evening at home and go back to the video I was doing earlier in the week. Listening to the same video over and over feels comforting and reassuring, and I’m convinced that repeating the same phrases each night must be beneficial when it comes to rewiring the brain. I sleep well, especially for a Sunday, and feel relatively rested as Monday rolls around.
The verdict: do sleep affirmations help with sleeping soundly?
I’ve enjoyed incorporating affirmations into my evening routine and can see it being something I try to keep doing. The videos are relaxing and make me feel grounded and reassured. Unlike meditation, which is all about trying to still the mind, having something to focus on is much easier.
Whether they help with sleep is hard to quantify as there are so many other variables. For me, what I’ve been doing that evening and alcohol plays a big part in my sleep. And, ideally, I would need to test affirmations out for longer to come to any definite conclusion, but I definitely noticed that I felt less frazzled before bed. With that in mind, I’ll be keeping affirmations in my sleep toolbox for the foreseeable future.
For more sleep tips and advice, check out the Strong Women Training Club.