Can’t get to sleep? Try this proven technique tonight…

Do you sometimes have a night when sleep seems to be just out of reach? Nights when all the cares of the day get magnified as you lie there in the dark wishing that sleep would come and rescue you? Would you be interested in a technique that could help you get to sleep much, much easier?

Lost sleep leads to low energy, mood swings, poor decision-making and increased frustration and irritability. No one likes to feel like this, so I’d like to share a practical technique that I learned many years ago from the late Bert Weir (1926-2012) at the Brisbane Relaxation Centre. I don’t remember what Bert called the technique. I refer to it as the Rainbow Relaxation technique.

Before you proceed, there are two pre-requisites. 1. You need to know the colours of the rainbow (in order!) and 2. How to count backwards from 21 to 1. Rest assured, I’ve successfully taught this technique to many children so I suspect you’ll do just fine! Just in case you’ve forgotten: the colours of the rainbow are red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo (dark purple) and violet (light purple). It helps to remember ROY GBIV. 

Three steps to getting to sleep easily

Step 1 – visualise

If you find yourself lying in bed, thoughts wandering, frustration mounting, you’ll know it’s time to get started. Simply say to yourself,  “I’m thinking of the colour red” and visualise a red object. Eg. “I’m thinking of the colour red, a big, red, juicy apple”. You can substitute the red apple with anything else you may like to imagine – it could be a favourite red dress, a red sports car, a red ball – you get the idea. Next, say to yourself (under your breath of course so no one doubts your sanity!) “I’m thinking of the colour orange, a big juicy orange (I know, not very original, but it works). Again you can imagine anything you like but it needs to be coloured orange). Continue with each colour, taking time to really picture the object you are thinking of, in your mind.

eg. “I’m thinking of the colour red, a (big, beautiful, smooth or whatever other adjectives you may like to add) red ________, I’m thinking of the colour orange, an orange _________, I’m thinking of the colour yellow, a yellow _________, I’m thinking of the colour green, a green __________, I’m thinking of the colour blue, a blue ___________, I’m thinking of the colour dark purple (indigo), a dark purple ___________, I’m thinking of the colour light purple (violet), a light purple ___________.   

Step 2 – count

After you’ve completed the colours of the rainbow (if you’re still awake) then you may begin counting backwards from 21 to 1, in groups of three. After each group of three, imagine you’re feeling more relaxed, sinking closer to sleep.

eg. “21, 20, 19”, (pause)  “18, 17, 16” (pause)  “15, 14, 13” (pause)  “12, 11, 10” (pause)  “9, 8, 7” (pause)  “6, 5, 4” (pause) “3, 2, 1”.  

Allow yourself to relax between each group. That’s the way…

Step 3 – imagine

After you’ve finished counting down to 1 (only if you’re still awake, of course!) the next step is to imagine yourself in a peaceful place in nature. This can be anywhere at all, as long as it is a restful place for you. You’ll need to engage all your senses here – eg. imagine the feel of the sun shining gently on you or the sand between your toes, listen to the sound of the birds in the trees or water bubbling over the rocks, see the view around you or the butterflies fluttering past, smell the scents of the place you are… really get absorbed in the experience.

eg. “I’m imagining myself sitting beneath a huge, old tree with sunlight gently streaming through the branches and ever so gently, warming my skin. I can feel the coarse texture of the blanket I’m sitting on, comfortable and cozy, inviting me to lie down and rest. All around me is the chorus of the forest, the sound of birds in the distance, singing a beautiful melody, just for me, I notice the fragrance of trees flowering… there might be butterflies, babbling brooks, horses or sheep grazing on the hills around…the possibilities are only limited by your imagination. You can stay in this place, away from any cares, feeling completely at ease until it’s time to wake up refreshed. Or, you could start over again…

Be warned, this really does work. You may need to persevere at first, especially if you’ve been in the habit of letting your mind run away with itself, engaging in unhelpful worrying at sleep time. The more difficulty you have focusing and directing your mind, the more the practice will benefit you and the easier sleep will come with practice. When I need to use this technique now, I often don’t get past the colour orange or yellow. Perhaps my mind says, “Okay, I’ve been here before, how about we just go to sleep.”

Wishing you many nights of refreshing slumber,


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