It’s the end of the day. You’re tired. You’ve worked hard. The children have finally gone to bed. You’re looking forward to some peace and quiet by yourself. All of a sudden you hear the cries of your normally loving youngster: “I can’t sleep!” Or, your teen charges into the room and insists that they can’t fall asleep because they’re worrying about an exam the next day – a recent argument with their best friend – or a problem with their teacher. Wouldn’t you like them to learn a technique to help let go of worries and tensions of the day and fall asleep peacefully and easily?
Guided imagery has been an especially effective tool in alleviating many kinds of sleep disturbances. When children and adolescents have difficulty sleeping at night, imagery can offer a soothing and comforting way to drift off into dreams. Children discover their own solutions by using tools such as meeting a wise ‘animal’ friend for advice or receiving a special gift to help fall asleep.
For example, one 11 year old girl was afraid to sleep alone in the aftermath of the recent L.A. earthquake. (Gail* had been sleeping in her parents room since the quake.) We went on an underwater voyage to explore her feelings and she was met by a wise mermaid who had several messages for her: “You are safe”; “You are just as safe in your room as in your parents'”; “Nothing can hurt you”; and “You can be calm.” These internal messages were much more powerful than if she heard the same advice from her parent or therapist.The mermaid promised to watch over and protect her. After this session Gail began to sleep in her own room.
Gail then developed a fear that someone “bad” was going to come into her room if she slept alone; however, she was able to go “inside” and ask what could protect her if she slept in her own room. Gail imaged a “magic purple light” around her door that would keep out any harmful or scary people and only allow in friendly and helpful ones. Sleeping alone then became much easier for her.
You may choose to consider some of these techniques and adapt them to your children’s personal needs. The following “guided” imagery is very effective for deep sleep. The adolescent that this particular imagery was developed for had difficulty falling and staying asleep because of ongoing stresses in her life. She found that listening to this imagery on tape each night helped tremendously. You will notice the images are simple and repetitive. It is helpful to use a very, very slow voice with relaxing, soft music in the background.You may choose to create a tape for your children or have them make one in their own voice.
And letting go … letting go of the day … of the week … of anything that’s being held … As you breathe this light melts through your body … through your neck … into your shoulders … down your arms … relaxing … deeper and deeper … into your chest … around your heart. Your heart opens and accepts the healing light … releasing … breathing deeper and deeper. Going deeper into your sleep. Easily breathing into your belly … allowing this golden white light to blanket you. A blanket of sleep. as it goes down into your legs … into your feet …
A blanket of sleep tucking you in … taking you back to a time that you slept as soon as you touched the pillow. Going back into that deep sleep state. Going back to a time that was easy for you to sleep … where you were comforted and safe. Perhaps it’s a long, long time ago. But there is a time where you are peaceful … and happy … and you are sleeping easily. Giving you comfort knowing you are totally safe. As you go deeper and deeper into your sleep. Dreaming … peaceful thoughts … precious thoughts.
Allowing yourself to go deeper and deeper … until there is a door in front of you. A door that leads you down … into a deeper sleep. And there is a special person waiting for you at that door. A very wise and loving person. Who takes your hand and leads you to an even deeper sleep. Where you’re comfortable and safe. And all the thoughts of the day are let go. And you’re totally at peace … in your sleep. Totally at peace and calm.
As you go deeper and deeper … the blanket of sleep covers you. You’re so comfortable you find yourself drifting into the dreams. Into the wonderful dreams … drifting in the warm blanket. Going deeper and deeper, deeper and deeper… into your sleep … easily. Colors are floating around you. And the smells of sleep and comfort. As you continue to go deeper and deeper into your sleep. Allowing yourself to drift easily. Surprising yourself at how easy it is to sleep. How wonderful. How much you deserve to sleep easily… peacefully… Releasing all the tightness in your body.
As you sleep … allow your body to rest. Cherish your body. Take care of yourself. All is good … as you sleep. ……… And each night you go to sleep it is easier and easier to fall asleep quickly. You have peaceful and restful nights … as you deserve. As you accept that … you sleep … deeply…. ……
Although we have touched on only a few, there are numerous ways to use imagery with children in times of sleep disturbances as well as with other concerns. Guided and interactive imagery have been powerful and effective tools to help children re-develop and re-member their internal resources and strengths temporarily lost during times of stress. We are only limited by our own and out children’s imagination. Their wisdom is within; we are merely guides for helping them shine their light.
*Name changed for confidentiality.
Adapted from an article that originally appeared in Awareness MagazineNovember/December 1994 issue.