can mindfulness help you sleep?
It can be difficult enough coping with the demands of your day after a good sleep, but if you suffer from chronic sleep problems you’ll probably be starting the morning feeling irritable, drained, and maybe a bit weepy. Everything requires so much more effort. Lack of sleep has been linked to compromised immunity, raised blood pressure, mood disorders, and even diabetes.
So can something as straightforward as mindfulness really help with insomnia? Let’s take a look.
Daytime stresses lead to racing thoughts at night
Most people who have trouble getting to sleep or who wake up in the early hours and just can’t relax will tell of racing thoughts; how the mind turns towards worries and stresses in the early hours making any return to sleep almost impossible. 2020 has brought a new set of worries to most people’s lives and the more we have to worry about, the less likely we are to get a decent night’s sleep.
Mindfulness helps to direct your thoughts to whatever is happening in the present moment. Somebody who regularly practices mindfulness will be more able to re-direct those racing thought patterns and might over time develop techniques for meeting the challenges of daily life with increased equanimity. We can’t make the stressful situations go away, but we can change the way we react to them.
If you really want to use mindfulness to help with sleep, it’s going to need an effort on your part. Reading books about mindfulness and taking an 8-week course are great ways of introducing the ideas behind this ancient practice, but what’s really needed to change your life is a positive commitment to incorporate formal and informal mindfulness practices into your daily routines.
Some Mindfulness Techniques to help you sleep
The more regularly you practice mindfulness exercises during the day, the easier it will become to get a good night’s sleep. But for those times when you feel restless and unsettled at night, you might try one or more of these strategies.
Mindfulness of the breath
Try to spend a few minutes focusing on the sensation of breathing as you lie in bed. Don’t feel the need to change the way you breathe. Just note the sensations of breathing in and out. Where in your body do you feel each breath? In the nostrils? In the ribcage? How does one breath differ from the last?
Mindfulness of sounds
Focus the attention on any sounds you can hear. Maybe you can hear the wind or rain, passing cars, noises from household appliances. Try and listen to five different sounds. Try not to think about whether they’re pleasant or unpleasant. Just focus for a while on each one without judgment.
Scan quickly through the body. Which area is calling for your attention? Maybe there are sensations of pain, restlessness or numbness. Take a minute or two to focus the mind on different areas. How do the bodily sensations change from moment to moment?
There’ll be times when nothing seems to work at all. When you find yourself becoming more stressed about the sleeplessness itself, maybe it’s time to give yourself permission to be awake. Try spending a bit of time reading, listening to a guided meditation or moving about a bit. After a while, you will probably start to feel tired and then sleep may come more easily.