Mindful Mondays: How to Sleep
Staring at the ceiling through the darkness of my room. Although the clock is silent, I can still feel the restless minutes pass by as I struggle to fall asleep.
My covers hurt. My covers are hot. Why are the covers so heavy? Why does this bed feel lumpy tonight? There isn’t enough background noise, I should turn on the fan. Ow, now I am cold. …sigh…. maybe if I just turn over…. yes, that will work. I am comfortable now. I’ll just lay here and not think of anything.. and sleep…should..come…
Insomnia: /inˈsämnēə/ is defined as the inability to fall sleep, stay asleep, feeling restlessness or waking up early. Some of the causes of insomnia are widespread including, anxiety, depression, lack of exercise, poor sleeping habits, chronic illness, pain and even some medications. It is estimated that over 3 million people in the US suffer with insomnia.
At some point, most of us will experience insomnia at least once in our life. Sometimes it only hangs around for a week or so, but others experience insomnia throughout their lifetime, making bedtime an anxious time as they fear not getting the adequate sleep that they need to function throughout the day.
How to use Mindfulness to Develop Healthy Sleep Hygiene?
Using mindfulness exercises and relaxation techniques can reduce stress and anxiety experienced at bedtime, making falling into a sleeping state easier.
Stay in the present:
As soon as your head hits the pillow your brain zaps wide awake. Thoughts come rushing through your conscious reminding you of all the little things you forgot to do throughout the day. Even if you fight the urge to get out of bed to take care of something, your brain ups the ante with opening the flood gates of “worrying”.
Before you know it you are thinking about financial problems, issues at work, your relationships, why your boss didn’t smile at you when you passed each other in the hall, how would you get prepared for a big project that is due next week and the list of “what ifs” go on forever…. There is rarely a happy ending to this scenario.
You and your what-ifs will not ride happily ever after into the sunset. Instead they will drive you to insanity and anxiety right into the sunrise, ultimately effecting your day to day function, your ability to function, your concentration and your health.
Develop a routine for bedtime
Whatever your normal bedtime routine is make sure it doesn’t include high intensity exercise (which wakes the brain up) or caffeine (for obvious reasons). Stick to this routine and allow yourself to become relaxed as you take a shower or bath. Use essential oils to help relax you. Try turning off all electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime. (The light from the screens tells our brain that it is time to be awake, which is the opposite of what we are trying to accomplish.) A healthy routine will be different for each person but choose things that specifically relax you. A cup of tea, a light snack, a slow yoga routine, reading a book can all be great things to relax with before bed.
Think before bed, not during bedtime
- Set aside 10 minutes to “think” before you go to bed. Sit down in a quiet room with a pen & notebook.
- 1st column: Things I forgot to do
- 2nd Column: Things to do tomorrow
- 3rd Column: Things that I did well today
Writing these tasks on paper will help you not only fall asleep tonight but will help you begin your day, knowing what you want to accomplish.
Recognizing the things that you did well or that brought you joy, is also a way to cultivate gratitude. Gratitude in turn can help ease feelings of anxiety, making bedtime more comfortable.
Turn off your “Doing-Brain “
There is a time and a place for your brain to be in a doing- mode but that time is not bedtime. It is helpful in getting through your day and with problem solving but this mode must be turned off before you even walk across the threshold of your bedroom doorway. Your doing brain needs rest. Consciously noting what mode your brain is in will help making subtle changes to help you fall asleep.
Drop the What-ifs
Easier said than done, I know. But try visualizing yourself dropping these what-if scenarios on the ground as you climb into bed. They are not allowed up here in this space. There is not enough room for you, sleep and the what-ifs. They serve you no purpose tonight. If you must, you can pick them back up in the morning ( I suggest leaving them behind!)
Focus on Getting Comfortable.
Notice how your body feels. Thank your body for the hard work of getting you through the day. Your brain should now be noticing any sensations in your body. Get comfortable. Now what can you do to make yourself at least 15% more comfortable? Do that now.
Take a few deep breaths.
Taking a deep breath in and a slow, long exhale helps to calm the body down. It slows your thoughts and relaxes your muscles. Focus on the feeling of the breath coming in, expanding in the lungs and then flowing past your nostrils as it escapes your body.
There is no right or wrong way to breathe. Do what feels natural. When you feel your mind wondering, bring the attention back to the breath
Don’t Hang Onto Thoughts
If you notice that “what if” thoughts creep in, simply notice them and allow them to pass. ( A meditation teacher once told me to envision them as clouds or birds in the sky, just floating by). Don’t reach out and latch onto any of these thoughts as they will take you down another long night of worrying about the past and the future.
Scan Your Body
Try listening to a guided body scan. There are some great meditation apps out there today. Some are even geared towards helping you sleep. My favorites are in the Insight Timer App. If you download the free app you can then search guided meditations. Yoga Nidra for sleep is a popular guided meditation and I know some people who cannot fall asleep without its guidance. You will also find countless guided meditations on body scans, peaceful sleep and even binaural music to help you fall asleep. Once you find one that you like, you can bookmark it to use later
Sometimes developing a new sleeping pattern take time & practice. If it does not work the first night or even the 4th, give yourself some space. You are essentially re-training your brain and body to a new routine. Breaking all habits, takes time…