In the UK, many adults have trouble getting to sleep. There are a wide array of reasons behind troubled sleep, including mental health issues, anxiety, insomnia, depression, lack of exercise, or diet. Needless to say, it can often be tricky to get to the root cause of sleepless nights. Evidence suggests that people’s sleep may also have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, another layer to add to the seemingly endless causes for sleep disruption. People often turn to medication as a solution, and whilst it can be very effective for many, Mindfulness has also been lauded for its natural and positive effect on sleep quality and the reduction of sleep disturbances. This ‘Guide to Mindful Sleeping’ will introduce you to three Mindfulness practices to improve your sleep: awareness of thoughts, acceptance and regular meditation.
According to Mindfulness-based stress reduction program Founder Jon Kabat-Zinn, Mindfulness can be defined as the practice of ‘paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally’, and is based on sati (‘awareness’), one of the seven Buddhist factors of enlightenment. Rather than identifying and giving our full attention to each of our thoughts, Mindfulness involves observing thoughts as they arise. Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh explains this, “we just sit on the bank of the river and identify each feeling as it surfaces, flows by, and disappears.” Next time you are lying awake at night and feel overwhelmed and carried away by every thought, try resting on the bank of the river and allow thoughts to arise, be noticed and then fall away. Remind yourself that “thoughts are just thoughts" and, like everything, they will pass.
Another Mindfulness practice to improve sleep is acceptance. When we struggle to get to sleep, we may start thinking ‘oh no, why can’t I sleep … I’m going to be so tired tomorrow … I have so much work to do’. When we think this, we are in a state of resistance to our experience. Eckhart Tolle explains that it is our “resistance to what is” that makes it difficult to accept situations, which ultimately results in our discomfort and negativity. Instead of complaining or resisting your trouble sleeping, try to accept it. You may think to yourself ‘I am finding it hard to get to sleep and it’s no big deal’. Practicing acceptance of your experience of sleep as it is in the moment can relieve a lot of anxiety and negative thoughts.
The final Mindfulness practice for a good night’s sleep is regular meditation. If you’ve never meditated before, don’t panic, it can be very simple. Mindful meditation tends to involve sitting down or walking whilst focusing on the inhale and exhale of the breath as an anchor. When the mind wanders away from focusing on the breath, perhaps if we have thoughts or hear a sound, we simply notice this and bring our attention back to the breath. There are thousands of guided meditations available online, have a search and try a few out. Meditation has been scientifically proven to slow down a fast anxious heart rate, reduce levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) and increase natural melatonin levels , all of which improve sleep quality.
So, which Mindfulness practice for sleep are you going to try out first?
If you are interested in learning more about Mindfulness, check out @themindfulmumoflondon on Instagram or www.mindfulmum.org
Written by Lydia Aphra, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction TT1.