Need More Sleep? Try Mindfulness.

Update July 2015: Want to sleep like a baby again? We have released a free email course on how to optimize your days in order to sleep better at night. Click here to see the learn more and see our lesson plans.

Everyone could use a little more sleep. Sleep is where our bodies recover, cells regenerate, and our minds have time to decompress and process life’s events. But if you are like most of us, you’re probably not getting enough.

The amount of sleep someone needs can differ from person to person, but typically ranges between 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep a night [1]. Yes, a grown person could need nine hours of sleep to operate at their highest capacity. This amount can vary based on the activities performed that day, amount of exercise, alcohol, and more. Even the amount of multitasking a person does can result in the need for more sleep.

If you’re not getting enough sleep, you could be at risk of higher blood pressure, weight gain, loss of focus and self control, increased risk of depression, and more!

With the distractions of today, however, finding the time to get all those hours in and the mental space to fall asleep can be, well, challenging. You’re working late, checking email, watching TV, stressing over family or finance issues, and sometimes, all at the same time. Doing even one of these things too close to bedtime will have your mind racing and keep you from finding restful sleep. As anyone who’s ever tried to force him or herself to sleep may know, you can’t just make yourself sleep. But can can open the space for sleep to happen…and that’s what we will be looking at today.

“People with persistent insomnia also become anxious about sleep. The more anxious they are about sleep, that undermines the ability to sleep well, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.” -David Neubauer, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins Medicine and associate director at the Johns Hopkins Sleep Disorders Center in Baltimore, Md[4]. 

Mindfulness can help ease you into that necessary state of mind to fall asleep and rest easy. It takes practice, but with consistency you can find yourself falling asleep easier and staying asleep longer. Not only that, but by practicing mindful breathing and being intentional about your bedtime routine, you will reduce stress and anxiety levels related to difficulty sleeping and lack of sleep. Studies have even shown that mindful breathing and other relaxation techniques can have an effect comparable to sleep medication…but without the side effects [5]! That’s something to get excited about.

Here’s some tips to get started:

  1. Prioritize your sleep. Determine how many hours a night you need to sleep and then set aside time for it. Getting enough sleep is a decision. Yes, cleaning the kitchen and catching up on personal email and watching your favorite show are important. But not near as important as getting enough sleep. Make the decision to put your health first and turn the TV off an hour earlier, delegate washing the dishes or just plain wash them tomorrow. See how much better you feel when you get another hour of sleep? Washing the dishes won’t feel like such a chore and you’ll probably even have more energy left to vacuum. 
  2. Think happy thoughts. Quieting an anxious mind at bedtime can be a stressful task, in and of itself. Start with simply observing your thoughts. Good and bad — what are you thinking about, what does your mind keep shifting back to? Observe without judgment or agenda. After you’ve given yourself a few moments of observation, start shifting your focus toward things that make you feel happy and safe, loved and complete. If anxious thoughts enter your mind, acknowledge them, and then gently send them away.
  3. Focus on the breath. Yes, it’s back to the breath. The breath is always available to you. Start taking long slow inhales for five seconds, holding it there for three seconds, and then exhale for five more counts. Inhale. Exhale. Repeat. Do this about five times, focusing only on the breath. If the mind starts to wander, not a big deal. Just gently guide your thoughts back to your breath. Slowly, your mind and body will start to feel more at ease and you’ll be on your way to more peaceful sleep.

Sweet dreams!


Resources:

[1] http://www.helpguide.org/life/sleeping.htm

[2] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16624497

[3] http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sleepless-in-america/201401/mindful-sleep

[4] http://www.everydayhealth.com/sleep/falling-asleep-with-anxiety.aspx

[5] http://ucsdcfm.wordpress.com/2011/06/09/got-sleep-if-not-choose-mindfulness/

Photo Credits:

Umberto Salvagnin

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