We often go through life on autopilot and move from one task to the next without paying attention and experiencing each moment. By embracing the power of mindfulness we can step out of autopilot and into practices that nourish our mind, body, and soul as they teach us how to be present in the moment. Being still and becoming fully aware of your thoughts, emotions, and breath can help you discover what your body needs and for many people, it is more SLEEP. Mindfulness helps us pay attention to the cues that nudge us towards or away from taking on another project at work or taking a mental health day to rest. When we are fully rested and are energized our brains function on a higher level, and this allows us to be more in tune and have deeper connections with ourselves. With this stronger bond we can tap into our own power that gives us the confidence and energy to create the life we truly want.
Having an overactive and racing mind at night is a common reason why many struggle with sleep. Our busy minds can keep us from falling asleep or cause use to wake up multiple times throughout the night, and sometimes can make it hard to fall back asleep. Mindfulness principles and practices are backed by science to optimize sleep and they are some of my favorite tools that I use to help patients relax at night. If this resonates with you keep reading to learn about how mindfulness can help you sleep, starting tonight.
Being mindful is defined as paying attention to the present moment in a manner that is kind, curious and non-judging. Mindfulness is an excellent remedy for quieting all the chatter that grows louder when we try to rest at night. Another benefit of mindfulness is stabilizing our mood swings that are more pronounced when we are stressed or sleep deprived.
The seven principles of mindfulness adapted from Jon Kabat Zinn’s Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program are described below and when applied to sleep they can create powerful shifts in our thought patterns away from negative ruminations into calming and sleep promoting thoughts. The first step is to start noticing your current relationship with sleep and become aware of any thoughts and emotions that come up. As you practice the principles of mindfulness watch how this relationship transforms and you’ll be peacefully drifting off to sleep in no time.
- Beginner’s mind: Try not let the past nights bias you and approach each night with a fresh outlook and clear mindset. If you have difficulty sleeping your behaviors may not be working to improve your sleep.
- Non-striving: There are natural rhythms within our bodies known as the homeostatic sleep drive and circadian rhythm that allow us to sleep. These processes cannot be forced and oftentimes our willful striving to get to bed does not result in sleep.
- Letting go: Release yourself from the attachment to the issues that are keeping you from sleep. Sometimes our desire to fix the problem can make our sleep worse.
- Nonjudging: We are often hardest on ourselves and have automatic judgements about our worth when we can’t sleep. I often have heard people say, “I am a bad sleeper” or “I’ve had a hard time sleeping my whole life, my brain must be broken.” These negative thought patterns lead to negative energy which can interfere with sleep.
- Acceptance: Similarly, to letting go, acceptance doesn’t mean we should give up. Once we accept and acknowledge that our efforts to directly control sleep may be in vain we can shift our attention to actions and choices that will improve our sleep.
- Trust: When applied to sleep, trust that your mind and body know how to sleep. Sleep is an innate and natural process within in. Understanding the science of sleep can give us the confidence in our ability to improve our sleep.
- Patience: Change doesn’t happen overnight and having patience in knowing that our bodies and mind can self-regulate. We can attain better sleep and this a process often requires patience as we learn the principles and practice exercises to reduce anxiety and stress around sleep.
Be gentle with yourself if these concepts are new and seem difficult to grasp right now. With regular mindfulness exercises you’ll find it easier and easier to apply these principles to your sleep and even other aspects of your life. Using the power of our inner wisdom can help you train your busy mind, improve your sleep health, and you’ll find yourself waking up on fire, burning with energy, and ready for the new day ahead.
1. Ong JC. Mindfulness-Based Therapy for Insomnia. American Psychological Association; 2017.