How To Practice Mindful Sleep

Although it might seem like a bit of a modern buzz word, the practice of Mindfulness has been growing steadily in popularity since the early 1900’s. It was in the 1970s however through thought-leaders like Jon Kabat-Zinn and Richard J Davidson who helped us understand the far-reaching impact mindfulness practice has on helping with psychological conditions such as depression, anxiety and insomnia.

We’ve spoken before about the role of mental health and sleep. Sleep and mental health are intrinsically linked. In fact, roughly 40% of people with depression will have sleep problems long before symptoms of depression begin to show. Although scientists are still working to unravel all the mysteries of sleep, they are consistently finding links between impaired sleep and mental health problems. It is now widely believed that chronic sleep deprivation is a key contributing factor in the development of mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.

Our thoughts and feelings have a far-reaching impact on our physical and mental health. Decades of research and numerous studies have repeatedly shown the positive link between mindfulness practice and sleep. Mindfulness has actually been found to largely reduce insomnia symptoms and improved sleep in more than 50% of those suffering from chronic insomnia! 

For the third of us that have struggled to get a good nights sleep, that link won’t be a huge surprise. Successful sleep requires us to unwind and release the days tension and stress. When you’re struggling with mental health, your ability to efficiently declutter your mind or quiet racing thoughts back are severely reduced. Enter: mindfulness.

How do I sleep mindfully?

Mindful sleep involves preparing for sleep intentionally but not forcefully. Design your sleep routine without any goals or expectations. Employ told and tactics to soothe your mind. 

Mindful sleep requires us to be aware and present, whilst relenting to the natural processes at play. Much like many other bodily processes, we can’t simply will ourselves to sleep. Trying to force ourselves to fall asleep is similar to to catch smoke: the harder you try to sleep, the faster the hours disappears. The truth is that we can't force sleep, but we can use mindfulness based exercises like guided meditation and breathing exercises to help us achieve healthy sleep. When practiced consistently, mindfulness meditation can be a powerful sleep aid.

Some times a good night's rest will still evade you. Accept that tonight may not be your night. You will try again tomorrow. Sleep is a biological process that we all need to survive - it will eventually come. 

Thoughts are just that - thoughts. Nothing more, nothing less. Mindful sleep requires us to acknowledge our thoughts without letting them overwhelm us. We must allow them to pass through our minds like leaves on a stream, floating swiftly past you. Releasing judgement and criticism, and relaxing into the experience. Visualise a place that makes you feel happy and calm. Stay there for a while, taking in the sights and sounds. Allow yourself to sink further into the bed with every exhale.

Try it out: Mindful Sleep Body Scan Exercise

This exercise can be done in bed or on the floor. Lie in a comfortable position, covering yourself with a blanket and resting your head on a cushion. Close your eyes and focus your awareness on steadily breathing in and out. Starting at your feet, notice the sensations – pressure, pain, tingling, tightness – that you are feeling. Does your body feel heavy in any places?

As your mind wanders, notice it happening and then slowly return focus on your breath and body. Notice the rising and falling of your chest with every breath. Continue moving your attention up your body, noticing the points where you contact the bed, and exploring the sensations all the way up to your head. When you have finished scanning your entire body, close your eyes and let your increased awareness carry you away to dream-filled lands afar.

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