Sleep Solutions Through Mindfulness
By: Alex DeWoskin
Sleep is essential to your well-being. Researches have long since known that getting a restful night’s sleep is key to good mental health. A lack of meaningful sleep can result in low energy levels, mood dips and increased anxiety. But let’s be real – in a non-stop, 24-hour world, getting restorative sleep on a regular basis can be a legitimate challenge!
Some people reach for various sleep solutions to get needed shut-eye, such as over the counter drugs and prescription medications. Others simply roll the dice hope that the sleep fairy visits them at the appointed hour. There are, however, several natural things you can do to help prepare for a good night’s sleep using concepts from mindfulness.
Sleep Solutions and Mindfulness
You may be wondering what the term “mindfulness” means. At its core, mindfulness is a term used to describe greater awareness of your body and the surrounding environment. The best part about mindfulness based approaches to wellness is that they are natural and generally, free!
When it comes to sleep, there are a number steps that you can use to help prepare for a more refreshing night’s sleep – which you can begin this very evening. Over the course of time, as you train your circadian rhythm, sleeping restfully can become commonplace.
What follows 5 mindful sleep solutions that you might want to consider. Borrow what feels right and remember that some of these suggestions will require lifestyle adjustments on your part.
Are you ready? Let’s jump right in!
1. Regular bedtime and wake up
Sleep solution #1 is fairly simple. Your body runs on a body clock (aka circadian rhythm) as mentioned earlier. When you go to bed at different hours – waking up late one morning and early the next – you throw that body clock into a state of confusion. Do this often enough and you run the risk of developing a sleep disorder. One thing you might want to try is going to bed early 15 minutes early in incremental for each night of the week.
Your goal should be to go to bed early enough so that you get a full, 8-hours of sleep. If you find that when you get up in the morning, it’s a race full on race to get out of the house, try waking up a bit early as well. Remember, the key to a great day is starting your morning off right! The goal of this step is to reset your body clock.
2. Avoid over stimulation before bed
Sleep solution #2 is one that speaks to a behavior that many people of us engage in – watching late night television. While TV can certainly help you to relax and mentally escape from life, it can also wind you up and trick your brain in several anti-sleep ways. First, the light from the television screen impacts your neurotransmitters, which can make you think it is daytime. Remember that many people use light therapy to treat SAD; an artificial approach to boosting one of those brain chemicals called serotonin. When you watch TV late at night, you are doing a mini-version of a SAD lamp.
Watching digital video (i.e. pads, phones, TVs) at night can also increase your heart rate and blood pressure. Much of the elevation relates to the show you are checking out. For example, if you are viewing an adrenaline pumping series, like 24, there’s a good chance you are going to experience an energy boost! If possible, watch T.V. early in the evening and make room for mindfulness based activities close to bedtime (see below).
3. Try progressive muscle relaxation
Sleep solution #3 offers an excellent mindfulness based activity in the form of progressive muscle relaxation or PMR. By training your body how to respond to stress in healthy ways, with the aid of PMR, you are helping yourself to release tension.
FYI: PMR isn’t a new age concept and doesn’t require the use of crystals. All that is needed is a quiet space and a chair. Some people engage in PMR lying down on the floor. If you decided to use this mindful approach to stress reduction, give yourself time to get used to the experience.
4. Try stretching
Sleep solution #4 comes to us from the animal kingdom. Have you ever noticed that dogs often stretch before they lay down for a nap? Cats do it too! They do this second nature. Perhaps they know something we don’t? Why not follow their cue and do the same? Here’s the deal – stretching helps to release tension from the muscles allows them to unwind. Stretching also increases blood circulation.
If you are feeling more ambitious, you can even try a little gentle yoga. Your goal, however, should be to elongate the muscles slightly. No heavy stretching. Save the serious yoga exercises for the day time.
5. Read a short story
Sleep solution #5 is kind of a fun one and involves light reading. All you need is a magazine or a short story. The goal of this approach is to take some of what you have read and carry it into your dreams. This is an often used homework assignment that many counselors give to clients who struggle with a sleep disorder. Here’s an example for you to think about. You will have to use your imagination to fill in the blanks.
Let’s say you have just read something about sailing along the Hawaiian shore. After you have completed the article, go ahead and turn out the lights. Now mindfully place yourself in the storyline of the piece you have just read and let your mind go! Can you feel a warm breeze touching your face? Can you see and hear the seagulls above you in the sky? What does the water look like? Is it crystal blue? Where is the wind taking you?
Making restful, meaningful sleep a priority can go a long way in helping you to feel more relaxed throughout the day. Healthy sleep can also make you look younger. It takes time to train the mind and body to prepare for sleep – don’t instant results.
If you are looking more information on how to improve your sleeping habits, a helpful book to consider is Sleep Soundly Every Night, Feel Fantastic Every Day: A Doctor’s Guide to Solving Your Sleep Problems. Inside, you will find lots of practical advice on all things related to sleep. Just click on the link above to learn more.