Struggling to get a good night’s sleep? You’re not alone. 1 in 3 adults fails to get the recommended seven hours of sleep on a regular basis.
Lack of sleep impairs reasoning, problem-solving, and attention to detail, among other effects. Furthermore, sleeping less than seven hours per day contributes to the development of chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and mental distress.
One of the best things you can do for your brain health is to prioritize rest. During sleep, cerebrospinal fluids drain the brain’s waste products and toxins that build up during waking hours. One of the toxins that sleep helps to expunge is the beta-amyloid protein, whose accumulation contributes to Alzheimer’s disease.
The time you spend asleep is just as important as the time you spend awake – and healthy sleep can optimize the other hours of your day. Check out these mindfulness-inspired tips for peaceful, restorative sleep:
Make your bedroom a haven for sleep. Invest in warm, supportive bedding and shades and/or curtains for any windows. Set the bedroom thermostat at an optimal sleeping temperature between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit. (Tip: Try taking a hot bath before bedtime and then enjoy the coolness of your bedroom to trigger the mild drop in body temperature that primes the body and mind for sleep.)
Be smart about your technology. According to the property of propinquity, the items around us influence our state of mind (even if we’re not actively using them). Cultivate a sleep-friendly environment by removing stimulating screens from your bedroom (the nighttime UV light actually triggers jetlag!). If you choose to listen to audiobooks, music, or guided meditations before bed, invest in a non-intrusive Bluetooth speaker so you can play the content through the speaker without having your phone by your bed. (I use Alexa in the bedroom for screen-free audio, alarms, and weather.)
Relax into a bedtime routine. It’s unrealistic to expect your mind to go from 100 miles per hour to sleep! Give it some time to shut down, just like you are shutting down your computer after a long day of work. Since human beings are creatures of habit, you can use this to your advantage by priming your brain for sleep with a predictable bedtime routine. The routine could be as simple as lighting a candle, doing 5-10 minutes of light stretching, taking a bath, putting your phone away, picking up a book or listening to an audiobook while you get ready for bed.
Don’t stress out if you can’t fall asleep right away. If you fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow, this is actually a sign that you’re not getting enough rest. It is normal to take 10-20 minutes to fall asleep once you get into bed – this is called sleep latency. Getting anxious or worried about not falling asleep right away will just prevent you from going to sleep, so begin to trust that it’s healthy to take some time to nod off.
Stay restful and quiet. The same logic applies if you wake up in the middle of the night and have trouble falling back asleep – it’s totally normal! If it’s anxiety or stress keeping you up, acknowledge whatever is passing through at that moment. Thank yourself for noticing what’s happening with self-compassion, and then try the “Get out of your head” tips below. If you feel compelled to get up out of bed, stay off of your screens (which will only wake you up even further), and try reading or sitting quietly in a darkened room.
Get out of your head. Often times when we can’t sleep, we are caught up in repetitive thought patterns of stress or anxiety. When your mind is racing, this is a great time to use mindfulness techniques to get out of your head and into your body. The body scan technique involves noticing sensations in your body, starting at your feet and legs and scanning all the way up through the crown of your head. This body scan technique anchors the attention in the stable body and encourages the mind to feel into the present moment rather than overthink. Another client favorite is 4/8 breathing – breathing in for four counts and breathing out for eight counts. This simple breathing technique extends the exhales to relax the parasympathetic nervous system. You can do these techniques yourself or use a mindfulness app like Calm to guide you through bedtime meditations (through a Bluetooth speaker to keep your bedroom screen-free!).
Notice your patterns. Bring mindful awareness to your patterns around sleep. How does afternoon caffeine affect your bedtime? Does eating a late snack help you fall asleep or keep you up? Does drinking alcohol cause you to wake up in the middle of the night? Does watching multiple Netflix shows make it hard to wind down? Does reading before bed make it easy to doze off? There is no right or wrong – you are an adult, and you can make your own decisions. However, awareness is power. Noticing your patterns allows you to make healthy, informed choices knowing how your behavior impacts your life.
Practice gratitude and mindfulness daily. The research is clear – practicing mindfulness and/or gratitude daily improves sleep quality. You could make these practices part of your bedtime routine! Read more about everyday mindfulness and inspiring gratitude practices in other articles.
Thanks for reading and investing in your brain health by prioritizing restful sleep.
“Your future depends on your dreams, so go to sleep.” – Mesut Barazany
As Chief Mindfulness Officer of Mastermind Meditation, Dorsey Standish brings research-backed mindfulness and mindful movement to clients throughout the state of Texas. A lifelong learner and scientist, Dorsey has a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania and is enrolled in the UT Dallas Applied Cognition and Neuroscience Master’s Program. After mindfulness transformed her own work, health and relationships, Dorsey left her corporate role at Texas Instruments to share the power of mindfulness with others full-time. Dorsey’s teachings combine neuroscience research with her experiences in Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program and multiple weekend and 10-day silent meditation retreats. Join Dorsey for one of Mastermind’s upcoming applied mindfulness programs at mastermindmeditate.com/programs.