In today’s always-on world, a good night’s sleep can be hard to come by. We are constantly bombarded by “weapons of mass distraction” – with access to unlimited digital entertainment, 24/7 work email, and endless social media updates, it can be difficult to unplug and turn off our brains in order to actually fall asleep. It’s no surprise that 40% of Americans sleep less than 6 hours each night.
We all know that sleep is necessary for our physical and mental health, but very few know how important it really is. Chronic sleep deprivation has been tied to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression. What’s more, the National Center for Biotechnology Information reports that almost 20% of all car crash accidents and injuries are associated with sleepiness.
Since we are all in need of better sleep patterns, researchers have recently turned to test the value of mindfulness in improving the quality and quantity of sleep. In one study, adults with sleep impairments practiced mindfulness for 20 minutes during the day, and showed improvements in sleep quality and a reduction in daytime sleepiness. Another recent review paper summarized existing research on mindfulness and sleep and marked mindfulness as a promising technique for treating sleep disturbances.
Here are some mindfulness-inspired tips to improve the quantity and quality of your sleep so you can live and work at your best:
- Make Your Bedroom Mindful: Prime your bedroom to elicit the relaxation response associated with both mindfulness and sleep. Sleep experts recommend sleeping in total darkness at cool temperatures (60-67 °F). Remove any screens in the bedroom, which are mentally stimulating and emit wakeful UV light. Even if you’re not actively using them, screens affect your mental state due to a concept called propinquity, which shows that the objects nearest to you in space impact your mindset. Try moving your phone to the bathroom or the kitchen instead of your bedside table and see how it affects your sleep. That way, it won’t occupy your mental space as you’re drifting off to sleep, and you won’t be tempted to reach for your device when you can’t sleep in the middle of the night.
- Wind Down with Mindfulness: Mindfulness encourages the relaxation response, so practicing at bedtime naturally paves the way for sleep. Use guided sleep meditations to ease your transition to bedtime. If you want to fall asleep to a meditation, set it up on your phone outside of the bedroom and use a Bluetooth or smart speaker in your bedroom so that your space is still screen-free. If you’d rather fall asleep without outside guidance, you can also guide yourself through a mindfulness practice like a body scan or breath work (try counting to 4 on the inhales and 8 on the exhales; the extended exhale elicits the relaxation response.)
- Be Patient: Falling asleep takes on average 10-15 minutes, so don’t expect to drift right off. In fact, if you do pass out within a few minutes, it might mean you are sleep deprived.
- Say Hello to Sleeplessness: If you can’t fall asleep at bedtime or find yourself wide awake in the middle of the night, try to simply say “hello” to your sleeplessness, your stress or your anxiety. It’s not something to fix; it’s simply part of your present moment experience. Worrying about it will only get you more worked up and make it harder to fall back asleep.
- Feel Your Way Back to Sleep: My teacher always says that you can’t think and feel at the same time. Instead of staying stuck in your (wide awake) brain, try to redirect your attention into the physical body. Feel the body resting on the bed, notice the touch of the pillows and blankets. Deepen the breath into your belly to further stimulate the parasympathetic (“rest and digest”) nervous system. Trust that by being present with body and breath sensations, you’ll naturally drift back to sleep.
- Practice Mindfulness Daily: Research has shown sleep benefits for individuals who practice mindful meditation for 20 minutes each day. If you can’t commit to 20 minutes, remember that practicing mindfulness meditation daily for short periods of time is more powerful than occasional long practices. Commit to a daily practice (of even 2-5 minutes!), and you can expand the length of time as you feel comfortable. A de-stressing practice like mindfulness will balance your relaxation response and prime your body for sleep and rest.
- Take a Siesta: If you didn’t get a good night’s sleep, you can take a mindful power nap during the day. Techniques like the body scan and iRest practices are known for being especially restful and rejuvenating. Set an alarm for the end of your rest period and lie down on your back for practice. You can guide yourself through a body scan or listen to a guided body scan practice. Keep your siesta to 45 minutes or less so that your body doesn’t shift into deep sleep.
Do these mindful tips resonate with you? If you’re interested in improving your sleep and life through mindful meditation, consider signing up for an upcoming Mastermind class. Learn more and sign up today by visiting https://mastermindmeditate.com/programs/.
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.