Mindfulness: how your sleep can benefit
We all know the feeling of being too stressed to sleep, lying awake in bed thinking about the impending to-do list and busy work schedules. In 2018, the fast pace of life and commitments to work, family and friends make ‘switching off’ a seemingly impossible task. But prolonged periods of stress, combined with a lack of quality sleep, can have a serious impact on your mental health, leading to problems like depression and anxiety. So, finding a way to calm the mind, destress and get a better night’s sleep is hugely important. This can be different for different people, however a method that seems to work for many and has been supported by a growing body of research, is practising mindfulness and mediation.
What is it?
As defined by mindful.org, mindfulness is “the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”
Mindfulness can be practiced in different types of ways. Traditionally, it involves meditation - focussing your full attention on your breath. As you bring your attention to your breathing, you observe your thoughts as they come and go into your mind. Professor Williams, former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, explains on the NHS website that: “This lets us stand back from our thoughts and start to see their patterns. Gradually, we can train ourselves to notice when our thoughts are taking over and realise that thoughts are simply 'mental events' that do not have to control us.”
But you don’t just have to sit with on the floor with your legs crossed in meditation to be mindful. You can notice the sensations of the world around you when walking to work or eating a meal. This may sound minor, but it trains the body to switch off autopilot and see things with a new perspective.
Sounds great, but how does this help me sleep better?
Essentially, mindfulness and sleep work in synergy. There’s an ever-growing body of research to support the positive effect that mindfulness can have on sleep.
When you’re struggling to sleep due to a busy mind, mindfulness can step in. Andy Puddicombe, co-founder of Headspace, the globally-renowned mindfulness website and app, told the Huffington Post: “Although you can’t possibly control all the thoughts and feelings that arise in the mind, you can most definitely be responsible for the way you experience them. So, when difficult thoughts arise, do you ‘react’, getting frustrated, worried or downhearted? Or do you ‘respond’ with a sense of ease, awareness and acceptance?”
“Your familiarity with mindfulness and your ability to step back and observe the thoughts and emotions a little more clearly will be critical in turning a ‘reaction’ into a ‘response’.”
In short, mindfulness can help to calm your mind, which in turn reduces stress and helps you to get a better night’s kip.
So, if you’re struggling to get to sleep as a result of stress, perhaps consider introducing mindfulness practices into your day and your pre-bed routine. These simple exercises are a great place to start.