In today’s world of speed and instant gratification, along with information being at our fingertips, switching off can be challenging. This is especially true when our heads hit the pillow and the world quiets. Sleep is always a hot topic when teaching mindfulness – participants either want to explore how to fall asleep at bedtime or return to peaceful slumber, having woken during the small hours. In both instances, the mind is racing with thoughts. We are either planning the mountain of tasks to address the next day or anticipating scenarios that may never happen or we find ourselves ruminating over how we could have managed today’s situation differently. If this sounds familiar, read on because help is at hand, and straightforward help that’s as easy as taking a breath and paying attention to it, and it’s called mindfulness meditation.
The past twenty years have seen an abundance of studies repeatedly proving that mindfulness improves sleep, and below are effective ways to bring mindfulness into your bedtime routine to support your drifting off to sleep in no time.
But first, know that you are not alone. According to Dr Cynthia Gross at the University of Minnesota, about one in ten adults have insomnia, contributing to poor concentration, low productivity and increased depression and anxiety. Missing out on restful sleep also decreases alertness. As a result, you’re less brave and open to future and prospective opportunities and potential personal growth.
A restful night’s sleep has the opposite effect. Waking up fully charged leads to increased optimism, alertness, productivity, and concentration, all contributing to your confidence to take the lead on a productive day and make optimum decisions.
Firstly, in the name of wellbeing, here are some tips to support your sleep routine.
Turn off Screen-time
The bright light from our devices suppresses melatonin production (our hormone responsible for sleep regulation). Also, although nighttime mode somewhat reduces blue light on devices, it won’t reduce the stimulating effect reading an email has on your brain. Therefore sleep experts recommend turning off all screens at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
Create a bedtime routine
We are creatures of habit and love our patterns. Regular routines tell our brain what happens next, allowing it to relax and ease into the calm, especially at bedtime. Experts recommend starting your self-care routine up to one hour before bedtime. This includes brushing your teeth, washing your face and turning down the dial to relaxing activities like reading, yoga stretches, meditating or a gratitude practice (writing in your gratitude journal) before lights out. I recommend beginning your mindfulness practice here, from brushing your teeth to feeling the pages on the book/journal in your hands to being fully present in your body while practising meditation. In this way, you develop new, healthy habits that prime your brain to prepare for peaceful rest and slumber.
Give your body little to do.
For example, refrain from working out late at night because doing so stimulates the body and brain. Similarly, refrain from eating before bedtime to avoid telling your digestive system to get busy. Of course, we all know that other stimulants like caffeine are a no-go. However, experts recommend refraining from tea/coffee as early as 2 pm to support a restful night’s sleep.
These practices tell the brain that it’s time to sleep, and the brain will believe what you do every time. But what happens if you are still prone to those racing thoughts that distract the mind and keep you awake? When thoughts cascade and create gravitational rabbit holes taking you far away from the prepared slumber state of moments before?
A Meditative Breathing Practice
The short answer is that you rest your attention on your breathing.
Here’s a simple yet highly effective practice to follow.
- Allow your body to settle into bed and acknowledge the intention to fall asleep.
- Holding your intention, turn your attention to your breathing. One breath at a time, follow the journey of the breath. Follow the in-breath and the out-breath, noticing the cool breath entering the nostrils, the rise and fall of your abdomen, and the warmer breath leaving the nostrils as you exhale.
- Continue to repeat this cycle, following the journey of the breath.
- Undoubtedly, your mind will wander at first, and when it does, bring your attention back to the breath. Focus on the in-breath and then the out-breath.
- Each time your mind wanders, bring your attention back to your breath and continue steps 2, 3 and 4.
Let it Go
Have you ever noticed that the more you try to get to sleep, the more you toss and turn? Only to find yourself wide awake, still trying to get to sleep? Here is how mindfulness practice can help you.
- Let it go and let it be. Simply accept what is as it is.
- Remember your intention – i.e. to fall asleep.
- Allow your body to become heavy and sink into the mattress.
- Place your attention on your breathing and continue to follow the journey of the breath.
- When the mind wanders, notice where it has gone and, with kindness, return your attention to the breath.
- Being present allows your body and brain to respond to the state of now, and soon enough, you drift off to where you aspire to be.
I hope this article helps you create a healthy sleep routine and consequently supports your embodying the fullest version of yourself. I would love to hear how your mindful bedtime routine goes; always feel free to share with me.
Lastly, if you want to join a mindfulness meditation group drop me an email firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be in touch with news of upcoming new meditation groups commencing this Autumn.
Mindfulness-Based Wellbeing Coach.
Awarded Mindfulness Coach of the Year, 2022,
The Irish Enterprise Awards.
P.G Cert Mindfulness-Based Wellbeing | H.Dip in Coaching Psychology | Adv Dip in Executive Coaching with Neuroscience | Diploma in Group Facilitation.