If you suffer from insomnia then you know that no matter what you do, or how hard you try, you can’t force yourself to fall asleep. In some cases, the more effort you put in, the worse it gets.
So, what do you do if you spend hours and hours in bed at night tossing and turning? Where do you go when you can’t seem to stay asleep for more than an hour at a time?
Insomnia is not only incredibly frustrating, it depletes your energy, destroys your ability to focus, dysregulates your emotional balance, and can have dire consequences on your health. Sleep is crucial for our bodies to repair and recharge, so if you struggle with insomnia, it’s time to take your health back.
You may have tried medication but hated the side effects. Or, perhaps you’ve tried more natural routes with no significant difference. Well, I’m here to tell you there’s another option: mindfulness.
Let’s talk about what mindfulness is, how to practice these techniques for insomnia, and what benefits will come along the way.
How Do I Know If I Have Insomnia?
All humans experience a poor night's sleep every once in a while. Insomnia is different. The medical definition that calls for a diagnosis of insomnia is: chronic sleep difficulties either falling asleep, staying asleep, or the inability to fall back to sleep after waking. These disrupted sleep patterns must occur 3 times a week or more, and have been present for at least 3 months.
If you have insomnia, your inability to fall asleep occurs even with full preparation and an adequate environment for sleep. You’ll find it nearly impossible to sleep even after a full day of exercise, or after many sleepless nights in a row.
While there’s no specific test to diagnose insomnia, your healthcare provider will ask you many questions related to your sleep hygiene, as well as asking you to keep a sleep diary in order to get a better understanding and create a plan of action.
What Does ‘Practicing Mindfulness’ Mean?
Mindfulness, as the name suggests, means practicing techniques that allow the mind to be fully present and aware of ourselves, feelings, emotions, and the environment. We spend much of the day on autopilot, allowing our subconscious thinking and behaviors to run the show.
When we practice mindfulness techniques, we take control of our own minds, sometimes for the first time all day. When we allow ourselves to focus on purpose, we can connect with our inner self, and listen to what our bodies are telling us.
A key component of mindfulness is the focus on self-compassion. Sitting still and being present in our emotions is not easy, and can bring up uncomfortable feelings you may want to continue to run from. However, mindfulness is a non-judgmental, present awareness that acknowledges each feeling and emotion as they come.
Why Practice Mindfulness For Better Sleep?
Mindfulness can lay the groundwork for overcoming insomnia by quieting the brain and making way for better sleep. If you struggle with insomnia, you may feel anxiety and dread when bedtime rolls around as you begin to fear what the night will bring.
These worries can be counterproductive as they often make it even more difficult to fall asleep. If you’re up late stressing and worrying about how you’re going to feel in the morning, you can begin to feel anxious and in turn, ramp up your body's fight or flight response.
When you practice mindfulness throughout the day, you eventually become accepting of your life’s experiences: good or bad. In fact, when you become willing to accept that you may have another poor night’s sleep, you reduce anxiety levels, making it easier to fall asleep.
Constantly fighting a war in our heads with sleep is exhausting. Every time you begin catastrophically thinking about the effects of no sleep, your body signals alarm bells. When we let go and put our weapons down, we’re practicing inner kindness, which is soothing for the soul.
Mindfulness Meditation For Insomnia:
Mindfulness meditation gives insomniacs a better fighting chance by providing them with the mental tools needed to calm their nervous systems, and help prepare them to fall asleep.
When we meditate, a variety of biological changes occur. These changes promote sleep by kickstarting certain bodily processes that are needed to fall asleep. When we practice meditation before bed, our body begins to experience certain changes similar to those in early sleep.
Meditation can also:
Increase melatonin levels (the hormone needed for sleep)
Increase serotonin (needed before melatonin)
Lower heart rate to a calm level
Decrease blood pressure
Activate areas of the brain used for sleep
In addition, insomnia is often caused by overwhelming stress. Meditation is a relaxing technique, not only for the body but for the mind as well. It has the ability to quiet racing thoughts by placing you in a present moment - free from the stress of the future.
Meditation enhances inner peace, a state needed to experience deep, restful sleep.
How To Practice Mindfulness Meditation Before Bed:
Meditation can be done anywhere, at any time. To get the most out of your mindfulness meditation, it’s always recommended to create a routine. By taking even a few minutes each night to center your thoughts and calm your mind, you’re more likely to experience better results.
There are a few basics when it comes to meditation:
Find a quiet area
Choose between sitting, standing, or lying down. At bedtime, it’s recommended to lie down.
Close your eyes and breathe slowly. In through your nose, and out through your mouth.
If a thought arises, be kind to yourself. Let it go and simply redirect your mind.
When it comes to mindfulness meditation for insomnia, there are a few helpful steps:
Remove all distractions, including your phone or pets.
Focus on how you’re breathing: Inhale for 10 seconds until you can’t hold it anymore, and exhale for 10 seconds.
Repeat this process 5 times
Inhale and tense your body. Pause, relax the tension, and exhale.
Repeat this process 5 times.
Do a body scan: check each area of your body with your mind. If you feel any part of your body is tense, relax it consciously.
You can practice all three of these techniques, or just focus on one per session. There is no right or wrong way to meditate, and all forms promote sleepiness and calming effects.
Use your 5 senses as a portal into the present moment. As you take your journey through meditation, know beforehand that your mind will wander. This is human nature. Be gentle on yourself and redirect it as necessary.
Practicing Mindfulness During The Day:
While practicing mindfulness meditation before bed is recommended, engaging in mindfulness techniques during the day can also set the stage for a better mindset at night. The more you practice thoughtful thinking, self compassion, and conscious awareness, the more you’ll see the benefits infiltrating every area of your life - not just sleep. Think of it as one big chain reaction.
A few ways to do this are:
Getting into a routine of mindfulness practices throughout the day retrains your brain to be kinder and more gentle to your inner self. Through this, you may be able to accept the struggle of a sleepless night far easier than before.
A Quick Recap:
With insomnia affecting 70 million Americans a year, rest assured you’re not alone.
Whether you’ve struggled with insomnia for years, or you’ve just begun to experience chronic sleepless nights, you can benefit from mindfulness practices.
Sleep psychologists from around the globe have determined mindfulness meditation as an effective way to ease your body into the early sleep cycle, as well as promote a deeper, sounder sleep.
Breathwork and meditation go hand in hand, so in order to get the most out of your experience, you’ll want to follow the techniques described above.
Insomnia does much more than cause next day fatigue. Insomnia, if left untreated can cause memory loss, hypertension, heart disease, and even permanent loss of brain cells. Give your present and future self the gift of rest by taking back your sleep, through mindfulness and meditation. Your brain and body will thank you.