Mindfulness and Its Impact on Sleep
Mindfulness is a practice that involves bringing your attention to the present moment. The modern method can trace its roots to Buddhist meditation and vipassana, the awareness that one achieves through meditative practices.
It has become a popular way for people to manage the stresses of everyday life. Some mental health professionals rely on practicing mindfulness as part of a treatment regimen for depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other psychological conditions.
Mindfulness is also effective at treating one of the most common health-related issues: insomnia. Even those who do not suffer directly from it may benefit from the practice. Sleep studies have shown that mindfulness can be effective for improving sleep.
Here is an in-depth look at the practice of mindfulness and how to use it to achieve a better night’s sleep.
The Benefits of Mindfulness
Many people speak of mindfulness in general terms. However, it brings a very specific set of benefits that can help with common issues.
- Reducing stress. Mindfulness can help people become better at regulating the emotional reactions that lead to stress.
- Dealing with anxiety. Those who practice mindfulness can be better at focusing on the present rather than worrying about what could go wrong in the future. This skill can also counteract anxiety-based insomnia.
- Combatting nightmares. Stress, anxiety, and general poor health can all contribute to nightmares, so adopting more mindfulness practices as part of a general health management regimen can help prevent or stop nightmares from disrupting sleep.
- Achieving better overall mental health. Mindfulness can give people the ability to overcome rumination, emotional responses and triggers, and relationship difficulties. These issues are often the root causes of depression.
- Improving physical health. Studies have found links between mindfulness and physical health. Physicians may even recommend it as part of a treatment plan for hypertension and high blood pressure, digestive problems, and chronic pain.
- Increasing focus and performance. Mindfulness can enhance your ability to focus at work or while engaging in an activity. This skill can improve performance by offering a higher level of concentration. Also, you can carry it over to impersonal interactions and relationships, where it can help you give your full attention to the other person.
To fully enjoy these benefits, you will first want to develop your mindfulness practice.
Mindfulness vs Meditation
Mindfulness and meditation are closely related, but it isn’t entirely correct to use the two terms interchangeably.
Mindfulness is a state in which you are aware and conscious of what is happening in the present moment. It can involve both things that are happening externally and internally in your body and mind.
There are different ways to practice mindfulness, and meditation is one method that has stood the test of time. Meditation practices can differ, but most seek to focus on one thing — your breath, an object, a sound, or a mantra — and clear your mind of everything else. In this way, it is possible to achieve a state of mindfulness. However, other mental and physical practices can also lead to mindfulness.
How to Practice Mindfulness for Sleep
Sleep is one of the areas where the benefits of mindfulness are most evident. If you engage in mindfulness practices, you may notice that you sleep deeper and fall asleep more easily, even if you do not have insomnia.
If you struggle with insomnia, have trouble falling asleep or waking up at night, or do not feel rested in the morning, mindfulness can be part of your sleep solution. Of course, finding a quality mattress and using a pillow that provides proper support can also help. Even often overlooked steps, such as purchasing better sheets, can aid your sleep.
Here are some specific steps to help you fall asleep and improve the quality of your rest.
Helpful Apps and Technology
Mindfulness apps can provide guided meditations that can help you develop the skills that you need to be attentive to the present moment. There are many options available, some with free guidance and some that require a membership or subscription. Many popular sleep podcasts offer guided meditations or other mindfulness-oriented content. You can also find instructions on YouTube from respected experts like psychologist Jon Kabat-Zinn (who is regularly featured on a variety of channels) and Buddhist author Thich Nhat Hanh (frequently seen on videos from Plum Village App’s channel).
Technology can also play a role in helping you sleep. Some devices offer soothing sounds or white noise, or they include automatically dimming lights. Smartwatches and fitness trackers also have sleep settings that track your vital signs during sleep. You can also use such tools to track your heart rate before and after a pre-sleep mindfulness practice.
It takes time to develop a mindfulness practice. You may need to try different apps and techniques before you find one that works for your specific needs. Beginning exercises can be very simple, such as focusing on a sound or sensation or stopping your activity to breathe deeply for a few minutes. You can then bring the awareness and ability to focus from these beginning exercises to something more formal, like walking or sitting meditation.
Though consistency in practice is important, you do not have to engage in a specific type of meditation. You can even simply practice a body-scan meditation, which involves focusing on the sensations in your body as you lie in bed.
Manage Your Expectations
If you focus on getting quick results, the practice could lead to more stress and anxiety when the desired effects don’t materialize immediately.
Whether you rely on an app, take a meditation class, or simply cultivate small mindfulness practices throughout your day, it will take time to develop your skills. If you understand this and manage expectations from the start of your practice, it should be more effective in the long term.
Consistent mindfulness practice should eventually bring the desired sleep improvements. This means working on mindfulness daily instead of only doing it when you are stressed or anxious.
Establishing a practice that you can do day after day is important. Also, you do not need to set aside hours for this to work. Even Tibetan monks, revered for their mindfulness skills, start by meditating for 10 to 15 minutes at a time.
By developing mindfulness practices, you can reduce anxiety, rumination, and other issues that make it difficult to fall and stay asleep. If you combine these practices with a quality bed and pillow and any tech tools that you find useful, you should be able to improve the quality of your nightly rest.