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Mindfulness and Sleep: Your Guide to a Healthier, Happier Sleep

Do you lie awake for hours at night, tossing and turning with anxious thoughts running through your overactive brain? If the answer is yes, you’re far from alone.

An increasingly popular way to help yourself get past the overwhelm, relax and drift off is to practice mindfulness sleep meditation. Mindfulness is a drug-free, cost-free way to help you sleep better and longer, and what’s more, mindfulness meditation exercises are easy to do giving you something practical to try when you find yourself unable to sleep.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is about pausing to notice your thoughts and emotions and the sensations within your body. It’s about being present in the moment and taking time out of your day to focus on yourself and the world around you. Mindfulness can help to reconnect you with your body and wake up to sights, sounds, smells and tastes, helping you feel more positive and alert. In this way, mindfulness is said to help improve your mental wellbeing and reduce stress leading to several health benefits, not least helping you sleep.

Mindfulness and sleep: Getting yourself ready for bed

In order to practice mindfulness, particularly in the beginning, it’s important you create an environment that is calming and won’t interfere with your focus. You should avoid caffeine, strong flavours and strenuous exercise before bedtime. Dim the lights, avoid looking at screens and choose comfortable natural wool bedding to help regulate your temperature – sleeping in wool bedding has been shown to improve the quality of your sleep by increasing your deep restorative (stage 4) sleep by 25%.

Using mindfulness to help you sleep

In 2016, researchers reviewed all the sleep studies that took place in the preceding four years. They concluded that mindfulness sleep techniques had a significant impact on sleep disturbance and insomnia.

If you struggle to sleep due to anxious thoughts or worries, mindfulness can be a useful technique to calm your brain and give you a focus while you wait to fall asleep. With practice you should find you can let your thoughts pass by, observing them but without letting them affect you. When you become worried about sleeping, a vicious cycle occurs. Mindfulness techniques for sleep can help to break this by offering a way to relax, stay calm and fall asleep naturally.

Why not try some of these mindfulness sleep meditations and see whether they work for you?

Mindfulness meditation exercises

Consider climbing under the covers 10 minutes early to begin a mindfulness bedtime routine. If you’ve never tried meditation before, don’t be put off. Concentrate on the feeling and sound of your breath going in and out. Don’t worry about how fast it is, simply think ‘in’ and ‘out’ as you notice it. Your goal is to become present in your body.

If your mind wanders, don’t get irritated or give up, just bring your thoughts back to your breath. You’ll find the more you practise the less this happens and the easier you find it to focus.

Guided imagery for sleep

Guided imagery can help to calm your body and relax your mind ready for sleep. At its simplest, guided imagery for sleep is about picturing a relaxing scene. This could come from your imagination or be helped along with the use of a recording or app. This can take some practice and is potentially more difficult to get started with than simple breathing exercises, but once mastered can be an effective mindfulness exercise for insomnia, producing great results.

NHS GPs recommend the Calm app, which includes soothing sleep stories as well as mindfulness music for sleep.

Mindfulness body scan for sleep

The mindfulness body scan for sleep exercise asks your mind to focus on different parts of your body as a way to clear your brain of scattered thoughts and allow it to relax. This is one of our favourite mindfulness techniques for sleep.

Lie down on your back and make sure you’re comfortable. Start by concentrating on your left foot (or your right if you prefer). Consider how your foot feels, is it warm? Cool? Relaxed? Don’t worry about why your foot feels this way, simply acknowledge how it feels and move on. Tense and relax the muscles in your foot.

Repeat the exercise moving to your calf, your knee and your thigh, followed by your other foot and leg. Gradually move up through each part of your body scanning, tensing and relaxing until you reach your neck, face and the top of your head. If you prefer you can simply imagine your muscles tensing rather than actually doing it.

As you progress, you’ll find your limbs begin to feel heavy and sink comfortably into the mattress. This indicates the exercise is working.

Tips for newcomers using mindfulness at bedtime

  • It is important to get into a routine of performing regular mindfulness techniques for sleep. To begin with you may need to set an alarm on your phone or leave a message next to your bed. For the greatest success, make mindfulness a habit.
  • The key to mindfulness to help sleep is to clear your mind of thoughts and emotions. This can be difficult when you first start out. The secret is to avoid judgement, accept that your mind will wander and calmly bring it back to your breath.

The benefits of mindfulness can reach further than sleep

Advocates of mindfulness report a wealth of benefits, positively influencing many aspects of your health and wellbeing. Practising mindfulness during the day will give you the opportunity to take a moment away from the daily grind and pause to reset. When you are more experienced in the practice, you’ll find you can use mindfulness techniques to help you cope with a range of emotions in the car, in a meeting or even on the sports field.

Why not try mindfulness sleep exercises next time you feel those negative thoughts creeping in at night? In time you’ll find yourself quickly drifting back off. Start the new year feeling more positive and waking refreshed and ready for anything when you use mindfulness to fall asleep.