Most approaches to sleep problems involve drugs and various techniques, but sleep is a natural process. The danger in trying really hard to get to sleep, is that you make it less likely to happen. And if you depend on techniques sleep can become less and less natural – something that comes of its own accord without trying. Mindfulness opens up a different approach. Here are some suggestions for how it can help your sleeping.
Acceptance: when getting to sleep feels like a struggle, you need to stop fighting. When we worry about not sleeping and out thoughts go to all the problems this will bring, we add extra layers of tension and anxiety. The alternative is an attitude of acceptance to what’s happening if you aren’t sleeping. Ending the fight is the first step in a longer process that will gradually help you let go of your habitual responses to sleep problems.
Allowing Anxious Feelings: acceptance is easier said than done, but mindfulness skills can help you allow and explore anxious feelings. Let your breath flow into areas that feel tense, and breath out with a sense of opening and softening – not trying to get rid of those feelings, just letting them be.
From Doing to Being We spend our lives being active and busy, but sometimes we get stuck in a driven ‘doing mode’ where we can’t stop. The doing mode really isn’t helpful when we want to sleep: the body may be still, but the mind’s back at work, planning tomorrow or turning over difficulties and looking for solutions. Going to sleep means leaving the doing mode, and with mindfulness we explore the alternative, which we call ‘being mode’.
Attending to Transitions Going to sleep means making a transition, but we may find that we’re still caught up with unfinished business connected to the things we’ve been doing. Paying mindful attention to transition points in the day and allowing space between our activities can help us feel that we’re letting go of things as the day progresses. Pause. Breath. Create space. And then move on.
Use the Breath Many mindfulness practices include focusing on the breath. Unless you have breathing difficulties, the breath – especially the outbreath – is usually associated with a sense of ease and calm. Physiologically, calming the breath activates the parasympathetic nervous system, activating the body’s natural capacity to soothe itself. Paying mindful attention to the breath is a great way to activate the body’s natural resources when it’s time to sleep.
Connect with your body Attending to the breath is an aspect of shifting awareness from the thoughts that go round our heads to the sensations of our bodies. The shift from thinking to sensing also helps us move from doing to being. Then sleep can come in its own way.
Notice Impulses If we’re feeling agitated, bringing awareness to the body can help us to sense how the agitation is affecting the body, and let it settle down. Mindfully noticing impulses in the body without acting on them is the first step to letting them go.
Be Patient If you have sleep problems, your habits have probably developed over a long period of time, so it will also take time to unravel them. So let change come naturally, in its own time … with mindfulness.
This approach to sleep problems is based on The Sleep Book by Guy Meadows. Read Vishvapani’s review.
You can also listen to Vishvapani’s Sleep Skills and Sleep Now meditations on the Mindpilot app. (This is a paid app, but some of this material is available free of charge).