As the maker of a mindfulness app which contains hundreds of meditations specially designed for different parts of the day, there is one category which is by far the most popular: the meditations for going to sleep.
Not only do the Buddhify sleep meditations enjoy the most usage, they also receive the most fan-mail, and what we’ve learnt through all those conversations and our research is that mindfulness helps in two main ways: getting to sleep in the first place, and improving its restful nature.
It won’t be a surprise to you that getting better sleep is a problem that so many of us are trying to solve. Our daily schedules are often full to the brim and as if that wasn’t enough already, our attention is being constantly stimulated through all kinds of media. All of which means that come the time when we are looking to fall asleep, all that momentum means that our minds are still swimming and so can be a real challenge to settle down. It is also not news to you that sleep matters. Without regular decent sleep, we end up lethargic and unable to act and concentrate at our potential. Just like exercise and eating well, making sure we prioritise sleep is central to our overall sense of well-being.
So how does mindfulness help? There are three main ways in which we can use mindfulness and meditation techniques to encourage and improve our sleep and the first is in quieting our mind. The main reason that people say they struggle with nodding off is that there is just so much mental activity happening at the moment they want to go to sleep. And for sleep to happen, we need to move the nature of our mind to be closer and closer to that of the sleeping mind and a key part of that is quieting thinking down. The most reliable way to do this is to deliberately choose to rest your attention on physical sensations such as your breathing or the feelings in your body. Doing this means that you’re not making too big a deal of all the thinking and other mental patterns that are kicking around and, as such, they lose their energy and start to fizzle out.
The second great mindfulness technique for sleep is focusing on the positive. Since our minds can have a tendency to focus on something negative such as worry or anxiety, to nudge them the other way we often have to make a bit of effort to do so. And given that lying down in bed is actually quite pleasant and comfortable, there are so many ways to do this. Again, they key is to deliberately place your attention somewhere, and in this case you place it on the most pleasurable or enjoyable parts of your experience. So that could be the warmth of the bedclothes around you, their softness on your skin or perhaps the quiet and calm in the room you’re in. Then with your mind filled with a sense of pleasure, even if just a little, you’ll be in a better place to drop off since a happier mind falls asleep quicker than an agitated one.
The third way to use mindfulness to help you sleep is what’s called ‘letting go’. If you do have a mind full of worry and anxiety, then the trick is to make the conscious decision to let it go for the night. They’ll be plenty of time to start thinking again the next day, so when you notice those difficult thoughts coming up, feel free to say a gentle but firm ‘not now’ to them. Ultimately all meditation is, is training the mind, and the key to doing that is to be firm but, at the same time, kind.
Alongside using these simple meditation techniques at bedtime, we also need to make sure we give ourselves even more of a chance by looking after our environment. That means that ideally you try to avoid too much stimulation before sleep. And if you can do some other activity that you find relaxing, such as taking a bath, stretching or a spot of reading, then that is always a good idea. It’s really up to you to work out what best supports you getting the sleep that you both need and deserve. But when you do establish a good routine, it’ll be a friend for life.