I can’t sleep. . .
We’ve all been there. 2 am rolls round and we’re still awake. We flick through our phone, maybe watch a TV programme. 3 am rolls round. We turn off our phone and try to get to sleep again without distraction. In desperation we count sheep and give up after 60. We toss and turn. You find yourself thinking: ‘I’m so tired but my brain JUST WON’T SWITCH OFF’. It’s a horrible feeling. After experiencing this myself far too often, I decided to try and find techniques that might serve me better. I came across the concept of practising mindfulness for better sleep. After an online search I found a fantastic little book called Sleep: 50 Mindfulness and relaxation exercises for a restful night by Dr. Arlene K. Unger. Filled with plenty of advice, positive affirmations and exercises this seemed like the perfect place to start.
Bad habits. . .
In all honesty it’s been a difficult journey for me. I’ve gotten into such bad habits over the years that sometimes I find myself slipping back. My mind is pretty stubborn at times. Some nights I’ll decide that practising mindfulness is too hard and it’s easier to stick a programme on. Let me tell you though, when I actually do practise mindfulness, my sleep is far more restful and I get there faster.
Good ‘sleep hygiene'. . .
I’ve realised that having good ‘sleep hygiene’ is about a number of factors working together. It’s not just about turning the lights off, completing a mindfulness exercise and hoping for the best. These key things also play an important part:
- Regular Exercise: nothing too intense before bedtime, but up to half an hour each day, five days a week. Whether it be walking, pilates, yoga or swimming, exercise helps to keep our mind and body healthy. I like to go for mindful walks where I write poetry as I go, taking in impressions and letting the rhythm of my feet guide the words and rhythm of the poem.
- A restful bedroom: there’s nothing worse than coming into your bedroom at night to an unmade bed, clothes strewn here, there and everywhere, an un-hovered carpet and clutter adorning every surface. In my opinion, a cluttered space = a cluttered mind. If your bedroom is a restful sanctuary it’s far more liable to encourage you to sleep. Mood lighting is great too. Warm fairy lights and low light level lamps.
- Consistent bed and waking time: now I find this one REALLY tricky. If you can manage to get a consistent bed and waking time, particularly I find with the former, your body knows it’s coming and this naturally signals an ‘it’s time to switch off’ message to our brains. I find settling down an hour earlier than you want to sleep, with all technology switched off, to read a little (nothing too stimulating!), connect with your breath and complete mindfulness exercises really helps. You feel as though you have plenty of time to get to sleep and taking that pressure off is so important.
Sleep affirmations. . .
Practising mindfulness for better sleep takes time and consistency. Patience is key; something that I’ve realised I have less of than I would like when it comes to helping myself get to sleep. My favourite affirmation from Dr. Unger’s book to help me let go and encourage patience is:
I switch off and give myself permission to rest.
I like to say that to myself before I sleep. When I’m struggling to accept the idea of sleep, I come back to it. Just like returning to your breath when you meditate, coming back to a positive affirmation when you’re fighting yourself is like a soothing balm to the soul.
Mindfulness exercise for better sleep. . .
Here’s a wonderful exercise to get you started, taken from Dr Unger’s book, and one of my personal favourites:
On nights when you can’t get – or get back – to sleep, try doing this exercise for 10 minutes. Sometimes cultivating an attitude of self-love and self-kindness can help induce sleepiness.
- While in bed, close your eyes and take a few mindful breaths. With every breath you take, try to make your body still, but aim not to become annoyed if it won’t cooperate with you.
- Imagine beautiful doves around your bed. They are there to remind you that you are ok being who you are right now.
- As you continue to breathe, keep visualising the doves. They bring love, nurturance and acceptance to you even in your state of sleeplessness. You know if you stir, it will scare them and they will fly away. So you choose to be still, as you slowly breathe in and out and allow yourself to drift off gently.
Let me know how you get on in the comments below or if you have any of your own tried and tested methods for getting a restful night’s sleep.
With love and light,
PS: Click HERE to purchase the wonderful book Sleep by Dr. Arlene K. Unger.