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Mindfulness Mondays, Week 10 - Mindfulness and The Very Important Topic of Sleep

Sleep disturbances are incredibly common and on the rise.

The American Sleep Association has reported, based on a research founded by the Institute of Medicine, that 50-70 million US adults have a sleep disorder. About 40 percent of individuals surveyed report unintentionally falling asleep during the day at least once in the last month. And drowsy driving is responsible for 1,550 and 40,000 nonfatal injuries annually in the U.S.

Anecdotally, I’m not surprised by these findings. They are consistent with what I’m seeing in the counseling office. Technology certainly plays a role here – screens are by nature disturbing to sleep, but something else to consider is the way that technology keeps us constantly “logged on.” In today’s smart-phone world, it is incredibly easy to work and remain logged on 24/7/365. Ask yourself this: have you ever done work from home or while on vacation? My point, in this case, is that the responsibility falls on us to create ways to transition from work to rest, they are not built in. So many clients I see work right up until the go to bed, often checking email or social media directly before going to sleep and immediately upon waking. In this case, there is no transition period – and it’s showing up in diminishing both the quality and quantity of sleep!

An hour of transition time is recommended – time to take a bath, read, meditate, pray, journal, wash your face, listen to music, put on lotion, etc (any variation of this that works for you) – but I always encourage clients to begin with what feels realistic and doable in their current life stage. So, it might be 15 minutes. Ultimately, what is important is the ritual of transition, the ritual of transitioning the day from wake/work to rest/sleep.

Sleep is an often over-looked and under-rated aspect of health. Lack of sleep is often even touted in our over-worked society as some sort of bragging right – the calling card of a “job well-done.” Meanwhile, burn out and mental/emotional health struggles continue to be significant issues (and also on the rise…). Creating a transition ritual is a great place to start in improving the quality and quantity of sleep in your life. Ariana Huffington, her work through Thrive Global, and her book “The Sleep Revolution” are great resources for more information about all these ideas. (Highly recommend!!)

Mindfulness can be a wonderful and important tool to aid in sleep. Today I encourage you to consider adding mindful meditation to your nightly transition ritual. Here’s an example of what that might look like:

Take a moment to settle into a comfortable position, eyes closed or to the floor, laying down, or sitting up. If you are sitting up, have you back resting easily against some sort of surface.

Take several slow, deep breaths. Pay special attention to your exhales, gently making them longer. As you breath out imaging that you are releasing tension, initially physical tension – imagine that your exhales are releasing tension from your face (often carried in your forehead and jaw), neck, and shoulders.

Then move into releasing mental and emotional tension – imagine that your exhales are releasing any guilt, anxiety, worry, stress, anger, unforgiveness held onto from the day. It’s no longer serving you, you don’t need it now, let it go, and fall to the floor. Now imagine that your exhales are releasing the to-do list, the mental load, the ruminations from the day. You don’t need it anymore, it’ll still be there tomorrow, this time is for rest.

Do this as often as you need it.

Now that these tensions have fallen away. Imagine what you are replace them with. As if you were changing clothes – from work/day clothes to pajamas, imagine that you have taken off the day clothes and now you are putting on the “pajamas” of peace, rest, grace, self-compassion, gratitude, whatever you need. Inhale these things and imagine that they are filling your whole body – head to toe.

Imagine that you are about to enter into a happy, peaceful place. A garden, the ocean, the mountains - imagine that you only want to enter this pristine place without the load of the day. This place is protected. You cannot be disturbed. Let your body relax with the knowing of this place. This still, quiet place is safe from the hustle and the bustle, from the needs and wants of the day. It just is.

Take these feelings with you as finish your nightly wind down routine and enter into a time of rest and restoration.

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