Sleep isn’t always easy:
1 You are finding it tough to get to sleep even when you’re tired
2 You are dropping off to sleep easily but waking in the night and finding it difficult to get back to sleep
3 Sleeplessness is tough when you over-think, worry, ruminate etc.
4 Your lack of sleep becomes a huge problem which impacts on your day
How mindfulness and meditation affect your sleep
The quality of your night-time sleep can be influenced by your life during the day.
With ‘mindfulness’, or another way to describe it as ‘awareness’, you develop your capacity to be alert to your default settings in everyday life.
For example, Brene Brown says:
‘… when I feel myself reaching for my favourite armour (perfectionism, anger, being the knower, trying to control, emotional intensity, getting critical), I try to remember that the antidote to armouring up is staying curious.’
Do you recognize yourself anywhere here?
There might also be overthinking. It could be self-critical thoughts, judgments towards others, comparisons, put-downs, regrets, shame, anxiety, fears.
The catholic writer and Trappist monk Thomas Merton describes how we succumb to the busy-ness of life here.
As your body and mind are constantly busy, so too are your brainwaves. They will be resonating at their fastest the whole time, known as busy Beta brainwave activity, which is exhausting. As you become more interested in your mindfulness, you start to develop a core steadiness.
Busy brainwave activity slows down for sleep at night
Breathe deeply and slowly to slow down busy Beta brainwaves to Alpha and Theta. (More on your Brainwaves here.) These are your brainwave states when relaxed. When your brainwaves slow right down to Delta brainwave activity, this is when you are asleep.
You wake up and your mind feeds the thoughts that mean your brainwave activity is cranked back up again. Hence you lie awake for hours, thinking and ruminating and worrying.
This also elicits the ‘Fight Flight Freeze’ mode in your body. So there you are in bed, with adrenaline and cortisol pumping round you keeping you super-awake. This is the body’s response to life or death situations which during the day-time would give you the strength to escape from a dangerous situation.
Mindfulness and Meditation during the day
To have mindful tools to help you sleep at night, it’s useful to practice during the day.
In your waking moments you can choose to pause before you launch in to your usual behavior. Notice how your body and thoughts react in the same old direction. This is your chance to intercept some of those patterns, acknowledge what you’re doing, and shift to a deeper place of awareness and presence.
How often do you find yourself mulling over problems even while going through the motions of a daily task?
You’ve brought the past into your present, even if it’s just the conversation you had that morning. As you go on into your day, you still think about that incident, and often you throw on more self-criticism for good measure.
Similar things happen at night, only it can feel even more pressing. Our problem-solving and story-telling tendencies can get the better of us.
Daily opportunities to be calm and present
Transition times in your day are opportunities to ground yourself and become centred and present. For example, before you leave your house. Stand at the front door and take a few simple deep breaths to get into alignment and be present.
You can do the same as you settle into your car before you drive off. And again when you arrive at your destination.
The more often you can do this, the more you are shifting the workings of your brain. You’re learning the art of diving beneath the choppy waves of the sea, to your deeper, quiet inner stillness.
Your decision-making and behavior now stems from a calmer, more balanced place of wisdom.
And your sleep patterns may start to reflect this too.
But why is the body waking you up?
Our bodies do things like this as an indication something is not in balance. You could explore your nutrition, some deep body massage, cranial osteopathy or relaxing Theta music. And certainly a relaxed bed-time routine is helpful.
Your body may be waking up because there are underlying problems. But if you’ve established it’s none of these things, then focus on relaxing the body and breathing deeply to return to sleep.
Maybe your body is telling you that it needs to slow down both day and night.
Sometimes we go through tough times and disturbed sleep is understandable. Don’t focus too much on it as a problem, just let yourself relax into your deep breathing and know that this glitch will soon pass.
You might notice that your hands or shoulders are tense when you wake up, or that you’ve been grinding your teeth. Again, allow your body to soften and let go of the tension that builds up when you’re thinking tense thoughts.
Dive deeply beneath the busy thinking and focus on creating your calm place of serenity and tranquility. With every mindful breath allow yourself to sink deeper.
When awake in the early hours of the morning, the self-critic might loom large. Watch out – remind yourself that you don’t need to listen. Consider swapping harsh self-judgments for tender love, warmth and self-compassion. Focus on phrases like, ‘I am calm,’ ‘I am peace’ etc.
Calm day, peaceful night
So if you wake up during the night, you know how to work with your breathing to encourage your body back to sleep. Surrender and trust that your body knows how to do this.
Breathe deeply and if your mind is still busy, divert it to visualise something calming:
A secret garden
A favourite view
Don’t let your thinking get in the way of a good night’s sleep.
Yvette Jane – Mindfulness & Meditation Guide
I do work with students who have sleep problems, and like all things, it’s not an overnight solution. It always starts with awareness.