Stress and anxiety are two of the biggest factors that play a role in sleep disruption. You’ve probably noticed yourself tossing and turning the night before a big presentation, or frequently waking up in fear of missing an early morning flight. These are both examples of natural human responses to stress. But for those who experience more than occasional stress, anxiety can affect their sleeping pattern every night.
What came first?
Like the chicken and the egg, there is an ongoing debate about what came first – insomnia or anxiety. Studies have proven that people with insomnia are at higher risk for developing anxiety, and people with anxiety have a higher risk of developing insomnia. If you struggle with one, chances are you struggle with the other.
So what can you do about it?
There are plenty of well-known tips that claim to improve sleep: taking melatonin, making sure the room is free from distractions, keeping the room as dark as possible, maintaining a sleep schedule, even counting sheep is a suggestion. While some of those may be beneficial, anxiety is often powerful enough to overcome them. Instead, one of the most effectively studied techniques proven to better our sleep is to practice mindfulness.
What is mindfulness?
In short, mindfulness involves becoming aware of the present moment and focusing on your internal thoughts as well as your external surroundings. It also entails allowing your thoughts to freely flow without judgment.
How does mindfulness help you sleep?
Studies show that people who regularly practice mindfulness are generally less anxious and also sleep with fewer interruptions. One of the many perks of mindfulness is that you can practice it anywhere, at any time. A good recommendation is to spend 10-20 minutes each day, but even taking 5 minutes a few times a week to practice mindfulness is healthy for your mental well-being. You can practice mindfulness while you’re walking to lunch, while you’re driving to work, basically anywhere that you can take some quiet moments to check in on yourself.
But in order to improve your sleep quality the most, mindfulness is best practiced immediately before bed. Oftentimes when we’re getting ready to settle down for the night, our head begins to spin; for some reason, this is when all of our thoughts come rushing in: tomorrow’s to-do list, today’s stressors, etc. So if you focus on mindfulness immediately before bed, those thoughts don’t have to interfere.
The first step in practicing mindfulness before bed is to create a mindful bedtime routine. Each night, before you even get into bed, find ways to engage in mindfulness. If you shower in the evening, really feel the warm water and smell the scents of your lotions and soaps. Try lighting a soothing candle while you’re brushing your teeth and washing your face; really allow yourself to be in the present moment. Then, once you get into bed, you can continue mindfulness in a brief 10-minute breathing or muscle relaxing exercise. The goal of mindfulness before bed is to remain in a mindful headspace. If you notice your thoughts beginning to wander, rope them back in.
While it’s important to practice mindfulness to get a good night’s sleep, it’s worth noting that sleep is also proven to help make us more mindful. The more sleep you get, the more mindful you become; and the more mindful you become, the more sleep you can get. Both sleep and mindfulness help keep our emotions in check, which is why the better you sleep, the less stress and anxiety you’ll experience.
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