BRINGING MINDFULNESS TO YOUR SLEEP ROUTINE
Why is it that my mind decides that 3 am is the best time to work out all of my life’s problems (some nights all of the World’s problems)? By all of life’s problems, I mean my mind literally ruminates on every problem I have and have ever had – all at one time. In Yoga we call this the monkey mind. And that is exactly how it feels – like there is a monkey in my mind jumping from one thought branch to the next. On the nights when my monkey mind is active I toss and turn for hours and then fall asleep around 6:30 only to hear the alarm go off at 6:45. Argh!
For most people with sleep issues - chronic or occasional – this story is familiar. For some the monkey is most lively at bedtime, for others its sometime between 2am and 4am. Either way sleep issues are frustrating at best and debilitating at worst.
There are many potential contributors to a bad sleep but the one that seems most prevalent is busy-ness. Busy-ness, like stress and a bad sleep, seem to be “just a part of life”. In fact they are a trio - with busy-ness comes stress and with stress comes bad sleep.
We all know that being less busy, less stressed is a key to happiness but how does busy-ness during the day effect sleep? Busy makes you exhausted right? Which should make you sleep better. The thing is there are two types of exhausted… depleted and tired. Stress is depleting. When we are depleted our defences are down and our mind becomes a breeding ground for anxiety, frustration, angry etc... And the monkey in your mind loves to swing from these branches in the middle of the night. When you take a healthy mindful approach to a busy life then you go to bed tired and the monkeys are more likely to sleep through the night.
There are a lot of tips and suggestions for better sleep but not all will address your specific issue and most often the biggest challenge is making changes that will fit into your lifestyle. I know it can be exhausting just thinking about making changes. This is where mindfulness can be your sleep ally.
The mindful approach to better sleep helps to make changes seem less like yet another “to do” list that will heighten anxiety around sleep. This approach means paying attention to the things that could be affecting your sleep and changing the things that you can, then noticing if it works. Its not a miracle cure, it’s a way of changing your routine slowly so the results are deep rooted and long lasting.
Here are 10 areas where you can bring mindfulness into your sleep routine. Keep in mind this is a practice of figuring out what works better for you and what doesn’t. It’s not a list of absolutes that you need to be checked-off.
1. What time do you eat dinner? Ideally your last meal is 3 hours before bed so your body has time to digest.
2. Do you snack after dinner? Ideally you don't snack but if you must choose foods that are better for sleep are high higher in healthy fats - not greasy - like nuts and cream or fruit low in sugar. Try mixing up your snacks and see if it makes a difference.
3. Are your devices turned off? Don't just put them down, turn them off or put them in airplane mode at least and hour before bed. It isn't just surfing the internet and social media that can be agitating. If you are like me your phone is also your alarm. Unless your phone is in airplane mode it is receiving signals all the time. The energy caused by these signals can be very disruptive even if your phone is across the room.
4. Do you watch the news, horror movies are violent movies before bed? Turn off the TV and video games at least an hour before bed and don't let violence or bad news be the last thing your mind takes in. When you end the day with bad news or violence its more likely that will creep into your dreams. Violence breeds violence. Even if you are a gentle person you may still find these movies and shows effect your dreams. Don’t remember your dreams? How does your body feel in the morning? Maybe you’re clenching your shoulders, jaw or fists?
5. Is your room a sanctuary for sleep? If your room is untidy you may be going to bed with a list of all the chores you didn’t get done roaming around your mind. Do you feel completely relaxed when you walk into your bedroom? Is the air cool or warm? Cooler air is generally better for sleeping. Make your bedroom comfortable and cozy?
6. How much time did you spend outside? Getting fresh air is all around good. Its so easy in the summer and so challenging in the winter. Fresh air and sunshine in the morning is ideal but, in a pinch, try planning an errand at lunch or going out after dinner.
7. Did you exercise mindfully? By mindfully I mean do you have an exercise routine that you love. One that makes you feel great while you are doing it and after. There is a lot of research that show that the more you love your exercise the more benefit it will have. When you love it your exercise will be regenerating rather than exhausting. If you need to “blow-off” steam at the gym try finishing with 10 minutes of gentle yoga and breathing.
8. Did you give yourself time to unwind? Set the mood for sleep before bedtime. Whether its tea, a warm bath with essential oil, reading, playing soft music, meditating or yoga, find a practice that you can do about an hour or two before bed to help you unwind. In the winter I love having a bath right after I put my daughter to bed and then practicing yoga and meditation. It signifies the end of the busy day and “me” time. BONUS! It often refreshes enough that evening chores seem easier to tackle.
9. Do you have a consistent schedule? Keeping a consistent schedule and routine before bed and in the morning helps set your circadian rhythm so you feel tired when its bedtime.
10. Do you have a sleep/wake ritual? The way you wake up can be as important as going to bed. My mornings are busy - between getting my daughter ready for school or rushing to a class (or both) I have very little time to spare. A morning ritual doesn’t have to be complicated. I make it as easy as possible but keep it consistent. I shake out my duvet and fold the covers back to air out the sheets, turn off the fan, open the skylight blind then start my bathroom routine. At night it’s the same but reversed. You may be thinking “that is too simple”. The key is the simplicity of it. This isn't a chore, this is a mindfulness practice that signifies my day is starting of or ending with care.
When you begin to pay attention to your habits before and after sleep you may start to notice what triggers a bad night sleep. It may not even be on this list. One thing I have noticed about myself is that Wednesdays are really tough for me. For some reason I tend to feel out of balance on Wednesday. I struggle to follow my usual routine and eat poorly. When that happens my sleep suffers. Using mindfulness I can make choices about my day and be aware of how the choices I make could effect my sleep. Thinking about the long game and what could happen Thursday on a bad night sleep helps me to make better choices.
Give it a try for a couple of weeks and see what you notice.
Do you have any other tips to share about getting a better night sleep? Let me know so I can add them to the list.