How to Practice Mindfulness for Better Sleep
If you’ve been consuming any form of media the past few years, you’ve definitely heard the term “mindfulness” thrown around. It feels like everyone’s mentioned the buzzword at some point, whether it’s a coworker, family member, or your favorite podcast host (even Joe Rogan had an episode about it). So, how can you practice mindfulness to help you get a better night’s sleep?
Even though the concept of becoming more mindful is nothing new, it’s popular in mainstream culture because people are more stressed out than ever before. More stress means less sleep.
In fact, 35% of adults don’t get enough sleep (that is, at least seven hours per night) according to the CDC. The fact that your iPhone is basically an extension of your hand isn’t helping. Our constant connection to our devices (plus societal expectations to work around the clock) make it hard to shut off our brains before bed. Thankfully, mindfulness exercises can help.
How Mindfulness Promotes Healthy Sleep Patterns
Even skeptics of the buzzy mindfulness trend can’t argue with the science behind it. According to the National Sleep Foundation, mindfulness techniques create physiological changes that are similar to those that occur when your body is in the early stages of sleep. These are the kinds of bodily changes that prepare you for deep sleep:
- Your pulse slows
- Your blood pressure drops
- Your cortisol (stress hormone) levels decrease
Not only are you able to improve the quality of their sleep each night, but you’ll reap the rewards of healthier sleep patterns, which include:
- Increased focus during the day
- Improved memory and problem solving skills
- Less obsessing/ruminating
- Better regulation of metabolism
- More stable mood and higher emotional intelligence
It’s hard to find a reason why someone wouldn’t at least try one mindfulness activity to improve their nighttime routine. The ones we chose are simple to do and don’t take much time, so even the busiest insomniacs can give them a whirl.
Mindfulness Exercises to Try
Sometimes choosing a mindfulness exercise that will work is a daunting decision in its own right. Why bother? After all, some people try dozens of meditation techniques but end up more frustrated when they don’t experience the positive effects they expected.
Putting your pen to paper is one foolproof way you can force yourself to guide your mind and fall asleep faster. Plus, studies prove the effectiveness of writing to help ward off sleeplessness. A simple breathing exercise is also an easy way to become more mindful before bed. Try one (or all three) of these activities, guaranteed to steer your mind away from your over-scheduled work week.
Also known as square breathing, box breathing is one of the quickest and most reliable ways to reset your breath (and your brain) at the end of the day. It’s also the go-to breathing exercise of the Navy SEALs, so you know it must be the real deal. Not only is this breathing practice designed to help people remain calm in stressful situations, it’s also perfect for chilling out before bedtime.
- Find a quiet, tech-free space without distractions.
- Set a timer for 1–3 minute intervals, pausing briefly before starting a new interval of continuous deep breathing.
- Before you start the process of breathing, decide if you’d rather use your finger to trace the square, or place one hand on your chest and the other on your lower stomach to feel the air entering and leaving your body.
- Breathe in for 4 seconds, completely filling your lungs.
- Hold your breath for 4 seconds.
- Exhale for 4 seconds, being sure to expel every last bit of air.
- Hold your lungs empty for 4 seconds.
- Repeat as desired.
- Reduced worry and anxiety
- Increased circulation
- Increased mental clarity
- Improved ability to manage stress
Five Senses Reflection
There are plenty of guided meditations focused on the five senses that are designed to bring you back into the present moment. Some of these focus on eating a small piece of fruit, like a raisin, while some encourage observation-focused walks outside. This five senses writing exercise is focused on reflecting on a positive experience.
Pick one memory from the recent past (preferably the past week) that was a positive experience for you. By reflecting on it, visualizing it, and feeling each detail according to the five senses, you’ll slowly transition your mind into a more meditative state.
- Set a timer for 10 minutes. Choose a positive memory and start to recreate it in your mind.
- Visualize and record all the details of the memory. For example, if you’re remembering a dance routine, think about each of the dancers’ individual steps, their facial expressions, and the volume of the music.
- Any time you find yourself losing focus, acknowledge the distracting thought, embrace it, and then let it go. Patiently return back to your story rather than letting unrelated thoughts frustrate you.
- Centers and grounds you
- Reminds you to be mindful of the positive details of life
- Clears your head and frees up mental energy for the next day
Gratitude Mapping Exercise
A mind map is a great tool for becoming more aware of one’s thoughts and emotions. It also allows you to take a topic or theme (in this case, gratitude) and break it into smaller or more specific ideas.
When you direct your thoughts to focus on all the little things you have to be grateful for, it’s an instant mood booster before bed. So, slip into your most comfortable PJ pants, cozy up on the couch, and whip out a pen to get started.
- Find a quiet, tech-free space.
- Take a series of deep breaths for at least three minutes before you begin writing.
- Set a timer for 10 minutes. Record everything that you are thankful for within each category. Be as specific as possible and focus on the feeling of gratitude as you’re writing.
- Decreases stress
- Declutters mind and blocks negative thought patterns
- Increases awareness of all the positive things already in your life
Additional Tips for Practicing Mindfulness
If you’re not a fan of writing and you’re still feeling pretty cynical about this whole mindfulness thing, you can still do the bare minimum. Ease yourself into creating a mindful bedtime routine by following these tips.
Dress to Destress
Use enclothed cognition to your advantage. Many people are familiar with the idea that dressing in a power suit can make you feel more assertive at work, while hanging around in workout gear motivates you to exercise. The same idea applies to wearing comfortable clothes to help induce a more relaxed mental state. When you change into pajamas or loungewear, you’re subconsciously telling yourself it’s time to wind down for the day.
Manage Screen Time
Americans spend most of their waking hours in front of screens. The least you can do is remove them from the equation right before bed. As you’ve probably already heard, our devices emit an artificial blue light that can inhibit the release melatonin, which can interfere with the body’s natural Circadian rhythm.
Limit yourself to simple technology-free activities in the hour before you go to sleep. If an hour sounds like too much, start with at least 20 minutes. If you’re truly desperate to scroll Instagram right before closing your eyes, try switching your iPhone to its night shift setting.
Here are some other easy ways to go device-less before you call it a night:
- Reading a novel
- Doodling or coloring
- Stretching and/or yoga
- Drinking tea
- Taking a bath or shower
- Listening to music
Mindfulness is not one size fits all. As long as the exercises you’re doing have a calming and therapeutic effect, you can’t go wrong. It might take some time to figure out what works to get you in the mindset for a full night’s sleep. Be patient with yourself.
Remember that mindfulness is ultimately a form of self-care. Indulge in some quality pajamas or luxe loungewear, and enjoy the tech-free time that your mind deserves at the end of the day. Focus on how these mindfulness practices make you feel good, and before you know it you’ll be incorporating them naturally into your nightly routine.