By Jamie Benjamin
If you struggle to fall asleep at night, endlessly toss and turn, or wake up stiff and tired, practicing mindfulness may help. The practice of being mindful means dedicating your full attention to something. To truly be mindful, you need to slow down, take a breather, and focus entirely on what you’re doing.
When you relate mindful practices to sleep, there are specific ways you can shift your focus and ensure you improve your quality of rest.
These methods include:
Creating the ideal sleep environment
Your bedroom should be a sanctuary dedicated to relaxing. Too often, our bedrooms are multi-purpose rooms that include televisions, computers, gym equipment and other items that don’t promote rest. It’s almost impossible to sleep properly when there’s so much going on in the room. Try to turn your bedroom into a space with just one focus—sleep.
A good sleeping environment has soft colors and minimal visual distractions. It’s also important for it to be quiet. Even devices with fans that run when they’re on standby can be noisy. Light from devices inside and from streetlights or cars outside can prevent you from sleeping, too. Use heavy curtains to block out external light and take all devices out of the room.
It seems that people’s attention spans are getting shorter, and it is very easy to get distracted. Scrolling through social media on your phone or messaging friends just before you try to go to sleep can keep your mind awake.
Blinking lights from your computer or television can distract your body and prevent it from relaxing. All these distractions need to go, and you should discipline yourself to ignore the temptation of your phone.
Focusing on your breathing
There’s nothing quite like taking a moment to focus on your breathing to calm down and relax your body. If your breathing is relaxed, sleep becomes the next natural state.
When you want to go to sleep, this technique works incredibly well. Climb into bed and get comfortable, then bring all of your thoughts and attention to your breathing patterns. Start inhaling and exhaling in slow, measured breaths.
The physical act of measured, controlled breathing will calm your body and slow your heart rate, getting you into a state ready for sleep. When you focus your mind on your breathing, you cut out thoughts about your day, stress from work, or anything else that may distract you and keep you awake.
Stretching or mild exercising
The temptation to do intense cardio exercise before bed can be quite high because you think that tiring out your body will make you fall asleep quickly. This is not the case. Endorphins are running high after a run or a cycle or an aerobics class, making your body alert. Gentle exercise that allows your body to relax can help you fall asleep more easily. Consider doing some stretching to release tight muscles just before you hop into bed.
If your lifestyle only allows time to exercise in the evenings, you can do workouts like walking, swimming or even light resistance training in the four hours before you go to bed. Just try not to raise your body temperature or your heart rate too much. It’s best to finish your workout at least 90 minutes before you plan to go to sleep.
Scheduling meals correctly
Eating a large, heavy meal just before trying to fall asleep is not conducive to good rest. Your body will still be trying to digest the food while you’re trying to turn most of your internal systems into standby mode. Research shows you should eat your last meal for the day around three hours before you want to go to sleep. This will give your body enough time to digest the food so that it isn’t still in your stomach when you get into bed.
If you find that you’re hungry before you go to bed, you can have a small snack in that three-hour window. It’s best to eat something like fruit or vegetables or a small portion of protein. These are nutritious and will add value to your body, rather than breaking down into sugar that will turn into fat while you sleep.
Learning to quiet your mind
A racing mind is one of the major complaints that people have when they’re unable to fall asleep. They’re too busy thinking about the past and future and not paying enough attention to being mindful of the present. An internal monologue that dwells on what’s already happened or fixates on what’s to come will keep you awake for hours.
It’s important to learn how to quiet your mind and let thoughts that keep you awake drift away at night. You can do this by reading a book, thinking about places or people you love, or simply observing and enjoying the quiet space you’re in. These activities will get you out of your own head and keep your mind from churning.
Using relaxation techniques
If your body is tense, it’s alert and wide awake. Whether the tension comes from stress, worry, or a physical ailment, it’s important to learn how to relax.
Practicing mindfulness means paying attention to the here and now and focusing on a singular idea. Mental exercises that methodically take you away from thoughts of whatever is causing tension are an excellent way to do this.
Visualization techniques help your mind become calm and focus on relaxing your body, preventing you from thinking about things that stress you out. Try imagining a warm liquid filling your body, starting at your toes and slowly moving up to your head.
Another great relaxation technique is to run through the muscle groups in your body as you lie in bed. Tense up your calves and then relax them. Then move onto your quadriceps, your glutes, your abdominal muscles and so on. Hold the tension for about five seconds in each section before releasing and then repeat after about 30 seconds.
Your lifestyle plays a role in sleep patterns, and improving the way you unwind will benefit you.
It may take time to create a new mindfulness routine, but regularly getting a good night’s rest goes a long way to keeping you happy, healthy, and revitalized.
Jamie Benjamin is a freelance contributor to Hands Down Better. With a passion for writing, she loves to get creative on topics covering health and wellness, self-care, mindfulness, and fitness. For Jamie, self-care means going on a hike with a friend, reading a good book by John Irving, or having a huge slice of apple pie (with a scoop of ice cream).
Reviewed by the ACA Editorial Advisory Board.
The information in this post is for educational purposes. It is not a replacement for treatment or consultation with a healthcare professional. If you have specific questions, contact your doctor of chiropractic. To find an ACA chiropractor near you, click here.