Why Mindfulness Can Help You Sleep Better
Does your mind race while you are trying to fall asleep? Do you wake up in the middle of the night unable to stop thinking about something stressful? Does it lead to a degradation in sleep quality? If so, you may likely benefit from mindfulness practice.
Mindfulness is essentially the act of paying attention, on purpose, without judgment, to only the present moment.
When done properly, mindfulness practice becomes another exercise in your daily routine, similar to physical exercise. Research has found regular mindfulness practice can develop more dense grey matter in the brain and create measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress.
Other neurological mechanisms that are supported with regular mindfulness practice include:
- Body Regulation
- Attuned Communication
- Emotional Balance
- Response Flexibility
- Insight of Self
- Fear Modulation
Mindfulness is most commonly associated with meditation. Meditation practice has been around in the Eastern part of the world for thousands of years. It's only been the past decade or two that the Western world has begun to look more closely and research it's impacts on the body and brain.
It is now being used in many hospitals and mental health agencies throughout the world, and is even being used to treat veterans in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and improve the effectiveness of service-members in the U.S. military.
Why does it work?
Research has shown that when someone is engaged in mindfulness practice, they are activating and filling up the attention channels of their brain. Since the brain and nervous system have a finite amount of resources at any given time, the resources that go toward filling up the attention channels take away from the part of the brain that creates worry, planning, day-dreaming, or any of the other thought activities that make it hard to sleep or perform tasks throughout the day.
This also helps with emotional stress. It's said that emotions like fear and anxiety can only exist if we are looking in the future, and emotions like sadness or anger can only exist if we are looking into the past. If we are fully in the present (activating our attention channels), it is nearly impossible for brain activation of negative emotions to exist or have a strong grip on us.
What does this have to do with sleep?
There are two reasons this can help with sleep.
First, when you learn to focus the brain and body in the present moment, it becomes much easier to let those fleeting thoughts of worry or uncertainty that keep you up at night, just pass on by. It becomes something you observe, rather than latch on to and start ruminating on, and it passes just as quickly. This clears the mind and makes it easier to drift into sleep.
Second, since mindfulness practice is essentially exercise for the nervous system, it can help the mind exert energy before bed, making it easier to relax and fall asleep. Just like after a hard physical workout the body is more tired and relaxed, the same can be true for the brain and nervous system after doing mindfulness practice.
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How can I get started?
There are many different websites, YouTube videos, audio tapes, and smartphone apps that all teach various forms of mindfulness practice. A few minutes searching the web with "guided mindfulness practice" will probably yield many good results.
That said, there are a few websites/apps that we certainly can recommend. We have tried many and these are our favorites:
- Insight Timer- 19,000+ free guided meditations and growing, this app is hands down the best as far as value and variety goes.
- Headspace- one of the better ones for beginners, as the website and app have great introductory information and exercises to help you build a strong foundation.
- Calm- similar to Headspace, this is a great app for beginners to learn the basics of mindfulness.
For now, get started and remember that mindfulness is a practice. It is best to try building mindfulness into your routine so you can exercise your brain daily. Even 5-10 minutes a day will be more effective than 30 minutes once a week.
In the future we plan to write a more detailed blog post about how to get the most out of mindfulness practice, so come back regularly, stay tuned, and start practicing!