Mindful steps towards improved sleep


In 2019, back in those wonderful times when we could travel freely, I attended The Mindful Living Show in London, mainly because my mindfulness teacher-training organisation, The Mindfulness Association, was represented there.  There was a whole other event running alongside it, called ‘The Sleep Show’, dedicated to exploring tips and expert talks on how to improve sleep patterns, and the link between mindfulness and better sleep. Poor sleep is a familiar issue for a lot of people these days and, while I am not professing to be any kind of an expert on sleep, I wanted to share some tips that I have learned from the sleep experts at this event, and from my own research over the years.  

Research shows that as adults we need between seven to nine hours of sleep per night. Many of us are sleep deprived, which can lead on to a host of other problems. There are many reasons why we can’t sleep, which might include being overtired, having a busy mind, dwelling on problems or worries, ruminating or making ‘to-do’ lists. And most of us know that any problems or issues we may face during daytime hours can certainly come more fully alive at night! I am sure that many of us here have experienced more than a sleepless night or two since Covid-19 arrived almost a year ago now. Perhaps for more of us, lack of sleep is a more serious problem and impacts on our quality of life, becoming physically and mentally debilitating, if experienced over a long period of time. We really cannot underestimate the importance of a good night’s sleep and it is an essential component of our self-care.  

There are many small practical adjustments we can make towards improving our sleep. I came across a phrase called ‘sleep hygiene’, which, according to the Sleep Foundation, includes a variety of different practices and habits that are necessary to have good night-time sleep quality and full daytime alertness. We need to prepare for sleep and give ourselves a chance to wind down after the day. A good starting point might be to notice some of the habits that could be keeping us awake, like watching a screen late into the night, eating and drinking too late in the evening or not getting enough exercise earlier in the day. Perhaps lifestyle changes over the past year have impacted on our sleep habits; maybe we’re staying up late at night or sleeping long in the morning.  

Mindfulness helps us to step out of autopilot and notice our habits. This is the first step towards changing our habitual patterns. Once we become aware of these habits, we can gently begin to make small steps towards a winding down routine. See if, over time, you can develop the habit of going to bed and getting up at the same time every day. The arrival of Spring may help with this, as the birdsong starts early these mornings. Can you avoid taking your phone to bed? Aim to limit or avoid screen-time before bedtime. Ideally, turn off all screens at least an hour before bedtime. Why not try developing a relaxing pre-sleep ritual before you go to bed. This might include putting the phone away, turning off the TV or the laptop, reading a nice book, making a favourite hot drink, maybe reflecting on or journaling some of the things you are grateful for in the day.  

How else can mindfulness help with sleep? Research published a few years ago indicates that mindfulness meditation can help improve sleep. A study was conducted with two groups of middle-aged adults, whereby one group trained for six weeks in mindfulness skills and techniques and the other in a sleep specific training programme. On completion of the research project, findings suggested that those who trained in mindfulness skills, such as present moment awareness of thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations were sleeping better.

Research has also shown that mindfulness meditation can help with winding down before going to bed by practicing at least a ten-minute meditation ‘before’ bedtime, perhaps during the day or in the evening, to settle the mind and body. Other recommended meditation practices to help with sleep include the body scan or loving kindness.  

Finally, if you cannot get to sleep or wake during the night, instead of fighting with it or allowing thoughts to spiral out of control, we can use the time to simply rest. Mindful breathing techniques can also help here. Placing your hands on your tummy and simply feeling the breath moving in the body can help us tune in to the soothing rhythm of our breath. Gently bringing our focus away from our thoughts and thinking, and dropping our attention into the body and towards the breath can be a very soothing and grounding experience that can help ease us into a restful sleep.    

Online meditation sessions via Zoom continue on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 8pm, please do consider joining in, whether you have tried mindfulness meditation before or are new to it. These small group sessions are personal, down-to-earth, informal and donation based. Individual sessions are also available.

For more information on upcoming workshops and online courses please like my Facebook page (Mindhaven) or feel free to get in touch by phone: 087 2700572 or by email: susanoreganmindfulness@gmail.com 

Susan O Regan

Susan O'Regan teaches mindfulness and self-compassion courses and workshops in West Cork.

Next Post

In celebration of spring greens

Tue Mar 9 , 2021
In between storms and torrential rain the green things are struggling to come back, valiantly pushing ahead anytime there’s a ray of sunshine. Spinach, chard, rocket, nettles and wild garlic are all growing again. Most of our spinach and chard have weathered the winter outside. At one point, when it […]