We’ve all experienced stress in our lives. And while there are ways to combat its effects, sometimes it still wreaks havoc on our lives, particularly on our sleep health. Once we start losing sleep, we feel more stressed because we’re tired and unable to concentrate the next day. And this leads to more loss of sleep, and more stress, until it feels like you’re trapped in a vicious cycle. The good news is there’s a way out of the cycle. In this article, we’ll focus on how to overcome stress using mindfulness and meditation tactics, so your sleep is less affected by daily life stresses.
Your Sleep and Your Mind
Can’t sleep? While it’s no surprise stress interrupts healthy sleeping patterns, it’s important to discuss just how much of an impact it can have at night. The American Psychology Association conducted a survey of healthy Americans feeling sleep deprived due to stress. The findings included:
- More than half reported feeling sluggish or lazy
- 38 % reported feeling irritable
- 29 % reported having trouble concentrating
- 25 % reported feeling no motivation to take care of responsibilities.
If the problem of stress-induced sleep disruption continues unchecked, sufferers can expect a boosted risk for issues like lowered immune function, upset stomach, high blood pressure, mood swings, and even dental issues to bruxism (clenching and grinding the teeth).
To tackle these problems, we must first look to the mind. How do we self-soothe, eliminate stress, and get to a better mental place? We’ll start by looking at mindfulness and meditation.
What is Mindfulness and Meditation?
According to a report from Harvard University’s Medical School, mindfulness is really a heightened awareness and meant to help individuals focus on “moment-by-moment experiences, thoughts, and emotion.” In other words, it’s about being present and keeping your thoughts focused on a single focal point. When paired with meditation exercises, particularly before bedtime, it can create a sense of calm and relaxation that few other activities offer. “Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future. It helps you break the train of your everyday thoughts to evoke the relaxation response.”
The immediate benefit of mindfulness meditation is that you have the complete and opposite experience of the stress response. It is a “physiological shift” in the body and triggers brain chemicals associated with sleep to be created, overriding the stress hormones our brains might be pumping out instead. We’ll now explore how to achieve mindfulness meditation so you can adopt this way of relaxing into your own evening schedule.
Simple Mindfulness Technique
- Take a comfortable position either sitting or lying down.
- Choose a “focus.” This can be a word (relax, breathe, calm, peace, etc.), a sound (ohm is the most popular choice), a short prayer or relaxing poem, or a mantra such as “breathe in calmness, exhale tension.” Repeat the focus on both the inhale and exhale.
- Begin by breathing in through the nose and exhaling through the mouth. Focus on proper breathing and the focus of your choice.
- Let everything else go. If you notice you are thinking about anything other than the focus, restore yourself with a selected phrase such as “refocus” or “think.” And shift back into the mindfulness.
Do this for 20 minutes each day, and you’ll soon be able to shift gears and enjoy healthy, restorative sleep again.
How to know if mindfulness techniques are helping your sleep?
Check out the free SleepScore App to learn about the quantity and quality of your sleep each night. Track your stress levels and see how days of high stress and low stress impact your sleep. Then, continue to make positive lifestyle changes to keep improving your nightly sleep. It all starts with measuring your sleep!