In an article for Psychology Today (1), mindfulness-based psychotherapist Peter Strong, Ph.D., reports that for many people who suffer from acute insomnia – the cause is simply stress.
This stress takes the form of a racing mind that keeps a person in a state of hyper-arousal. Think of it as a switch inside your head. When you lay down at night, your mind should be able to turn off all the internal noise so that it can relax, reduce brain waves and give itself time to regenerate.
However, if overload causes that switch to get stuck in the “on” position, your mind remains in an alert state – too alert to fall asleep.
Mindfulness turns out to be a great cure for this kind of insomnia. In an article on mindfulness research published by Greg Flaxman and Lisa Flook, Ph.D., of the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA (2), they state that mindfulness improves regulation of stress and increases a sense of calm that results in a better ability to sleep.
A controlled clinical trial conducted by the University of Minnesota Academic Health Center (2) revealed some interesting results. People suffering from chronic insomnia who underwent a mindfulness-based stress reduction program had results equivalent to another group who used pharmaceutical sleep aids.
All participants fell asleep more quickly, slept longer and better. A portion of those taking pharmaceuticals throughout the study reported side effects, but the group trained in mindfulness did not.
“This study provides initial evidence of the efficacy of mindfulness training as a treatment for chronic insomnia,” writes Cynthia Gross, Ph.D., College of Pharmacy and School of Nursing.
“Given the absence of side effects and the positive potential benefits of mindfulness that extend beyond sleep, we encourage people with chronic insomnia, particularly those unable or unwilling to use sleep medications, to consider mindfulness training (3)”
With a little practice, those suffering from insomnia due to stress overload will likely find marked improvement not only in their insomnia but also in their overall ability handle stress in daily life. Below is a method you can use to practice mindfulness meditation.
As with any new skill, in depth training will likely reap greater results, so you may want to consider a mindfulness training course or retreat.
In saying that, this simple method, practiced regularly will surely show marked improvement in insomnia and overall wellbeing.
How To Practice Mindfulness For Insomnia
1. Find a fairly quiet peaceful place where you can sit undisturbed for 10 to 20 minutes. If possible dim the lights, sit down and take some time to be still. Allow yourself to settle, mentally and physically.
2. Take your time to make yourself as comfortable as possible in an upright seated position. You can use any cushions, stools or other props to ensure total comfort. It’s important to keep the spine erect.
If you’re in a chair or couch, aim not to slouch but to keep the spine straight. You may want to sit slightly forward so that your back is not in contact with the chair back. When your comfortable close your eyes.
3. If your feeling agitated, tense or stressed – take a moment to tune into your body and notice any parts that may be tense (eg. shoulders, face, jaw, chest). Take 3 deep breaths and with each exhalation have a sense of letting the tension melt out of those body parts.
4. Next, take the whole focus of your attention to the tip of the nostrils. Note the sensations of breath entering and leaving the body. You may note a slightly cool sensation as you inhale and a warmer sensation upon exhalation.
Allow the sensation to completely absorb your attention. Stay with this for 5 minutes or more.
5. Next, follow the flow of the breath as it moves through the nostrils, down the throat and into the lungs (inhalation). Then back out the lungs through the throat and out the nostrils (exhalation). Allow the mind to follow the passage of the breath as it enters and leaves your body.
6. Know that thoughts may drift through your mind. That’s perfectly normal. There is no need to resist them or try to push them away. No need to be concerned with the nature of any particular thought.
Take the attitude of an impartial observer to any thoughts that may arise. Aim to remain focused on your breathing. Thoughts may, at times, distract you from your practice. If this happens simply, gently, bring your focus back to your breath.
7. Continue your meditation for as long as you wish
8. When you’re ready to complete the practice Take 3 deep abdominal breaths, then feel the weight of your body against the chair, recall the room your sitting in and the time of day.
Begin to move and stretch your body and open the eyes. Feel free to sit peacefully and readjust to your surroundings before going about your day.
If your suffering from insomnia, research shows that you will likely benefit greatly from a regular mindfulness practice like this one. A little bit each day (even if its only 10 minutes) is better than one longer session a week.
A good habit is to practice upon rising in the morning and/or just before retiring in the evening to start and end your day with calm and clarity. Another option is to practice in your lunch break at work.
You’ll find that with regular practice, you’ll be able to rest easy.
Please let me know how you go! If you have any questions or comments please jot them below in the comments section. I’m happy to help out : )
Wishing you well,