How To Face Worry Head On and Get a Good Night's Sleep
f you regularly have trouble sleeping, you have probably tried almost everything to get some shut eye.
You know the facts and figures: You know most people need a minimum of seven to eight hours of sleep a night, and that a good night’s sleep is the foundation for a successful day.
You may have an eye pillow and earplugs so you can sleep in full darkness and quiet. Maybe you have stopped using your phone as an alarm clock, or you have started to read before bed instead of checking your emails.
Yet in spite of your best efforts, these strategies are not working. And you are still tired.
Many of us have experienced this. Those of us who experience occasional or frequent insomnia are definitely not alone. A recent study concluded that more than half of Americans say they need at least eight hours of sleep to feel their best — but nearly three quarters say they never get that much.
At a certain point, I think most of us realize there is something stopping us from getting shut eye —– and it can’t be solved by buying another eye pillow.
For many of us, the real obstacle to getting a good night’s sleep is worry.
The Antidote to Worry-Induced Insomnia
After my son was sleeping through the night, I was still having major difficulty sleeping. I would often wake up around 1a.m. and not be able to get back to sleep for hours.
Changing some simple habits during the day and evening was helpful. For example, I started trying to unwind before bed with a good book.
Yet as much as these small habits were helpful, they just did not do the trick. I realized that the root of my insomnia was worry.
Luckily, I found an antidote for this anxiety in my mindfulness practice. Mindfulness has shown to be effective in helping to improve sleep, including reducing symptoms of insomnia and other sleep disturbances.
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’s a very effective strategy when anxiety is coming between you and a good night’s sleep.
How to Use Mindfulness for Better Sleep
To calm an anxious and worrying mind takes patience, and it’s helpful to have a practice to rely on when the going gets tough.
I use a simple mindfulness practice during stressful times to get the sleep I need. I have been using this practice for years, and it’s good to see that research has found it is useful for so many others.
I like how Dr. Ronald Siegel, an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, describes the mindfulness practice for sleep in three simple steps.
Try this practice to face worry head on:
1) Acknowledge that it’s worry that is keeping you up at night. This is normal and we all face it.
2) Choose a calming focus. Good examples are your breath, a sound (“Om”), a positive word (such as “relax” or “peace”), or a phrase (“breathing in calm, breathing out tension”; “I am relaxed”). If you choose a sound, repeat it silently as you inhale or exhale.
3) Let go and relax. Don’t worry about how you’re doing. When you notice your mind has wandered, simply take a deep breath or say to yourself “thinking, thinking” and gently return your attention to your chosen focus.
As with anything, this will take practice. Be patient. The more anxious you get about getting enough sleep, the more difficult it will be to actually get any. The more you focus on remaining calm in the present moment, the easier it will be to doze off into sleep.