“If you want to understand someone’s sleep, ask them about their day.”
Long ago, I heard a sleep specialist say these words and the longer I teach and practice mindful leadership, the more I experience them as true. The quality and duration of our sleep is a direct result of the choices we make each day. We are a society with an epidemic of poor sleep. And with all the uncertainties and changes in our lives, it is not surprising. But sleeplessness or poor quality sleep was an epidemic even before today’s many challenges. Just look at the vast array of sleep aids available in the market. How many have you tried? But the best, most rejuvenating sleep does not come from a bottle. It comes from allowing the body to naturally ease into sleep, and then to allow ourselves to sleep undisturbed until we are well-rested.
Does that sound like an impossible task? Well, it is actually quite simple if you are willing to be patient and consistent. If you follow these mindfulness steps, you might soon find that you have learned the secret to sleeping more regularly and more deeply. Sweet dreams may be right around the corner!
Step 1 Unplug at least one hour before bedtime
The blue light of most technology stimulates the brain which is the last thing you want to do before bed. You need to turn off the technology to signal to your mind that it is time to rest. As importantly, the information in emails and social media can often trigger our minds into a loop of worries, judgments and planning. Choose to turn off technology at least an hour before bedtime and then see if you can let your mind unwind with some recreational reading, a hot bath, soft music or a chat with a good friend.
Step 2 Keep technology out of your bedroom
Once you disconnect from technology an hour before bedtime, be sure not to bring it to your bedroom. When you have your phone or laptop a few inches from your head at night, a part of your brain can stay ‘on alert’ waiting for the next notification. Give yourself (mind and body) some space to fully disconnect and settle into bed.
Step 3 Get to know your breath
As you settle into bed, see if you can begin to notice the sensations of your breathing. Just feel the stretch of your muscles as the breath enters, and then feel the softening of your muscles as the breath leaves. There is no need to control or alter your breath. Just pay attention to each breath until you fall asleep. If your mind starts to wander, gently bring it back to the breath’s sensations. This is a time to rest and rejuvenate, not plan for tomorrow’s challenges. You cannot be at your best if you are exhausted.
If you are someone who awakens at 3am, bring your attention back to your breath sensations. Each time your mind is pulled away (e.g. by worries or planning), redirect your attention back to the breath. Stay with this mindfulness practice until you fall asleep again. Be patient and consistent with the redirection. Over time, you are retraining your mind and body to sleep more consistently and more deeply.
I teach this practice on my mindful leadership 4 night retreats and by the end of the retreat, most people have begun to see marked changes in their sleep habits. Give these steps a try for a few days and see what you notice.