What is Mindfulness?
In recent years, Mindfulness has become increasingly popular in the Western world. It is now being employed in Western psychology to alleviate a variety of mental and physical conditions, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, and in the prevention of relapse in depression and drug addiction. Inherited from the Buddhist tradition, the concept of Mindfulness can be traced as far back as the fifth century BC… but what is it exactly, and how can it help you overcome your insomnia?
Mindfulness is about noticing your thoughts, feelings, sensations and urges. The most important thing, however, is doing so in a non-judgemental manner. To understand why this is so important, try to think of the difference in the way you approach somebody else’s problems as opposed to your own. Have you noticed how easier it is to come up with helpful advice from an observer’s position, when you’re not as motivated by emotion? This is exactly what Mindfulness can do for you: create a sense of perspective on your own problems, helping you to notice yourself having unhelpful thoughts and emotions without getting hooked by them. In time, this will enable you to respond in the most helpful way to even the most stressful events.
Furthermore, Mindfulness can help you lead a more present, more insightful life, by connecting you to your surrounding environment and enabling you to more fully experience every moment.
Mindfulness for Insomnia
Here at the Sleep School, we are pioneering the use of Mindfulness and acceptance-based training with regards to insomnia, due to its effectiveness in relieving insomnia symptoms by reducing night-time worry. For chronic insomniacs, night-time worry is often associated with poor sleep: focussing on the poor quality of sleep in the past, imagining how bad things will be in the future if they don’t sleep, and trying to work out how to fix their insomnia. Unfortunately, this overthinking is literally what’s keeping them awake.
Regular mindfulness practice and its ability to help you gain a sense of perspective on your thoughts will teach you how to let your thoughts pass by, like clouds in the sky; observing them without letting them affect you in any way. If you notice your thoughts in this neutral manner, you will find that you are no longer battling with them, but rather accepting them for what they are.
At the Sleep School, we believe that acceptance of insomnia is the key to recovering from it. Unfortunately, sleep is one of those things you can’t control, and any efforts to do so will lead you further and further away from it. By choosing, instead, to accept your insomnia, paradoxically you’ll be entering a calmer, more relaxed state of being, from which sleep can naturally emerge.
If you’re thinking of exploring Mindfulness as a tool to help you with your insomnia, we can help you learn how to best use this tool to improve your sleep. You can subscribe to our online course, make a reservation for a private clinic session, or attend one of our workshops. For more information, click here.
In the meantime, here are some tips to get you started.
1. Learning to let go of thoughts and emotions, is the key to mindfulness practice. One of the biggest challenges faced by any newcomer to meditation is the idea that your mind should be blank and that it shouldn’t wander. If this is your aim, then you’ll soon become very frustrated or worse still give up! Mindfulness is all about cultivating an accepting attitude whereby you notice your thoughts and emotions arrive and let them pass. The sooner you can view a wandering mind or rising emotion as an opportunity to practise, rather than a failure, the sooner you’re training will flourish and the more benefits you’ll reap.
2. For Mindfulness to be effective, it is important to establish regular daily practice. In the beginning, remembering to actually do your practice can be one of the biggest challenges, and it can be helpful to set alarms on your phone, or simply write yourself reminder notes.
3. The best time to practice mindfulness is at set points during the daytime or evening. The simple logic behind this is that normal sleepers don’t practice mindfulness at night and neither should you. Keeping your formal practice to the daytime / evening, helps you to learn the skill in the most effective manner, rather than when faced with the pressure to sleep. Aim to only use mindfulness during the night for short moments at a time, as a way of helpfully responding to night time wakefulness and unhelpful thoughts and feelings in that moment.