Insomnia plagues many people and yet there are so few options for a good night's rest that actually work. You'd think in the day and age where a smartphone that can video call anywhere in the world, handle your agenda, reserve tickets at the theater and monitor your nanny in real-time there would be more advances in how to beat insomnia! Isn't there an app for that?
Good thing mindfulness for insomnia is making its way into mainstream therapy! There might be a remedy after all. One that is free, easy to employ and can be done by virtually anyone, anywhere. Wondering if you really have insomnia? Let's look at the clinical definition.
What is Insomnia?
According to National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) the diagnostic criteria for Insomnia is: 1) difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep or nonrestorative sleep, 2) the difficulty is present despite adequate opportunity or circumstance, 3) the impairment in sleep is associated with daytime impairment or distress, and 4) the sleep difficulty occurs at least 3 times a week and has been a problem for at least 1 month.
Basically, there are a few situations. Maybe you are having problems falling asleep. Maybe your biggest problem isn't in falling asleep but in actually staying asleep. Having your sleep interrupted can cripple you the next day. Or perhaps you are sleeping, but it's not good quality sleep so your body can't repair rest and be ready for tomorrow.
Dogs barking in the middle of the night and waking you up isn't really insomnia. Likewise, getting up to take care of the baby multiple times a night doesn't qualify as insomnia either. Here's another tricky one: Drinking a pot of coffee all throughout the day and then having trouble falling asleep isn't considered insomnia either.
But what you can say is even after these anomalies in life have run their course and you are back to a normal routine, if your sleep pattern is still disturbed, you've definitely got yourself a case of insomnia.
Throughout life there will always be things that hinder our normal routines, right? We have stress flying in from all directions at times. Or maybe the insomnia starts from a health-related issue, perhaps a chronic pain situation causing sleepless nights.
Anxiety and depression are also well-known culprits depriving one of sleep. The causes are limitless. But the remedy could actually be pretty simple, by learning to use mindfulness for insomnia.
Mindfulness is simply a technique for creating an environment where we are present in the moment, accept what's happening, and know it will pass. But it's really so much more! We are able to control our focus better when using mindfulness techniques.
So, instead of your mind wandering and chasing all the stressors and anxiety of the days to come, you can shift your thoughts to a focal point, relax and breathe your way right into a deep, restorative sleep.
Mindfulness Exercise to Help With Insomnia
This mindfulness for insomnia breathing exercise is simple and should be carried out for at least 20 minutes, unless you manage to doze off before then.
Pick a focal point. You should choose something calming to focus on and it doesn't have to be complicated. Some like to focus on breathing alone. Others choose a word or phrase, like a mantra. "Relax" and "Soothing" are good words and "Calming breath in, tension breath out" is an easy phrase.
You can say these aloud or even to yourself, but keep them on repeat as you breathe in and breathe out, evenly and rhythmically. This is a simple form of meditation.
Get comfy cozy. The idea here is to relax right? You need to be so comfortable you won't have any excuses why this didn't work for you. If it's time for you to go to bed, do your mindfulness exercises there, in your bed. Get everything set as if you were going to bed. Lights down low or completely off and put all your devices out of reach, including the TV remote.
Don't trip, potato chip. How you are doing is less important than what you are doing. Don't think too much about the rules or recommendations. Don't fret about the irrelevant; concentrate solely on your breathing. If you feel your mind spinning off into the ways of the world, gently pull it back in and redirect your focus on breathing, on your focal point. The more you practice this technique the less your thoughts will be invaded.
Let go. If you feel stressors creeping up or a certain area of your body is tense, visualize the tension leaving, little by little, with every exhalation. Give yourself permission to be present in the moment, without judgement, and control your thoughts. Allow the focal point to be the center of your attention throughout the exercise. Most importantly, don't be discouraged if you do slip. It's natural and habitual. Don't beat yourself up about it, just get back on track and keep breathing, and focusing on the very act of breathing.
If you're trying to do this as you're reading, you probably noticed your heart rate slowing and your eyelids getting heavy. It's just that easy! Mindfulness for insomnia isn't always an instant solution and may take a little practice, but in time your sleep hygiene will improve, thus improving your daytime hours. Give it a whirl and see what you think. You've really got nothing to lose and so much to gain.