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Mindful : October 2017
Lots of research tells us what the best habits are around sleep, but if we are trying too hard day and night, rest may not come easily. Struggling in the Dark Are you getting enough sleep? If you’re like many of us, your answer is no. All day it’s go, go, go, then at night, when we mean to shut down, it’s not so easy. Eventually, the para- dox of sleep worry kicks in: Thinking about sleep gets in the way of sleep. And not getting the rest we crave can be quite painful and can exacerbate other health problems. As with pretty much anything health-related, we may know better, but we don’t stick to what we’d tell our best friend: Keep to a regular bedtime and a consistent routine, and avoid whatever disrupts sleep, like caffeine, alcohol, and screens. Not that complicated, but what’s often hardest is what’s frustratingly out of our full control. Even following solid advice, sometimes we suffer through Mark Bertin, MD, is a developmental pediatrician and author of Mindful Parenting for ADHD. Objectively consider your pre-bedtime routine—any- thing to change? A consistent bed- time, a quiet room, and a focus on settling down go a long way toward better sleep. Isittimetoseea doctor? It may be unsettling visiting a doctor to find out if you have a sleep disorder, but it’s a good idea. For example, any amount of chronic snoring can disrupt sleep. Aging affects sleep too, which may be worth discussing with your physician. Are there rou- tines other than bedtime that may help you settle? Notice your habits with screens, alcohol, or caf- feine. How do you manage stress? How consistently do you exercise? Remember to have self-compassion: Don’t judge your- self for your habits, but take firm action when ready. Listen to a 5-step mindfulness practice for how to wind down and fall asleep at mindful.org/ sleepmeditation Are you pushing yourself too hard and taking that into bed? Consider practic- ing non-striving while in bed. By not trying to sleep, sleep quite often arrives. Focus on the breath or the body. Notice the thoughts swirling: It’s happening again; if I don’t fall asleep soon I’ll be so tired tomorrow. Notice it all, and breathe. Maybe there’s nothing at all to do tonight except that, and to gently let go of thinking about (the) rest. Neither sleep routines nor mind- fulness practice responds well to a heavy hand. If you set out to force yourself into sleep, you’re less likely to sleep. If you strain for some picture-perfect mindset when meditating, you’ll create more stress and uncertainty. If you set yourself up with clear-sighted planning and patient resolve— intentionally but unforced—sleep and mindfulness are both more to likely follow. ● rotten nights, feeling anxious or struggling to settle ourselves. We have nothing but empathy for a friend with insomnia, yet as we lie awake in the dark we may not give ourselves the same degree of care. A good place to start, then, might be an adapted version of Kristin Neff ’s self-compassion practice: Breathing in, say to yourself, My trouble falling asleep is a moment of suffering. Breath- ing out, All people have moments of suf- fering. And then, This is how things are right now. May I find peace and ease and a night’s rest. Since staying awake while we’re meditating is often a big challenge, it’s no surprise that mindfulness has been shown to promote healthy sleep. It’s not all that exciting to sit quietly and breathe. It can be downright calming. But that’s not the whole story. Mindful- ness practice encourages nonjudgmen- tal awareness—seeing things exactly as they are, with openness and curiosity. If we accept the basic facts outlined above about what tends to lead to healthy sleep, and it contradicts how we live, it might be time to patiently explore what stands between us and change. With sleep, as with meditation practice, intentions are easier said than done. Here’s a little reflection and inventory list that may help. 26 mindful October 2017 Illustration by Karin Söderquist LIVING | the mindful md