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Mindful : December 2015
Here are a few mindfulness principles that you can explore, and recall, if you need help getting to sleep or falling back asleep. Sleep Reminders By Jason Ong These researchers were talking days, not years, and I’d been taking the stuff for the better part of 30 years—that’s 10,000 days, give or take. I completely freaked out. What’s more, the risks are just as great for the newer generation of Z-drugs (zolpidem, eszopiclone, zaleplon—i.e., A mbien, Lunesta, and Sonata), as for older benzos like Halcion, Dalmane, and Restoril—and Xanax. In fact, researchers at three universities, including Harvard Medi- cal School, have shown that about half the effectiveness of the Z-drugs is due to a placebo response, making their clinical use highly questionable. And, I learned from watching UC Berkeley’s Matt Walker in a YouTube video called “The Mysteries of Sleep,” the sort of shuteye you get from taking hypnotics is really sedation, not true sleep—and lacks the essential benefits to the body and brain that occur during natural sleep cycles. Obviously, I needed a new story— fast. But I knew it wouldn’t be easy. “Often, when people try to go off these meds, they worry that their bodies won’t be able to sleep on their own and they won’t get as much rest as they need,” said James Letten- berger, a Washington, DC psycho- pharmacologist whom I consulted when I lived there. “It can definitely be done, but to be successful people need both a strong desire to stop tak- ing the medication, and the belief that they can,” he told me over the phone. I had the desire, but would I be able to change my belief system—my story—something I’d been unable to accomplish in the past? Sick joke: Which is worse, the dementia you get from taking sleep- ing pills or the dementia you get from sleep deprivation? At the same time I got wind of the bad news about sleeping pills and decided to taper off the Xanax, I came down with a nasty cold, which turned out to be a stroke of luck. I felt so rot- Beginner’s mind Remember: Each night is a new night. Be open and try something different! What you have been doing to this point is probably not working well. Non-striving Sleep is a process that cannot be forced but instead, should be allowed to unfold. Putting more effort into sleeping longer or better is counter- productive. Letting go Attachment to sleep or your ideal sleep needs usually leads to worry about the con- sequences of sleeplessness. This is counterproductive and inconsistent with the natural process of letting go of the day to allow sleep to come. Non-judging It is easy to automatically judge the state of being awake as negative and aver- sive, especially if you do not sleep well for several nights. However, this negative energy can interfere with the process of sleep. One’s relationship to sleep can be a fruitful subject of meditation. Acceptance Recognizing and accept- ing your current state is an important first step in choos- ing how to respond. If you can accept that you are not in a state of sleepiness and sleep is not likely to come soon, why not get out of bed? Many people who have trouble sleeping avoid getting out of bed. Unfortunately, spending long periods of time awake in bed might condition you to being awake in bed. Trust Trust your sleep system and let it work for you! Trust that your mind and body can self regulate and self correct for sleep loss. Knowing that short consolidated sleep often feels more satisfying than longer fragmented sleep can help you develop trust in your sleep system. Also, sleep debt can promote good sleep as long as it is not associated with increased effor t to sleep. Patience Be patient! It’s unlikely that both the quality and quantity of your sleep will be optimal right away. Jason Ong, Ph.D., is a psychologist at Rush University Medical Center who works with Mindfulness-Based Therapy for Insomnia. PHOTOGRAPH©PICSFIVE/DOLLARPHOTOCLUB