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Mindful : October 2019
aware of your thoughts and to be able to let go of those anxieties in- stead of getting stuck on them, says Harris. “Strengthening your ‘mind muscle’ through daily practice helps you better recognize the negative insomnia-inducing thoughts and let them pass.” MIND SOOTHER Not only does it prepare your mind for drifting off to sleep, mindfulness meditation can also significantly improve sleep quality, says Heather L. Rusch, PhD candidate and re- search fellow at the National Insti- tute of Nursing Research, National Institutes of Health. She reviewed 20 studies that evaluated the effect of mindfulness meditation on sleep quality and published her findings in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences in 2018. Mindfulness, Rusch learned, beat standard insomnia treatments, such as suggestions for improving sleep hy- giene (eschewing TV and other screens before bedtime is a prime one). And the benefit continued “both immedi- ately after treatment as well as 5 to 12 months later,” she says. However, because mindfulness is a relatively new concept in insomnia research, we don’t yet know how long you need to practice before achieving better sleep. “We simply don’t have that information yet,” says Harris. “What is key is that you practice mindfulness long enough to become aware of the thought processes you have that may get in the way of your sleeping,” says Harris. “Your daily rou- tine practice can be short or long—it really varies! What’s important is the ability to be aware of your thoughts.” → early, or wake feeling unrefreshed even when we’ve had plenty of time and opportunity to rest. QUALITY OVER QUANTITY What does a night of sleeping really well look like? According to the Na- tional Sleep Foundation, people who experience quality sleep spend at least 85% of their total time in bed asleep, are asleep within 30 minutes of going to bed, only wake once per night, and remain awake for less than 20 minutes before falling back to sleep. The National Sleep Foundation notes that most adults from age 18 to 64 can aim for seven to nine hours of shut-eye each night, with adults over 64 needing slightly less. For teenagers age 14 to 17, getting eight to ten hours is recommended. However, the qual- ity of sleep may be more important than the quantity, say experts. Deep, uninterrupted sleep is restorative to the whole body: It’s when our brains process what we’ve learned during the day, storing information and memo- ries. Sleep also lowers your pulse and blood pressure, letting the heart and blood vessels rest. Our mental health, immunity, hormonal balance, and me- tabolism all rely on getting sufficient, high-quality sleep. If you don’t meet those ideal sleep targets and tend to wake up under- rested, mindfulness could help you. “Mindfulness can quiet the brain and allows for deeper sleep,” says Shelby Harris, PhD, a clinical sleep psycholo- gist in private practice in Westchester, NY. One of the biggest problems her clients share is dreading the night as it comes and growing anxious about try- ing to make themselves get sleepy. They worry, she says, that they “won’t be able to do X, Y, Z the next day” if they don’t sleep. “That thought process makes you stressed, worrying—often unnecessar- ily—about the next day’s effects. That cycle worsens sleep,” says Harris. Mindfulness can set the stage for sleep by allowing you to be more “STRENGTHENING YOUR ‘MIND MUS- CLE’ THROUGH DAILY PRACTICE HELPS YOU BETTER RECOG- NIZE THE NEGATIVE INSOMNIA-INDUCING THOUGHTS AND LET THEM PASS.” SHELBY HARRIS, PHD, CLINICAL SLEEP PSYCHOLOGIST 24 mindful October 2019 mindful health