It’s 4:00 am. The only sounds you hear are the hum of the air conditioner and the slow, even breathing of the other inhabitants of your house, all of them asleep except you. You laid down for bed hours ago, but your brain interpreted, “time for bed,” as, “time to think in detail about everything you have to do from now until Tuesday.” If we can’t clear our heads before bed, we find ourselves lying awake for hours, or sleeping fitfully, waking every hour with thoughts of, “need to do,” or, “should have done.”
Mindfulness meditation, the practice of using focus and concentration to bring our thoughts to here and now can help your brain calm down for sleep. Meditation can strengthen our immune systems and help our brains rewire to cope better with stress, which makes it easier to put away tomorrow’s to-do list or yesterday’s worries. This can help us fall asleep faster and sleep soundly throughout the night. Take fifteen minutes of your before bedtime routine to give mindfulness meditation a try. Here are three mindfulness meditation techniques to help you get a hold of your racing thoughts:
1. Object Study
If being able to touch and physically interact with your focus subject appeals to you, object study may be your method of choice. Choose any ordinary object on hand, a paperweight, a knick knack, a pencil, etc. Hold it in your hands, turn it over, run your fingers over the edges. Notice where the texture changes. Is it bumpy or smooth? How does the weight feel in your hand? Is the color even throughout or does it change? Notice things without judging. If you find yourself having a thought like, “I’ve always loved this pencil,” or, “this cup is a strange color,” push the thought away and refocus. Putting all your attention into noticing the details of an object without characterizing them as good or bad helps retune your mind to the present.
2. Body Check-In
Sit or lie down in a comfortable position. Focus first on your breathing, taking steady, even breaths as you relax. Then slowly shift your concentration to your body, starting with your left toes and working your way up your foot, to your ankle, then progressing up your leg until you reach your hip. Start at the toes of your right foot and repeat the process. Move up your torso until you reach your arms. Go down your left and then your right arm before progressing up your neck and through your face and head. As you work your way up your body, pay attention to how each part feels. Are you hot or cold? Is there tension or soreness there? If so, pause and focus on relaxing that area with your next exhale.
3. Notice your breath
This technique is probably what most people envision when they think of meditation. Begin this exercise by sitting in a comfortable upright position. Focus at first on your body, how you’re holding yourself, where you’re holding tension, what you’re touching. Take a few breaths to relax before turning your attention to your breathing. Don’t try to breathe in a particular way, let your breath come naturally. Notice where you feel your breath. Is it your nose? Your throat or chest? Pay attention to how the sensations of inhaling and exhaling differ, and where they overlap. Focusing on your breathing, something you do thoughtlessly every day, puts your mind back in touch with your body helping you relax and come to the present.
Whichever meditation technique you choose, don’t scold yourself if your mind begins to wander. Instead, note your shift in attention before redirecting your thoughts back to the subject. Be patient with yourself as you make meditation part of your bedtime routine. At the end of each session, note how your mind and body feel as you finish up. If you find yourself ready for sleep right after meditating, move your meditation session to the end of your routine so you can head straight to bed afterward.
If meditation clears your mind, but you still find yourself waking in the night unable to fall back asleep, or waking up unrefreshed in the morning, these are signs of a potential sleep disorder. Untreated sleep disorders can raise the risk for serious long-term health problems including depression, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s. Sleep disorders can also make your daily routine difficult and even dangerous for activities like driving. Unlike the trouble of a busy mind at bedtime, sleep disorders can only be remedied by professional diagnosis and treatment. Don’t let sleep evade you, schedule an appointment with Dr. Pasha today.