If you find yourself chasing after crazed sheep instead of counting them into a deep slumber, with one eye on the clock, stressing over how much sleep you're not getting tonight as your alarm clock nears detonation hour, insomnia has set in. You went to bed, hoping for a sound sleep, but your brain just never shut down-occupied with everything from fears, worries and mundane issues-it kept you up despite your best efforts.
What's the Trick to Get Your Brain to Quiet Down?
Mindfulness - being present in the moment, in the darkness of the night, focusing on breathing, relaxing every muscle and inviting sleep to overtake your thoughts. When we allow ourselves to be undistracted from the present moment-the mind calms and focuses only on the present task at hand - which right now is sleep.
In fact, this technique is so effective in managing insomnia that many clinical treatments incorporate mindful meditation - a relaxed state of focusing on breathing and the present state, often while repeating a relaxed mantra. When we are mindful, aware and focused only of the present, relaxation is easier to achieve and we dismiss thoughts from the past or worries of the future-anything that takes us out of right now.
Building on Habits of Mindfulness
It is not likely that you will immediately be mindful at all times-it usually begins with a practice on achieving mindfulness a few seconds at a time, and then a few minutes, hours, moments, etc. It's important to just begin the practice and allow it to get easier and more natural until a mindful habit forms that you can call upon through meditation or even at will. Regarding sleep, mindfulness quiets the busy mind to help us achieve relaxation and sleep. With regular practice, sleep will often come more naturally.
Simple Tasks can be Mindfulness Exercises
If you're getting a massage, focus on your breath, muscle relaxation and the sensations you are experiencing-the smells, the texture of the sheets, the feelings of the massage itself. If your mind wanders to think about anything outside of the massage experience - you need to finish that report, go grocery shopping, arrange for a baby sitter - take note and dismiss the thought by refocusing on your breath and the moment. Practicing mindfulness throughout the day reinforces the habit making it easier to use the technique at night when you need it to sleep.
Another way to practice mindfulness is by practicing mindful eating. Instead of eating at our desks, while texting or talking on the phone or in front of the TV or many other distractions that can occupy us as we eat, try eliminating these distractions and focusing on being mindful when we eat. This not only helps reinforce the habit of being mindful in general but it can also contribute to healthy weight management and improved nutrition and food choices. When we are distracted, we often don't make the best choices, and this includes choices about our food and nutrition, how much we are eating and whether we feel full or still feel hungry while eating.
To eat mindfully, sit down at a table in front of your food, and eliminate as many distractions as possible such as electronics: phones, tablets, televisions, etc. Think about what your food looks like such as colors, shapes, textures and how does it smell; what flavors do you taste as you eat? If someone is with you as you eat, encourage them to be in the moment as well. Mindfulness can be practiced nearly any time, and the more practice you get, the easier it will be for you to call upon the power of this practice when you most need it, such as sleeping after a rather stressful day.
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