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3 Intentional Mindfulness Exercises for Restful Sleep

By eM Life Instructor Ninette Hupp

Restful Slumber

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) sleep deprivation is a public health epidemic, self-reports showing that a third of adult Americans get less than the recommended seven to nine hours a night. Their research shows a host of restful sleep challenges are “linked with many chronic diseases and conditions such as: type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and depression”. With estimates of up to 6,000 fatal crashes each year likely caused by drowsy drivers, not to mention the number of other accidents and injuries, the wake-up call is loud and clear. Yikes!

We try so hard to fall asleep — so why doesn’t it work?! Seems like the more effort we put into making ourselves go to sleep the more awake we become.

So what options are there? Let’s explore mindfully allowing the process to happen on its own.

Ever notice how babies fall asleep? There is a point when their bodies just turn off the lights. Ta da! The body knows intuitively that sleep is essential. By mindfully listening to what the body communicates to us, we begin to allow it to guide the sleeping and waking process on its own — without us having to figure it out.

Unfortunately, over time life creates habit patterns that for various reasons — binge-watching, work schedules, our family’s sleep schedule — conflict with our body’s natural rhythm. On top of that, life delivers conditions and experiences that can make restful sleep feel impossible.

Restful sleepBy mindfully paying attention to the body and mind, we can re-discover our natural relationship with sleep. Mindfulness reminds us that we are human beings who benefit from pausing. Sleep is the most significant pause we take each day from the go-go-go, do-do-do, think-think-think pattern of daily life. It’s releasing the burden of unresolved challenges in conscious awareness for several hours by letting go of control and need for immediate action to rest, recharge and refresh.

So, what are some mindful practices to renew our trust in and appreciation for the body’s innate wisdom allowing sleep to occur?

Intentional Exercises for Restful Slumber

1. Intentionally Paying Attention to the Breath

One way to do this is by allowing your attention to rest on the belly, noticing the belly rise and fall with each inhale and exhale. A great reminder that our bodies are designed to breathe naturally without the “thinking mind”, right?

Another approach is to slowly accept the inhale through the nose, deliberately pausing for a moment and then slowly releasing the breath out of the mouth maybe even with an audible “ahhh”. This regulates the pace of the nervous system and provides an opportunity to mindfully experience the feeling of letting go of what is no longer serving the body.

2. Intentionally Paying Attention to the Mind

The mind loves being in busy-ness and problem-solving mode. But we have the ability to redirect its focus and even slow it down. One direction might be to acknowledge what went well during the day. If it happens to be the result of something we did, said or didn’t do or say, spending some time noticing it. This increases their prominence and space in the mind, reducing the space available for the “shoulds”, “ought-tos” and other judgmental thoughts.

Sharing gratitude is another possibility. Narrowing our attention to what we appreciate — the beautiful sky, an adorable animal, someone allowing you to merge into a lane — and purposefully dwelling on them. Gently reminding ourselves that what we pay attention to makes a difference.

Self-compassion practice is a way to provide well wishes for ourselves at the end of the day or any time. We often hope for someone else to provide kindness and encouragement to us when we need it. The good news is that we can be the most consistent provider of the sentiments that feel the most valuable to us in the moment — appreciation, acceptance, confidence, care, patience … you name it.

3. Intentionally Paying Attention to the Body

The body scan is observing and listening to what our bodily sensations are communicating in the moment. There are a variety of ways to facilitate this practice. One is to notice areas of tension and tightness in the body and give an invitation to these areas to release the grip of the holding, maybe saying in a gentle way “releasing” or “loosening”.

Another practice is firmly tightening body parts, one at a time, and then releasing them, one at a time. Purposefully creating stress in the body and then systematically releasing it provides a vivid reminder for us. Our bodies have the power to ride the waves of increased pressure and resiliently come back into balance, again and again. How amazing is that?!

For Rest - the body scan

Mindful Rest Takes Practice

Learning how to take a pause and focus your attention on the here and now, strengthening the mind/body connection takes practice. With eM Life you have access to guided meditation sessions, on-demand content and the support of expert instructors. Harness the power of the present to build healthy sleep habits. Log on to eM Life today and begin to experience the many benefits of mindfulness and how meditation can lead to a restful nights sleep.

About the author

Ninette (LSW, LMSW), has served as mindfulness teacher with eMindful for four years. With years of training in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) and other mind/body interventions for high-stress environments, nervous system regulation and behavioral development she brings a passion for making a difference and a playful, compassionate spirit to her work. Over the past eight years, both online and in-person, she has shared stress management tools and mindfulness-based interventions in a variety of roles and contexts — corporations, healthcare, academia, retreats, group and individual work.

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Also published on Medium.