Does this look familiar? Even now with mindfulness practice and CBT, I still struggle occasionally with getting a good night’s sleep. For me, falling asleep is generally quite easy, but I know for many this is a problem. I tend to wake up at 3am and allow my thoughts to run away with me which really causes problems.
So how can we stay mindful in the dead of night, when there is very little to focus our attention on?
Throughout therapy, I’ve been working on some techniques to help alleviate this problem. The first I identified was that lying in bed and worrying had become a habit. If I woke up in the night, it was normal for me to start worrying about something. In fact, one night I noted that I’d said to myself “I’m not worrying about anything – there must be something I can worry about…” Habits are hard to break, so the easiest thing for me to do to start with was to remove myself from the bed and bedroom completely, as soon as the unhelpful thinking habits started.
Luckily we have a huge comfy sofa, so when this happens I can take myself into the living room and cozy up on there. Even the walk through to the other room takes my mind out of that negative space. Sometimes I make a cup of (caffeine-free) tea, or I read a book, or I watch TV. I always put the lamp on, which creates a sense of being back in the land of the living instead of in a dark and lonely nighttime. I always fall back to sleep on the sofa. It doesn’t happen straight away, but I don’t clock watch or worry about not getting enough sleep. I distract my attention with something on TV and suddenly the alarm is going off and it’s morning.
Another technique which I’ve tried, and which works, is mindful breathing.
The primary focus in Mindfulness Meditation is the breathing. However, the primary goal is a calm, nonjudgmental awareness, allowing thoughts and feelings to come and go without getting caught up in them. This creates calmness and acceptance.
This technique allows the mind to calm and stop its focus on thoughts and feelings which distract you from sleep. A particular favourite of mine is to count your breath backwards from 1,000. The in breath counts as 1, the out breath as 1. It is important here to only focus on the breath, how it feels as it goes in and out of your body, and what changes it brings to your body as it does so. Along with counting, I will never reach beyond 900 before I am asleep again.
Why not try The Worry Warrior’s technique too: