Welcome to my story about mindfulness meditation for sleep.
Over the years I have tried a number of things to help me get a better night’s sleep.
To be honest, I wasn’t a fan of sleeping pills, which at the time (to my untrained and under-researched mind) was the only option available to me.
I did eventually try an over-the-counter oral sleeping aid, but I was full of fear and anxiety before I took it – What if I become addicted? What if I don’t wake up? What if I’m late for work in the morning?
It’s probably no surprise that when I did finally get round to trying the pill that it didn’t work. Actually, that’s a little harsh. I tossed and turned unable to sleep for most of the night (probably with worry as to what this drug was going to do with me) and then I guess I did finally fall asleep.
I awoke the next day not really feeling any different and I didn’t feel as though the pill I took had made any difference.
Well, that was until a few hours later. I recall feeling extremely tired, hardly able to keep my eyes open (I was at work at the time), and as though I’d been drugged in fact (don’t say it).
Suffice to say that was my first and last experience of trying a sleeping supplement.
However, one thing stuck in my mind from this whole experience – my negative, chattering mind that just wouldn’t shut up as I was trying to sleep.
I then realized that this was actually a nightly occurrence, and not just when I’d “drugged” myself.
This is what led to me to research ways in which to quieten my mind before sleep and this is also the basis of this article.
I Always Thought Mindfulness & Meditation Were 2 Different Things
I will openly admit I had always been a little skeptical of practices such as mindfulness and meditation. To me, they were a bit airy-fairy, a little bit hippy, and I really wasn’t into all this self-improvement malarkey.
However, I did change my mind somewhat, and actually started a self-improvement/personal development journey back in January 2018 (and many of the things I learned and picked up back then have stuck with me to this day).
With that being said, my initial research led me to believe that mindfulness and meditation were two entirely separate entities.
I mean, mindfulness is about being aware of something, whereas meditation is the practice of being aware of nothing – or so I thought.
Nevertheless, it seems that both disciplines work on the same principle, calming and relaxing the mind. And this was definitely something I needed to help me sleep.
And it appears that the Harvard Medical School Health Blog agrees with me.
As it happens, I had always viewed meditation in the wrong way. I had visions of me needing to sit cross-legged on the floor, chanting a mantra, while living off seeds, nuts and fruit (and possibly lentils), wearing a loincloth and with my hair grown down to my toes (it turns out that I don’t just have an overactive imagination only when I’m trying to sleep).
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Of course, if this is how you wish to practice meditation then please be my guest, but apparently it’s not a requirement.
Anyway, meditation isn’t always about “thinking of nothing” and there are in fact many forms of meditation, including mindfulness.
How Does Mindfulness Meditation Work?
Mindfulness in itself is about being in the here-and-now. So, the goal is to remain aware and present in the moment.
One of the main traits of my overthinking (and probably for most of you reading this) is that I was always either dwelling onthe past, things that had already happened, or thinking about/dreading something that may or may not happen in the future.
Prior to me actually learning about mindfulness, I did come across pretty much the same message in terms of overthinking the past or future from the many self-help books I had devoured – there’s nothing you can do about it NOW.
A past event is gone, I can’t change what has happened, so I am simply wasting mental energy thinking about it.
Future events or basically something that hasn’t actually happened yet is much the same. How do I know if that exact scenario will occur? If it does, will it be the end of the world? Well, I can’t actually do anything about it at this precise moment in time.
Great advice, but it didn’t stop me thinking about the past or the future, no matter how much I told myself I couldn’t do anything about it.
Enter Mindfulness Meditation.
I guess you could say mindfulness meditation is about having a lack of judgment.
So, rather than focusing on my “problems” during my moments of mindfulness meditation I would simply not judge these events.
That’s the whole point to this type of meditation.
No matter how hard you try (unless of course you are an accomplished Zen Buddhist) thoughts about the past and future will enter your mind as you practice mindfulness.
The aim is to not judge these thoughts. Accept them and let them pass. Mindfulness is all about focusing on the present.
How Did I Practice Mindfulness Meditation?
Mindfulness meditation is something that you can do just about anywhere.
This in my mind is because you are focusing on the present moment, so you need to be aware of something I guess.
Focus on the Breath
The first method I used was simply to focus on my breath.
I would breathe in through my nose, while my stomach expanded, and breathe out through my mouth, while my stomach contracted.
I would typically do a countdown – 100-1, 200-1, 300-1, or even 10-1, whatever, depending on how much time I had, and how badly I thought I needed to get my mind under control (I have an annoying habit of always thinking more is better, but this isn’t always the case).
I have completed this exercise both with my eyes shut and open, sitting at home in the quiet, and even on a crowded train while commuting to work.
And that’s the whole point – there’s no right or wrong way to practice mindfulness meditation, you simply have to focus on the here-and-now and if any other thoughts do come into your mind, simply let them pass without judging them.
However, if the truth be told, I still struggled with concentrating on just my breath and my mind would often stray for a good few minutes before I could remember whether I had counted down to 137 or 127 so far.
The Raisin Method
I avoided “the raisin method” for a long time. I’m not entirely sure why. I mean, I don’t mind the odd-raisin every now and then, but I wouldn’t call it my go to fruit (strawberries and bananas, if anybody’s interested).
However, once I actually looked into this technique in more detail I realized it wasn’t all about eating the raisin. Plus this method doesn’t actually require a raisin, you can use an apple, or any piece of fruit, or food, or inanimate object for that matter.
But, it helps if the object has an unusual texture, smell, aroma, or taste.
With that being said, if my memory serves me correctly I believe that a rose is used in Robin Sharma’s fantastic book The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari (although this could work out to be an extremely expensive way to practice mindfulness).
The raisin method is often used as an introductory exercise for beginners to mindfulness.
You should take a raisin and then study it. Pay careful attention to how it looks, what it feels like, how your skin responds to touching the raisin, what it smells like, and finally what it tastes like.
While performing this exercise, really take your time to concentrate on each of the above factors, and I mean really concentrate.
By putting so much focus into a single object, such as a raisin, you are bringing your mind into the present. You are focusing on what is in front of you and nothing else.
If your mind does begin to stray, which is completely natural, just gently guide your mind back to the raisin once more.
This does take some practice, but it is a fantastic way to get your mind to focus on the present moment.
I did like the Robin Sharma method of the rose I’ve mentioned above, as I would find myself concentrating on how the petals were aligned, or how they felt to me, as well as how the leaves, stem and thorns felt. Then there was the smell of the rose, etc.
Just basically find an object that you can really concentrate on for a few moments.
The whole point to this is you are literally training your mind to almost forget every single other thing around you and concentrate on one single thing. This in turn can help to calm and relax the mind, perfect for sleep.
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The Body Scan
The body scan is something I came across many years ago, as something that would aid sleep. I wasn’t fully aware at the time that this was in fact a form of both meditation and mindfulness.
I simply saw it as a way to relax both the mind and body, which is imperative in improving the quality of your sleep.
I would typically lie on bed, close my eyes, calm my breathing, and then spend no more than a few moments concentrating on each area of my body.
I’d start at my toes, really concentrating on my toes, I’m not sure why but this always made me want to wiggle them. I don’t think this is part of the mindfulness plan, but I wiggled them nonetheless.
I’d then concentrate on my feet, move my way up to the shins and calves, then my knees and thighs. I’d scan through my pelvic region including, pelvic bone, buttocks, tailbone, and genitalia.
Then my stomach, chest, lower and upper back, my hands, arms and shoulders. I’d move onto my neck and then every single area of my face – jaw, mouth, lips, cheeks, nose, ears, eyes, forehead, the top and back of my head.
I actually found this an extremely relaxing process and the body scan is a very popular method of sending yourself to sleep.
Here’s an 8-minute video that will take you through the entire body scan process in order to help you sleep. I wouldn’t suggest following the video the whole way through unless you’re ready for bed at this exact moment. But, please do refer back to it, as and when you need.
My Final Thoughts
Mindfulness meditation is something that has definitely helped to improve the quality of my sleep over the years.
I tend to be an overthinker, during the day as well as the night, but there is nothing worse than not being able to switch your mind off just as you’re trying to sleep.
You can practice mindfulness anywhere and at any time and it doesn’t just need to be limited to when you’re thinking of going to bed.
The way I see it, mindfulness is to the brain what exercise is to the body. It helps to keep the brain fit and healthy.
All this overthinking simply made me stressed and anxious, so anything that can help to steer my mind away from typically inconsequential issues and problems is a good thing.
Plus, it also helps me to get a great night’s sleep.
If you’re interested in learning more about mindfulness then please check out my review of the 7 Minute Mindfulness Program.