Good sleep: everyone loves it. Bad sleep: the opposite. When we sleep badly long-term, we think poorly, our relationships suffer and we are more vulnerable to serious chronic diseases, accidental injuries, and depression. Yuk-o.
Last post I shared a zany bunch of seven refreshing little-known sleep tips. If those gems failed to conk you out, perhaps the take-to-bed pointers from Part 2 will. Experimentation is at the heart of sleep-success.
8. GRATITUDE PRACTICE
Can you believe that purposefully cultivating gratitude can actually make you sleep better?` It’s true! Research shows that if you want to sleep more soundly, count your blessings, not sheep.
The sleep benefits of gratitude were unleashed in a study that asked participants to list five things they felt thankful for once a week. This
gratitude practice ran over a 10 week period.
At the end of the study, participants not only "felt better about their lives as a whole and were more optimistic about the future", they also reported getting more hours of sleep each night, spending less time awake before falling asleep, and feeling more refreshed upon awakening.
Now that’s something to give thanks for!
The sleep benefit is due to the quality of wellbeing created by intentional gratitude reflection. A narky mind, rumbling with complaints and judgements, entitlement and self-pity, results in an under-achieving immune system. By contrast, the simple practice of gratitude boosts our happiness levels which in turn boots our overall function.
How so? Social science researchers say that 40% of our happiness comes from intentional, chosen activities, such as deliberately being grateful. That means our wellbeing is not dependent solely upon genetic makeup (10%) or life situation (50%). So make the most of the 40% and be bloody grateful!
WAYS TO EASE YOUR TRANSITION TO SLEEP
On climbing into bed, we don’t have to plonk ourselves down and clamp our eyes shut straight away. We can create an interface between waking and dreaming. The result is a more refreshing sleep and a brighter awakening.
Evoking gratitude is one way of easing transition to sleep. Other practices I enjoy include to “Let the Tea-Leaves Settle”, “Rewind the Tape” and Body Scan Relaxation.
9. “LET THE TEA-LEAVES SETTLE”
Prop yourself semi- upright on your pillows. Gently close your eyes and focus on the flow of your breath. Chose a spot where you prefer to feel the breath moving.
I like the sensations of the breath at the nostril because located here are tiny parasympathetic nerve endings. These nerves activate the chilled-out side of the nervous system.
I also like to check that my breath starts low in my belly rather than shallow chest breathing. Emphasise the exhalation a little more than the inhalation. If that’s all too complicated, just tune into your breath any old how!
As you focus on the breath, let the debris of the day- in the form of thoughts and impressions- swirl around in your mind like tea-leaves in a freshly-made teapot. Don’t grab onto any of them (although it will be tempting and habitual to follow various story-lines). Use your breath as an anchor to keep yourself from getting caught in the swirling debris.
Eventually you might feel a shift, as if the tea-leaves have settled to the bottom of the pot. It’s not as unattainable as it sounds: try it! You’ll be pleasantly surprised. It’s simply a matter of giving the nervous system a chance to wind down. All we have to do is create the space for that to happen.
Stop, sit, breathe.
You will find that breath-awareness before sleep is delightfully centering and clearing. The propped-up position prevents you falling asleep before the process is complete and also sets up a loop that enhances the flow of cerebral-spinal fluid. When you feel a shift, lie down.
10. " REWIND the TAPE"
The Rewind is much harder than the Tea-Leaves. I need to be alert to do this practice. If I’m too tired I simply can’t maintain it. If you’re having an early night and are in an alert frame of mind, try it. It’s extremely beneficial for creating deep and refreshing sleep.
Propped up on pillows, close your eyes and think over the events of the day. Rewind your day from evening through to morning. Try your best to have a quick mental image of six specific events. They can be completely inconsequential, trivial events, no matter.
The idea is to re-live the event rather than re-think it. Visualise whatever random events come to mind: reaching into the fridge for the milk; wiping something from your shoe; being greeted by a colleague.
You’ll get the picture when you try it.
The rewind process tidies the mind. It cleans the neural connections in the brain, in the same way it felt good to pick the clothes up off the floor before bed (didn’t you?). The busy thoughts, impressions, residual plans and memories are given the chance to settle, similar to tea leaves settling in a pot. In fact it’s a more sophisticated version of the earlier practice, “Let the Tea-Leaves Settle”.
11. BODY SCAN RELAXATION
Most of us are familiar with the Body Scan Relaxation. This one is great if you can’t bear to sit up and simply have to lie down. Or if you’re feeling lots of tension in your body.
Lie flat in bed. It works best to have your heart on the same level as your head, so ditch the pillow for now. Scan your attention through the body parts, breathing into each part as you go and relaxing that part as you get to it. (You can download a free 20-minute body scan relaxation relaxation at http://www.freemindfulness.org/download )
12. THE POWER NAP
If fatigue is keeping you awake at night- and paradoxically, that can happen- get into the habit of shedding unwanted tensions through a regular afternoon power-nap.
Clinical research shows that even the shortest of naps can have big benefits. Indeed, the deep sleep obtained by napping for only thirty minutes can restore the brain to work more imaginatively and productively. The impact for night-time sleep is a more organised nervous system with less kinks in energy pathways to keep you awake.
Google Inc. appreciates the power nap: employees at the U.S. headquarters are encouraged to nap at work because of improvement to productivity. A classy Hong Kong mall has installed high-tech beds where executives and shoppers pay £15 to grab 20 minutes’ shut-eye in darkness lulled by whalesong. ‘It should not be considered sleeping,’ says Benjamin Lau, the entrepreneur behind the beds. ‘It is a place to re-energise, really.’
Also, have a look at the breathing techniques in Padraig O’Morain’s Mindful ways to help you get back to sleep. http://www.padraigomorain.com/mindfulness-and-sleep.html
The author is an Irish journalist, poet and therapist who has practiced mindfulness since the 1980s and taught for more than a decade. I’m loving his newly-published book Mindfulness on the Go: Peace in Your Pocket, (June 2014). It’s full of wonderfully quick and simple ideas for getting on track with mindfulness practice amidst a busy life. Highly recommended.
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