Sleep is one of those basic necessities no one fully appreciates until insomnia strikes and a restful night feels like it might stay forever out of reach. According to the CDC, insomnia affects just over 35% of adults—that’s more than one-third of us tossing and turning at night at any given time.
Stress and medical conditions account for some cases, but poor sleep hygiene is responsible for at least as many. In other words, we may not be getting the rest we need each night simply because we’re following bad habits that are affecting our ability to fall or stay asleep. One or two small changes could make a world of difference.
Cover the Basics
Good sleep hygiene starts with a few basics, some of which we may overlook simply because they might seem so inconsequential. However, we can see dramatic changes in our sleep quality if we allow any of the following to slip for too long:
- Lack of consistency might not seem like a big deal, but we’re much more likely to sleep well if we go to bed at a fixed time and have a set wake-up time.
- Uncomfortable sleeping areas make it difficult to fall asleep, so make sure mattress, pillows and sheets are all comfortable and the room is at a good temperature.
- Electronic devices keep us awake by emitting blue light, which tricks the mind into thinking it’s still daytime. Cut off all use at least one hour before bedtime.
- Foods or drinks that keep us awake, such as caffeine or anything spicy, can leave a person tossing and turning for hours. Alcohol may help a person doze off, but the sleep often doesn’t last through the night, and the brain might not have the chance to initiate restorative sleep cycles.
- Lack of exercise can do more than help pack on the pounds and reduce stamina. People who are sedentary are much more likely to suffer from insomnia than their active counterparts.
Quiet the Mind
Insomnia can occur when we’re unable to turn off racing thoughts at bedtime, but we can help slow them down with deep breathing and mindfulness techniques. When good sleep hygiene isn’t enough, meditation may be the answer.
Research has shown meditation can improve sleep quality, even in older adults, who often have a harder time falling and staying asleep. In addition to reducing insomnia, the practice can lead to improvements in depression, anxiety and fatigue. People who meditate also tend to have fewer inflammatory markers.
Another study found meditation may even reduce a person’s need to sleep. Essentially, regular practice might not only help bring sleep sooner, but it could also allow the user to reap the benefits of a full night’s sleep in fewer hours.
There are several different types of meditation, and some people have to try a few before they find one that works for them. Consider applying one of the following to your nighttime routine:
- Mindfulness meditation is the practice of observing our thoughts without judgment and allowing them to pass without force. Instead of actively engaging in them, we witness and accept them, and then let them go.
- Spiritual meditation is just another term for “prayer.” Burn incense or use essential oils. Grab a rosary or prayer beads. Reach out to your higher power with some bedtime dialogue and simply connect.
- Focused meditation uses sensory input to calm both body and mind. Users find a physical focus to redirect the mind from racing thoughts. They might simply become mindful of each inhalation and exhalation as they breathe, or they might cycle through their senses—sight, smell, touch, hearing and taste. Let each become the sole focus of your attention.
- Mantra meditation is simple, yet surprisingly effective. Pick a word or phrase (the mighty “om” will work if you can’t decide) and simply repeat it over and over, either out loud or silently. Racing thoughts have a harder time coming through when your attention is on something else.
- Progressive relaxation is the practice of mentally going through the body, section by section, tensing the muscles before willing them to relax. Start at the toes and work your way up to your head.
- Visualization meditation has us turn to the mind’s eye and imagine ourselves in a tranquil scene. Make it fully immersive by including all the senses. You can also try playing your favorite movie in your head, fully focusing on each scene. Or simply sense the body, part by part, down to each individual finger and toe, moving the consciousness from one area to the next.
Intrusive or persistent thoughts can easily take over when we allow them to, and they can become a problem when worry overrides our ability to sleep. Sometimes, however, we’re missing vital components. In those cases, not all the mediation or good bedtime routines in the world will be able to kick us over into dreamland.
Check out other issues to consider when insomnia wreaks havoc on your sleep.