Do you ever have the experience of going to bed really tired, looking forward to a good night’s sleep, only to find yourself wide awake at 3 am? Sometimes, even when we do all the right things – avoiding stimulants, cutting down our screen time, not eating too late etc – insomnia can still kick in.

If we pay attention to our thoughts at these times, we may notice that the mind is busy remembering, planning or analysing – and it is this busyness of mind that is keeping us awake. Our minds and bodies are out of sync. Our bodies are lying there exhausted, in need of a good rest but the mind has other ideas. The trouble is, in most of our waking life, we operate on automatic pilot – the body doing one thing and the mind doing something else. So it’s not really surprising that this pattern continues when we go to bed.

Our habitual reaction to this is to think about the insomnia (Why is this happening? I shouldn’t be awake. It’s not good for my health. I’m going to be so tired tomorrow.). This just keeps the mind even more active as we generate more and more thoughts and become more and more wound up.

Mindfulness and acceptance for better sleep

Mindfulness offers a completely different approach – when we practise mindfulness regularly, we develop the ability to become more aware of where our mind is and how the body is feeling. We stop seeing the insomnia as a problem that needs to be solved which means that we let go of trying to think our way out of our wakeful state. As we practise letting go of unhelpful thought patterns, the mind becomes quieter and become more in sync with the body and sleep is more likely to come.

The practice of mindfulness is a way of developing these skills that are so helpful in everyday life: the ability to be more aware of where our minds are; what our habitual thought patterns are; the effect these thoughts have on our moods and actions; how to interrupt these thought patterns so that we have more of a say in our well-being. These skills can really help us to manage the stresses and challenges of life, to navigate our way to healthier relationships, to take better care of ourselves and to feel more empowered and alive rather than being driven by automatic, conditioned impulses.

The challenge of our busy lives

Headaches, insomnia, panic attacks, anxiety and depression are not unusual... So many people these days have jobs that involve constant pressure and stress. It’s almost become the accepted ‘norm’ to eat lunch on the go, to have more emails and phone calls and people to see than there is time for in the day so the next day begins with a backlog. People do their best to cope with the targets and expectations but rarely do they experience the satisfaction of completing everything that needs doing.

The problem begins when we become used to operating in this very driven way. Then the notion of mindfulness, of stepping out of ‘doing mode’ and into ‘being mode’ can seem pointless and a waste of time. Just sitting or lying down and noticing our experience may feel ‘wishy-washy’ and a bit ‘out there’. Our doing mind wants to know why we are doing it, to analyse the process, to feel the results.

The problem with mindfulness is that it needs to be experienced over time in order to appreciate the benefits. Telling someone that, with practise, they will feel calmer, more rested, have a clearer perspective and feel more resourced, isn’t helpful when their doing mind is constantly analysing the experience: “Well, I’m sitting here and I don’t feel any different and I don’t see how this is going to help me”. Before long, they’re likely to be up and busy doing something else, convinced that mindfulness ‘doesn’t work’ or isn’t for them.

Conversely, these thoughts, which highlight the doing mind in action, are the very reason why we need to practise – to realise for ourselves the relief that we can experience when we make the choice to simply notice such thoughts and not react to them.

Mindfulness isn’t saying that we should sit around all day doing nothing. It can actually help us become more efficient and more productive as we develop the ability to focus, adapt, empathise, see different perspectives and regulate our emotions. With practice, we are more likely to make clearer choices, prioritise our tasks and look after ourselves as we work – even giving ourselves the space to appreciate the pleasant aspects of our day – so that we are less exhausted and stressed.

It can seem a daunting task to add mindfulness practice into an already full day, but even 10 minutes a day can bring huge benefit in our working and personal lives. You can start with our very own mindfulness tips and techniques designed especially for those living on the go.

Sarah-Linda Johnson
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