It’s the latest buzzword in wellbeing, but how do you transform #mindfulness from a trending Twitter hashtag into a practice that improves the quality of your sleep – especially when it’s so easy to switch to autopilot; to be distracted by parenting responsibilities… the siren call of social media, or just one more episode in a box-set? Often, the time we think we go to bed and go to sleep is very different to the reality.
Mindfulness – NHS Choices tells us – is about paying more attention to the present moment. Being more mindfully aware of not just your inner thoughts, but what’s going on in the world around you moment to moment, can help you to enjoy better mental wellbeing.
As Professor Mark Williams, former Director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, says: “It’s easy to lose touch with the way our bodies are feeling and to end up living ‘in our heads’ – caught up in our thoughts without stopping to notice how those thoughts are driving our emotions and behaviour. An important part of mindfulness is reconnecting with our bodies and the sensations they experience. This means waking up to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the present moment.”
While mindfulness therapy is proven to be effective in alleviating moderate symptoms of sleep disturbance that are associated with anxiety and depression, according to recent studies, it’s a practice that anyone can introduce to their nightly routine to enjoy a better quality of sleep. Here’s our top tips for enjoying a more mindful transition into blissful, re-energising sleep:
Pay attention to your current pre-bedtime routine: What time is it when you change into your pyjamas, have your last snack and brush your teeth? What are you eating and drinking in the run-up to lights out? When do you turn off the TV, laptop or – dare we say it – your mobile phone? How do each of these choices make you feel in body and mind? Don’t ghost-walk your way to bed; every single choice should be made mindfully for improved sleep quality.
Two hours before – snack right: Swap high-fat foods, alcohol and caffeine (which lurks not just in coffee, but also in tea, chocolate and soft drinks) for sleep-promoting snacks and beverages. Cherries contain the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, which controls sleep-wake cycles; magnesium and potassium-packed bananas can help to relax muscles, while easily-digestible carbs like cereal help you to fall asleep faster. No more cups of ‘Joe’ – choose caffeine-free herbal teas instead. Focus on how your food and drinks taste, look and smell; their individual textures and the pleasure you get from eating them.
Unplug from technology: The average person picks up their mobile device 85 times a day – twice as often as they realise, Nottingham Trent University has found. Over the course of a day, this adds up to five hours of web browsing and app usage. The light emitted from your mobile, TV, laptop and tablet screens disrupts your body clock – preventing the nightly release of melatonin and activating neurons that boost alertness. Make the mindful choice to unplug – especially before bedtime.
Create a one-hour wind-down routine: Read a good book, do some gentle exercise or enjoy a long soak in the bath – make a mindful choice that’s uniquely pleasurable to you. Create sensory experiences that delight: warm soft cotton pyjamas on the radiator and enjoy the comforting sensation against your skin; burn candles with sleep-promoting fragrances, or savour a milky drink. Focus moment to moment on how you feel using all five senses.
Invest in a long-term mindful strategy: Mindfully consider your current mattress. Is it supportive in all the places it needs to be – especially your lower back? Are there any painful pressure points? Does your neck and spine feel naturally aligned? When you move around, does your bed compensate for changes in weight distribution? Do you feel beautifully, expertly cushioned? If the answer to any of these is ‘No’, make the mindful decision to invest in a new mattress, which will dramatically improve the quality of your sleep.
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