One of the most common problems I encounter with clients is poor quality sleep. Either they have difficulty in getting to sleep or wake in the night or too early or are just not getting a satisfying refreshing sleep.
We are told by numerous studies of the value of sufficient sleep which puts more pressure on those trying to sleep. Those who try too hard to get to sleep or worry about getting enough sleep will very likely be hindering the very thing that they need.
Interest in Mindfulness is high at the moment and I am finding that teaching how to use mindfulness to improve sleep is becoming very popular.
This is how we do it.
Step One- focus your attention
With your eyes closed, focus on your senses, meaning your physical senses as opposed to your emotions and thoughts. Don't try to relax, simply use your awareness to find what is happening for you right now in the room. For some it will be the noises in the room, for others it will be feelings in the body. Of course your mind will have something to say and will naturally distract you but gently lead your attention back to what you are experiencing in the moment. Again, do not try to relax.
Step Two- be flexible with your senses.
There is no wrong awareness. So whatever detail of your physical experience comes to your attention, go with that. It is not vital that you focus on your breathing, the feeling in your big toe or the ringing in the ears will suffice. Banish the idea that you are doing it wrong. If you are attending to any aspect of your physical awareness then you are on the right track. Do not expect to feel comfortable or sleepy or peaceful while you do this. The task is simply to be aware of what you are experiencing in the moment.
Step Three- train your attention
The mind will naturally try to distract you from the task of awareness but don't fight it and don't expect some kind of instant bliss. The enemy of all meditation is the expectation of entering some blissful state or to have 'no thoughts' and to be empty of all care and worries. Take some time and be patient. Our minds are super-charged machines that churn out words and ideas and memories from dawn to dusk and will not be silenced at the switch of a button. Each time you find you have drifted, don't make a scene, just quietly get back to the job in hand and re-focus onto what you can feel or hear.
If you practice these steps without putting huge expectations on yourself you will train your awareness away from the constant mind chatter that occupies so much of our consciousness. Don't make sleepiness or relaxation your goal, make awareness your goal. Though you might think that awareness might do the opposite, it has the effect of quieting down the mind.
So where does sleep come in you may ask?
Well, most meditation classes are peppered with tired or sleepy people trying not to nod off. If you do meditation late in the evening and you have been sleep deprived you will naturally find that you will drift into sleep even with the best intentions of keeping awake and focussed. In other words sleep is a natural process for the tired meditator. If you need sleep then sleep happens naturally when your mind has been led into a more quiet state. As long as you do not make sleep your goal then you will be able to use mindfulness as a route to sleep if you are tired.