“Sleep is the universal pleasure.” There’s nothing quite like a good night’s sleep.
The opposite is also true: there’s nothing quite like trying to function without enough rest. Sleep is a necessity for our physiological and psychological well-being. The body and brain perform a range of important functions during different stages of sleep, from detoxification and repair to consolidating memory.
Unfortunately, these days getting enough sleep is hard. For millennia, humans lived in tune with the natural rhythms of day and night. We rose with the sun, hunting and gathering, walking and working during the day, and rested in the dark of night.
But those rhythms are disrupted when we stare into screens all night, while sitting in rooms illuminated by fluorescent bulbs.
That’s why, today, insomnia is so widespread. Between 50-70 million adults in the US alone have problems sleeping. 1 in 3 people have insomnia at some point in their lives and roughly 1/3 of adults report not getting the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep a night. If you have trouble sleeping, you’re not alone. I’ve suffered from insomnia on and off since I was a teenager.
The good news is that there are simple, concrete steps you can take to get a better night’s sleep. Here are a few to get you started:
1. Develop sleep hygiene.
What you do before going to sleep has a huge impact on how easily you fall asleep and how well you rest. Try to unplug an hour or two before bed (a quick meditation app session doesn’t count!) winding down your day’s activities and reducing your exposure to artificial light, including screens, whose blue light can wreak havoc on your body’s circadian rhythms. Some gentle stretching can help, as does exercise and plenty of natural light during the day.
2. Daytime mindfulness pays off at night.
You can have impeccable sleep hygiene and still find yourself lying awake into the wee hours if you’re wound up too tight and spinning with stress. Having a daily mindfulness practice can help you get a handle on the backlog of thoughts and emotions that tend to pile up inside, before they come back to haunt you at bedtime. In particular, meditating in the evening or before bed can release leftover tensions from the day.
3. Meditate in bed.
You can also use mindfulness to help yourself relax and drift off to sleep. Normally, meditation practices help you stay alert and be aware of what’s happening – but you can also use them to do the opposite. The basic practices can be the same: mindfulness of breathing, a body scan, or loving-kindness meditation, for example. The difference is your intention to guide the mind and body toward more calm, ease and stillness. Choose fewer “objects” of meditation (e.g. just stay on the breath, rather than investigate thoughts or feelings), emphasize calm over investigation, and with practice, you can cultivate states of deep relaxation that help release physical and mental tension.
Don’t try to fall asleep — just create the conditions that enable sleep to happen.
If you’re interested in learning more, head over to the 10% Happier app and check out some of my guided relaxations in their new Sleep section.
This article was originally posted in the 10% Happier Newsletter.