Improve your sleep and reduce your stress through mindfulness

Dr Guy Meadows continues his series on sleep with a look at ways in which we can make changes in our attitudes to stress and anxiety and improve our sleep patterns.

The act of trying to get rid of your stressful thoughts and anxious feelings in the middle of the night, can actually wake you up further. Photo source: fotolia

Stress and anxiety are a common cause of sleeplessness, with 64 per cent of clients citing them as responsible for triggering their insomnia. 

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While it would be good to live a stress free life, it’s not realistic. In fact the act of trying to get rid of your stressful thoughts and anxious feelings in the middle of the night, can actually wake you up further.  

At Sleep To Perform, we use a new therapeutic tool known as acceptance and commitment therapy or ACT, which teaches employees how to change their relationship with their stress, instead of battling to change the stress itself. Designed to promote something called psychological flexibility, it helps employees to be more willing to experience stressful situations and effectively move through them, rather than becoming unhelpfully stuck.

One powerful example of the benefit of accepting a stressful situation is choosing to let go of struggling with sleeplessness. Sleep is a natural biological process that can’t be controlled and battling against it could be likened to an endless game of tug of war, which only wakes you up more. Giving yourself permission to be awake in the night therefore paradoxically moves you closer to sleep.  

Buying into negative thoughts in the night about past or future events can be an unhelpful source of wakefulness. Choosing to mindfully notice and let go of them can therefore be a helpful way to fall into sleep. In practice this could involve lying in bed and mindfully scanning your body from your feet to your head, noticing all sensations that arise objectively and without judgment in the present moment. If your mind wanders onto worry, gently return back to noticing your body.

Giving your worries short hand labels such as ‘Finance’, ‘Colleague’ or ‘Deadline’ and referring to them in this way when they arrive in your mind helps to alter the context with which you view them and therefore power of them. This means you’re more able to let them go in the night and fall back to sleep.

The quicker you can be open to the existence of stress and anxiety in the night, the sooner you can get back to sleep.

Tomorrow, Dr Meadows concludes his series with how to wake refreshed



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