Each night, millions of Americans lie in their bed awake and unable to find restorative sleep. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 25 percent of people in the U.S. have brief periods of sleeplessness, while around 10 percent suffer from chronic insomnia.
Many of these Americans have tried following the traditional advice – following the same bedtime rituals, avoiding caffeine and increasing exercise (sometimes called Sleep Hygiene Education, or SHE) — and still find sleep to be elusive.
In a study published earlier this year, researchers found that Mindfulness Awareness Practices (MAPS) training was more effective at improving insomnia than traditional Sleep Hygiene Education (SHE) training.
While many elements of SHE are effective and worth practicing, researchers found that mindfulness meditation was especially helpful for insomnia sufferers. The MAPs group not only saw an improvement in sleep quality, but also saw secondary health benefits including symptoms of depression and daytime fatigue.
MAPS is a broad term for a family of meditation practices that “… evoke the relaxation response,” says Dr. Herbert Benson, director emeritus of the Harvard-affiliated Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine.
Practiced regularly, mindful awareness allows people to reign in their overactive thoughts, feelings and emotions and create a tangible experience of peace and calm in their mind and body. This experience of peace and calm generates ideal conditions for deep and truly restorative rest without the use of medication, alcohol or drugs. Furthermore, the ability to generate your own peace and calm translates to other health and life benefits such as lower blood pressure, lower stress levels, more clarity of mind and increased vitality.
Like all new skills, mindfulness meditation takes time and regular practice. The best way to approach it is with self-love, patience and a resolve to be the master of your own health and a commitment to your wellbeing. With this mindset, you’ll find yourself eager to practice and willing to work though the challenges that come with learning any new skill. An additional motivator will be the immediate benefits that you will experience in the quality of your sleep and life as a result of your practice.
4 Easy Steps to Mindfulness
1) Sit, recline or lie down in a comfortable position. Take time to adjust yourself and get comfortable so that you are not distracted by your body as you meditate.
2) Close your eyes and begin to take slow deep breaths. Direct your attention inward and focus on your breath the way an archeologist would examine a fossil. Pay attention to the feeling of your breath, its shape, its sound – get lost in the experience of your breath and inner space (two minutes or until you begin to feel a sense of calm focus).
3) Expand your awareness and imagine that you are the observer of everything “you” are experiencing including your breath, body sensations, thoughts and feelings. Focus on your breath. Simply watch everything that comes across your awareness. Refrain from judging or interacting with your thoughts, feelings and emotions. Simply allow them to pass in front of your awareness, like branches floating and bobbing along a river (10 minutes – or as long as you want).
4) Slowly open your eyes and come back to the present moment. Notice any changes in how your body and mind feel. Smile.