As ever, I am trying to improve my sleep cycle. In this I know I am not alone – many CFS/ME patients suffer from tired-wired evenings and excruciating mornings where the body seems programed to sleep and doing anything else physically hurts. I have blogged before about various tools to add to a good sleep routine, but there is one aspect I hadn’t considered – the sleep intention.
I was listening to Mitra Minesh from UCLA’s mindful meditation session* who discussed how we can apply mindfulness to sleeping, or rather, the pre-sleep intention. Mitra described finding the intention as “Paying attention to that which you would like to achieve, as opposed to inviting fear to that which you don’t want to experience”.
Avoid worrying, fear and resistance
Unfortunately I have developed deep anxieties because of my propensity to ignore unpleasant or unhelpful emotions and physical feelings, which then build up and get much worse, so I am always very wary when anyone gives advice to avoid worrying and fear. Worries and fears are often based on real psychological needs, or are a very justified response to previous experience. In my case, I am extremely worried and anxious about sleep because my experience is that it doesn’t happen, and I spend most of the night tossing and turning. Rather than just ignore these feelings, I think it is healthy to acknowledge them, accept that they are born of a negative experience, but try not to dwell on those thoughts and emotions. I like to do a large breath in, then slowly exhale as I gently let go of the worry and anxiety. I usually have to do several breaths a few times in my meditative practice as I realise that I have tensed up and gotten anxious again.
Sleep Intention – Mindful Attention
The mindfulness practice is simply noticing; sensations, thoughts, sounds… Notice, and then let go. If you find that a thought is lingering, you can use an anchor to focus your attention, like the sensation of breath, or the rise of your stomach, or a quiet sound. Setting a sleep intention is simply going to bed with the intention of applying mindfulness – quietly noticing the touch of the sheets, feeling your body relax into the mattress as your breath slows, noticing your thoughts as they cross your mind like clouds drifting across the sky. Mitra terms it as befriending your sleep, which I think is an adorable way of putting it.
I think it’s very important to divorce the intention from the outcome. Mindfulness is all about accepting what is happening now without expectation or judgement; not achieving a goal. Meditation can be described as a returning – constantly letting go of the thoughts you are caught up in and returning to your anchor. Simply doing this a few times can be a success and over time can lead to a more relaxing bedtime (and hopefully a deeper and earlier sleep).
*This is an excellent free podcast in the iTunesU category entitled Mindful Meditation at the Hammer. The sessions go for half an hour, and I can’t recommend it enough. This particular podcast is “Mindful Awareness Meditation” from the April 9, 2015 Meditation Session.