Benefits of mindfulness practices to fall asleep quickly and reliably
by FI Designer
If somebody told you that you could reliably fall asleep almost every night in under 20 minutes without medication or other substances would you be interested?
This post discusses mindfulness meditation as a sleep aid and healthy sleep hygiene. In my experience, this has been a true superpower to reliably fall asleep quickly regardless of how hectic the day was. Although this post is not an exhaustive discussion on all techniques and resources, hopefully, it will provide you with actionable tips that can quickly improve your sleep.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness meditation is a mental training practice that teaches you to slow down racing thoughts, let go of negativity, and calm both your mind and body. Mindfulness techniques can vary, but in general, mindfulness meditation involves a breathing practice and awareness of body and mind. verywellmind.com
As discussed previously in the Meditation Experiment post, a racing mind was my greatest impediment to falling asleep. Engineers are problem solvers to the core and it is not something that can easily be turned off. Many nights I would lay awake for the first hour in bed reexamining personal and professional problems of the day, but it was terrible for my sleep and overall performance.
Winding Down Mindfully
Guided mindfulness meditation exercises through apps and recordings are very helpful to calm the body and mind for sleep. It can serve as a reliable “Off Button” for the body to put you to sleep quickly without feeling groggy the next day like using medication or chemical-based sleep aids. You can take control over the drift in your life by establishing a clear separation between periods devoted to wake and sleep.
I have been exploring the sleep techniques discussed in the post over the past 10 years. At first, I was self-conscious in front of my wife that my bedtime routine involved putting on over-the-ear headphones to listen to a sleep meditation. However, I can lay down and go directly to sleep within 20 minutes and wake up in the morning, sometimes with headphones still on in the same position that I fell asleep in. The Headspace and Insight Timer apps noted below are the most beneficial tools that I have found for improving sleep and are where I recommend beginning.
Headspace was the first app that I experimented with for better sleep. The app is primarily focused on meditation but has excellent sleep resources too. Headspace has a library of sleep sounds and music but the most beneficial feature, in my opinion, is what they call “Sleepcasts”. The Sleepcasts will generally start off with a winddown exercise consisting of a body scan or breathing, followed by a calming narrative, and ends with background noise. The 20-minute Sleepcasts were so effective at putting me to sleep that I had never consciously heard the end of one. The Headspace subscription was ultimately too pricey for me at around $70 per year and I did not continue using it after the free trial.
The Calm app is comparable to Headspace in the features and subscription cost but the free trial was more limited so I did not spend much time exploring it.
Insight Timer app
The Insight Timer app appeared to be the most robust meditation and sleep app in the free version, with the subscription service around $50 per year. Insight Timer is slightly less intuitive to navigate than Headspace and appears to be geared more towards community and teaching. Nevertheless, it has a good free library of sleep meditations and is presently my most frequently used resource.
Healthy Sleep Habits
Sleep hygiene is an important aspect of falling asleep and staying asleep. Your behaviors during the day, and especially before bedtime, can have a major impact on your sleep. They can promote healthy sleep or contribute to sleeplessness. sleepeducation.org
Avoid Technology Before Bed
Scrolling through your phone prior to sleeping is damaging to overall sleep health. According to the Sleep Foundation, electronic back-lit devices like cell phones or tablets emit short-wavelength enriched light, also known as blue light. Blue light mimics daylight and has been shown to reduce or delay the natural production of melatonin in the evening and decrease feelings of sleepiness. Additionally, notifications on your phone trigger cortisol hormone release which heightens alertness. In a natural sleep cycle, the body produces cortisol when the sun rises to make you feel awake and alert. As daylight fades, the body releases melatonin, which produces feelings of sleepiness. The habit of scrolling through your phone to fall asleep can impede this natural sleep cycle.
Recommendations for Better Sleep
- Have a predictable and calming bedtime routine.
- Avoid technology before bed.
- Turn off or silence your phone from notifications and turn it over so that blinking lights are not visible.
- Avoid exercise or strenuous physical activity late in the day.
- Listen to winddown exercises with comfortable over-the-ear headphones to reduce background noise.
Call to Action
Please do not stop here. Consider the following actions, and please share your thoughts in the comments below.
- Reflect upon your personal sleep habits and consider if your bedtime routine is serving you.
- If you are not able to fall asleep quickly, and by quickly I mean 20 minutes, consider using a sleep meditation app.
- Headspace app – Headspace is a great app to start with if you are beginning to experiment with sleep meditation.
- Insight Timer app – Insight Timer has the most meditation and sleep resources in the free version.
- How Electronics Affect Sleep by Sleep Foundation