How To Use Mindfulness To Solve Insomnia

Let’s define what mindfulness is or what I mean when I say mindfulness, because there’s a lot of different definitions, and depending on who’s speaking about mindfulness, they might be talking about something else. So mindfulness is present moment awareness. It’s the art of paying attention to what’s important, which is the present moment, which is what all we have at any point in our life. The past is gone, the future’s yet to be, we’re here in the present. You’re watching this video, you’re present, hopefully. So really important to define what mindfulness is.

There’s a lot of different ways of practicing mindfulness. We can use our thoughts, be mindful of the thoughts in our head. We could focus on our breath, be mindful of the breath. And we could be mindful of our feelings, our emotions and our body. So mindfulness, you can be mindful really of anything. It can be mindful of your feet. You can be mindful of your surroundings. It really is just the art of, again, bringing yourself to the present moment. And we are so trained to not be present, to always be thinking about the future, to be thinking about what happened in the past. So practicing mindfulness is a practice, and it does take practice because it doesn’t come naturally, unfortunately.

So, how do you start the practice of mindfulness? Well, you start by noticing your thoughts, the sounds and sensations in your body. So for certain people, noticing their thoughts can be a little bit easier than noticing the sensations or sounds, depending on if you’re an auditory person. All that matters is that you pick one thing and you stick with it. So for me, I am really an auditory person. So practicing mindfulness, I can connect with the sounds around me. Or maybe you’re a visual person and you connect with your environment visually. Or maybe you’re more intellectual type of person and you’re more cognizant of your thoughts, and you can be mindful, again, of anything at any point in time.

Now, why is mindfulness necessary for solving insomnia? Because really, what insomnia is, in many cases, when I say insomnia, I’m talking about learned insomnia, it’s actually anxiety about insomnia. It’s stress and anxiety that gets trapped in the body. So in order to release this stress, this anxiety, this fear of the future, the fear of sleeping or not sleeping, or what will happen if we don’t sleep, we need to practice mindfulness to become aware of our thoughts, to become aware of our sensations, and to become aware of our actions. Very, very important. And practice makes progress. Again, it doesn’t come natural. Unfortunately, it’s not natural for us to be present because there’s a survival mechanism that is trying to protect you at all times, which is instinctual. Just like learning how to play an instrument like the piano, it takes practice to really start to cultivate a higher sense of awareness and really cultivate a higher sense of mindfulness.

So how can you practice? There’s a few ways. Taking mindful moments, I recommend between one to five minutes, multiple times throughout the day. You can set an alarm. There’s amazing apps out there like Headspace, like Sam Harris’ Waking Up app, There’s all different types of resources, or you can just keep it simple and just set an alarm. Really having an alarm helps so much because it’s so easy to get caught up in our day-to-day, and we get caught in the river of the day and we forget to be mindful until maybe we’re feeling tension and stress, which then we take that tension and stress, we take our days into our nights, and that’s when we experience restless sleep. So setting a timer can be really helpful.

And I like to begin our clients with practicing belly breath, not berry breath, belly breathing. The reason for that is because, if you see a baby in a crib, baby breathes from their belly. This is because they’re connected to the parasympathetic or the rest and digest system. And as we go throughout life, we have traumas with big Ts and traumas with little Ts, and we start to become chest breathers or shallow breathers. And this is what puts us in a semi-state of stress where a sympathetic nervous system response. So reconnecting to the diaphragm by breathing into the diaphragm actually helps your body, retrains your body to get present. It’s an amazing practice before you get in bed to actually breathe 10 times into your stomach, inflating the diaphragm, really being conscious of the air coming in through your nose all the way down into the deeper, lower levels of your lungs and into your stomach area. This is just a fantastic practice to kind of start. It’s a beginner’s practice for practicing mindfulness.

Another technique that I love that’s really effective. Dr. Andrew Weil, who’s a legend in integrative medicine, he’s an amazing guy, he came up with this simple technique. It’s called the 4-7-8 breath technique. And for those of you that are new to breath work, this is a really easy one to remember, just 4-7-8. Essentially, what this breath technique does is, again, it brings you into presence. So you simply inhale for four, you hold for seven, and then you exhale for a count of eight. You want to do it several times. This is an amazing Practice for cultivating mindfulness, for relieving stress, which then again helps your day. The less stress you have in the day, the less stress you’re going to have at night. Because oftentimes, again, we bring our days into our nights. This is why mindfulness is such an amazing practice to help us solve insomnia.