Improve your sleep with mindfulness

Last night I was awake from 4-6am. This is not uncommon for me. I didn’t stress about it as I know I’m not the only one who sometimes wakes up and can’t get back to sleep or struggles to fall asleep in the first place. And, yes, I am a bit tired. But I’m not going to focus on that. I’m going to focus on what I can do today, and maybe get an early night if I start to feel tired.

We can experience disrupted sleep for many reasons – not all of them related to tinnitus:

  • we might simply not be tired enough to sleep, or have woken up early, but refreshed
  • the bedroom might be the first quiet space we have been in all day, and our tinnitus has become very noticeable
  • we might start to worry how we are going to sleep with this blinkin’ sound in our head
  • our mind might start whirring with thoughts about all the things that happened today, or all the things we need to remember tomorrow.

Whatever the source of our sleep challenges, here’s how the principles of mindfulness can help:

We start over every night
We approach each bedtime with openness and curiosity. If we didn’t sleep well last night we don’t allow that to influence our thoughts, and assume it will be the same tonight. As they say in the finance world “past performance is not indicative of future results”!

We don’t strive to fall asleep
We can’t make ourselves sleep. It just isn’t a thing. As I write this newsletter, the latest sleep craze is the military method. You can certainly prepare yourself for sleep through relaxation or self-hypnosis for example, but you can’t generally make your body fall asleep as and when you want. So all the striving in the world won’t make sleep happen. In fact, the more we try, the more stressed we become, and the less likely it is that we will get to sleep.

So we go to bed and simply relax, whether that’s listening to a peaceful audiobook, reading (preferably not horror!) or using a relaxation technique.

We let go
We let go of the common misconception that we need unbroken sleep to be able to function properly the next day. It’s not true. In fact it was very common in medieval times for people to wake up naturally in the middle of the night, work or socialise, then go back to bed for a second sleep. So, if your sleep pattern has you up and active in the middle of the night, don’t worry.

We also let go of the popular notion that we need 8 hours of sleep. The length of time each individual need to sleep varies significantly. Former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was famed for her ability to run a country on 4 hours sleep a night (though I discovered while writing this newsletter that she did cat nap in her car while she was driven from one appointment to another!).

If we are trialling different ways to improve our sleep we let go of our hope that this will be the answer to all our sleep problems. Instead we focus on the process we have chosen rather than the outcome.

We don’t judge our situation
We recognise that the language we use will have an impact on our sleep. So, for example, we don’t label ourselves as an “insomniac”. We avoid the temptation to moan at anyone unlucky enough to be in the vicinity that we had a “dreadful” night and we are “exhausted”. Instead we use more neutral and factual phrases such as “I woke up a few times” or “I slept for fewer hours than I’d like”.

We accept our temporary situation
We acknowledge that sometimes we will fall sleep promptly and stay asleep. On other nights we won’t.
Acceptance does not mean we are giving up, it means we’re accepting the present reality.

We’re patient
We realise that it might take more than one night for a new method we’re trying to work. So we give it a chance, rather than discarding this method immediately and trying another.

We’re thankful
We live in scary times, and we might be worried about a million things right now including tinnitus, Christmas, money, or climate change. But lying awake starting at the ceiling won’t help us. In fact the lack of sleep caused by our worrying simply makes everything seem worse. So we remember what we have right now that we can be thankful for – a bed to sleep in, a roof over our heads, and food in our bellies. It might not our dream life. But it is enough. For tonight.

God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change
Courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know this is all temporary
(after Reinhold Niebuhr)