It’s commonly known that chronic insomnia and sleep deprivation pose major health risks. Here is a simple framework for applying five mind-body skills to support a good night’s sleep.
Rooting is about maintaining a comfortable sensory connection between your body, bed, and pillow that allows for ‘surrendering’ into sleep. The quality of connection is supported by your intention and attention; however, the paradox of sleep involves not striving to reach an end goal. Attending to the present moment in an open, non-attached way cultivates an adaptable relationship to sleep challenges.
Rooting is supported by the attitude of acceptance, which is different than a feeling of resignation or self-defeat. Acceptance is about being aligned with reality on reality’s terms, regardless of the outcome of your best intentions. The belief in your ability to attain a good night’s sleep can create a positive expectancy. Rooting supports a stable connection, acceptance cultivates a peaceful mind, and belief provides a conducive mental perspective for letting go into sleep.
Practice: As you enter your bed, yield to gravity as if your body was sinking deeply down into your mattress. Feel the comfortable connection between your body, mattress, bedding, and pillow as a welcoming invitation to the realm of sleep.
Relaxation involves letting go of tension, a softening or loosening from any constriction. The process of relaxation is more easily facilitated when you feel stable, safe, and secure. Therefore, the deeper the stable ‘roots’ (connection) you have to your body and sleep environment, the more effortlessly you can let go and relax. In relationship to sleep, relaxation of the musculature is often experienced as a sense of softness and heaviness.
Practice: One relaxing self-suggestion that can support sleep is, “My body is heavy and relaxed”. Silently repeat this statement several times as you lie upon your bed, without trying to feel heavy or relaxed.
Respiration for mind-body regulation refers to more than simply breathing. Respiration refers to breathing in a way that is slow, continuous, and calming. Just as rooting supports relaxation, relaxation supports healthy respiration. Breathing slowly and evenly with an emphasis upon an extended exhalation can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, providing a tranquilizing effect. Over time, the practice of intentional, slow breathing can result in a respiration pattern that is naturally calming without conscious control.
Practice: Take 5 to 10 long, slow, deep, calming inhalations and exhalations throughout the day and prior to bedtime, allowing your relaxed belly to expand upon inhalation and contract upon exhalation. Let go of any excess tension with each exhalation.
Rhythm refers to a repetitive pattern over time. Rhythm can be expressed by internal and external actions. It’s easy to see how the rhythm of your breath can be relaxing (e.g., through long, slow, deep, soft-bellied, evenly spaced inhalations and exhalations) or contributory to tension (e.g., characterized by a constricted abdominal region with rapid, shallow, unevenly spaced inhalations and exhalations). Rhythm can also be expressed through your movements and speech. For example, when walking and talking, you express movement and sound in a patterned way. This pattern can be relaxing or activating, depending upon the pace and intensity of your behavior.
The pace of your behavior creates a metaphorical space in your mind and body that reinforces the process of slowing down or speeding up. It’s important to keep in mind that slow is the fast route to sleep-inducing rhythms.
Just as the sleep state involves a slowing down of physiological processes, slow rhythms are supportive of sleep. In preparation for sleep, it’s advisable to speak slowly and softly, move slowly, and breathe slowly, allowing this slow rhythm to follow you into the bed in preparation for sleep. After all, when have you ever heard of the admonition, “Hurry up and get to sleep?”
Practice: Prior to bedtime, take a few moments to intentionally move and breathe slowly. As you move through your space slowly, let your breath slow down to match the pace of your movement. Allow this breath-movement rhythm to be supported by firmly rooted footsteps and a relaxed body.
Remembering refers to mindfully practicing the principles of rooting, relaxation, respiration, and rhythm that are described above. Mindfulness is about being present with an open, accepting attitude, even when your desire to sleep is not being fulfilled. Mindfulness helps you to remember the intention, focus, practices, and attitudes that can support you on your journey into sleep. Mindfulness can be practiced formally as a meditation or informally through cultivating present-centered awareness throughout your day.
A mindful daytime can contribute to comfort and ease during the nighttime, paving a royal road to sleep and dreaming. The invitation to you, dear reader, is to remember.
Image of “Somewhere Else” by Eric Zener, used with permission of the artist.