There’s no denying it: we live in stressful, turbulent times. And with our advanced technology and constant news alerts, we’re more plugged in to developments unfolding around the world than ever before. All of this can increase our stress levels. In fact, a 2018 stress survey commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation found that 74% of UK adults felt so stressed at some point over the previous year that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.i

When stress goes unchecked, it can negatively affect your life in various ways.ii One particularly unpleasant potential effect of chronic stress is poor sleep.ii Those with chronic stress have reported sleeping less, having poorer sleep quality and finding it harder to function well during the day.ii

While we may not be able to completely eliminate stress from our lives, there are certainly ways we can manage and ease our stress.iii And when we feel less stressed, the quality of our sleep – and of our lives overall – is likely to improve.

One tool we have for moderating our response to stress – along with other lifestyle adjustments like exercising and moving more – is mindfulness meditation.iii Keep reading to learn more about this tool, and how you can make it work for you.

Benefits of mindfulness

The positive effects of mindfulness can include:iii

  • Better sleep
  • Less stress and fewer negative emotions
  • More positive emotions
  • Boosting the immune system
  • Improved memory and focus
  • Enhanced relationships
  • Greater resilience
  • Improved creativity

Did you know?

Research suggests that mindfulness fosters our sense of altruism, and that mindfulness training may make us more likely to help someone in need.iii

How mindfulness helps to improve sleep and reduce anxiety

The mechanics of mindfulness are complex and require more research before they can be fully understood, but what we do know is that mindfulness meditation can significantly improve sleep quality.iv We also know that it can increase the relaxation response, helping to reduce worry and rumination and alleviate mood disturbances.v

It may well be that these two things are related – which will make perfect sense to anyone who’s ever lost a night’s sleep to worrying about that big presentation they have to give the next morning.

Meditation techniques for better sleep and less anxiety

If you’re looking to decrease your overall stress levels – and therefore feel less anxious on a day-to-day basis as a result – taking up a regular mindfulness meditation practice is an effective technique to try. A study focusing on medical students (who have higher rates of depression and psychological distress than the general population) found that 30 days of 10-20 minutes of daily mindfulness meditation significantly decreased perceived stress, and significantly increased general wellbeing.vi

You can find 10- to 20-minute guided mindfulness meditations – some even specifically created for tackling anxiety and sleep issues – on platforms like Spotify and YouTube, and in meditation apps like Headspace. Alternatively, you can practice mindfulness meditation on your own by simply sitting quietly for 10 to 20 minutes, acknowledging any thoughts that come into your mind before lightly releasing them, staying present in the moment.

How to empty your mind for sleep

If you find that you’re having trouble sleeping at night, you can try the following short meditation, called a body scan, to help you unwind as you lie in bed:

  • Close your eyes.
  • Take a few deep breaths.
  • Bring your attention to the top of your head.
  • Slowly start to scan down your body, noticing any discomfort or tension that may be present.
  • Don’t judge or try to change any discomfort or tension you encounter. Simply notice it, and then continue to scan down your body until you reach the tips of your toes. 

A body scan meditation is one of the best ways to clear your mind for sleep, so once you complete it, you should be relaxed and ready for the land of Nod.

References

Stressed nation: 74% of UK 'overwhelmed or unable to cope' at some point in the past year. Mental Health Foundation. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/news/stressed-nation-74-uk-overwhelmed-or-unable-cope-some-point-past-year. Accessed 15/06/2020. Referenced text is highlighted in source PDF.
ii Sleep and Stress. Sleep.org. https://www.sleep.org/articles/sleep-and-stress/. Accessed 15/06/2020. Referenced text is highlighted in source PDF.
iii MINDFULNESS Defined. Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/mindfulness/definition#why-practice-mindfulness. Accessed 16/06/2020. Referenced text is highlighted in source PDF.
iv Mindfulness Meditation for Insomnia: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27663102/. Accessed 16/06/2020. Referenced text is highlighted in source PDF.
Mindfulness Meditation and Improvement in Sleep Quality and Daytime Impairment Among Older Adults With Sleep Disturbances: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Network. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2110998. Accessed 16/06/2020. Referenced text is highlighted in source PDF.
vi Happier Healers: Randomized Controlled Trial of Mobile Mindfulness for Stress Management. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29420050/. Accessed 16/06/2020. Referenced text is highlighted in source PDF.

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