Can Mindfulness Help Combat Insomnia?
When insomnia first struck me back in my 30’s, around the same time as my son was born three months prematurely so I was constantly on the alert to what was happening with my son, I deployed everything to try to help me sleep; I gave up caffeine, put drinking alcohol on hold, tried acupuncture, herbal sleep remedies and even learnt to meditate (I found this particularly beneficial for calming the mind). And yet it was all pretty much to no avail. The more I tried to get back to sleep the more elusive sleep seemed to become. Anyone who has suffered a period of sleep disturbance, often finds it difficult to understand why they still can’t sleep once those factors which precipitated it have settled, and I was no exception. I have since learnt that insomnia is not linked to the precipitating factors, in my case the difficult circumstances of my son’s birth, but to the perpetuating ones – i.e. your preoccupation with getting to sleep. This is why acceptance therapy strikes such a chord with me.
This approach is based around the idea of how struggling to control your insomnia simply perpetuates it. It becomes a vicious cycle of worrying about not being able to sleep which leads to worsening sleep problems. Like so many things in life, it is about letting go and going with the flow. So, when you wake in the night with a racing mind, rather than berating yourself for not being able to doze off, counting sheep or getting out of bed after 20 minutes, acceptance therapy encourages you to just stay in bed and rest.
So now when I wake in the night, rather than desperately trying to get back to sleep I simply lie there, enjoying the benefits of being in a beautifully warm, comfortable bed – this is where lovely bed linen and a good mattress play such an important part. Worries still surface – stress and sleepless nights are closely linked – but I try to let them pass and I find natural sleep can emerge from here. If it doesn’t? Well just relax, don’t fight it, accept it and rest. Sleep is a completely natural biological process, it needs to become a natural rhythm like breathing, our brains know how to do it but only if we step back and let them get on with it.
Of course, in some cases of insomnia, acceptance therapy may not be enough; for people with adrenal or thyroid dysfunction, or in pain, or for women in peri-menopause or menopause. For chronic insomniacs, especially heavy snorers and those who are obese, it may be a good idea to rule out Sleep Apnea as the cause. This is a condition which affects many people, many of whom have not been diagnosed.