Change your relationship with your sleep just as it is, by using mindfulness meditation with an emphasis on self-compassion.
The below is an excerpt from the new book Mindfulness for Insomnia: A Four-Week Guided Program to Relax Your Body, Calm Your Mind, and Get the Sleep You Need. Reprinted with permission: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
It’s extremely uncomfortable to be exhausted and feel like your brain and body can’t function. Not sleeping sucks. Frequently we focus on all the external methods of getting better sleep. Methods like dim lighting, regular sleep schedule, no screens in the bedroom. These are all great. But, did you ever stop to consider that this approach is incomplete? While there is a need to address the external environment, we also need to address the internal environment: the “mental threats” that both feed and keep you stuck in patterns of insomnia (which add even more suffering).
What do we mean by “mental threats?” Whenever we are continually grasping after a reality that is different from the one we are actually in – like an inability to rest and fall asleep, or actively resisting our current experience, we inadvertently create an increase in anxiety, an increase in stress, an increase in grief, an increase in fear, an increase in helplessness, and an increase in hopelessness. All these agitated states tell the body that there is some kind of crisis, and then, as a way of trying to reregulate and protect itself, our bodies go into fight/flight mode, which makes sleep even more elusive. We get ourselves into a loop of suffering that just compounds upon itself. It’s a vicious cycle.
There is actually nothing you can do to “make” yourself sleep. If you’ve ever lain awake telling yourself, Go to sleep, go to sleep, or even conjured up images of nineteenth-century hypnotists waving golden pocket watches in front of your eyes intoning those same words, all to no avail, you know that to be true. In many ways, this is why insomnia can be so maddening. In fact, the more you try to bully yourself into going to sleep and tell yourself to do it, the more your mind and your body seem to rebel. If you’ve ever lain down with a toddler trying to wait them out at a scheduled naptime, you know. No amount of wishing, commanding, or pleading can “make” the child fall asleep. What you can do, however, is to create the conditions, internally and externally, to tip the scales and make sleep more likely to happen when you do lie down. You can allow sleep to come by working mindfully and compassionately with your mind and your body.
Guided Mindfulness with Acceptance Treatment for Insomnia (GMATI) takes behavioral treatment of insomnia in a different direction from what you may have been exposed to before. Here we focus on developing both Mindfulness and Self-Compassion throughout the day. The attitudes of mind and heart that are then developed seem to be more effective in teaching people suffering from insomnia how to be more accepting of what they experience when having difficulty sleeping, rather than trying to directly change their sleep. This may seem strange, and yet this willingness to accept the experience of poor sleep can result in fewer struggles, less arousal, and, paradoxically, greater levels of calm, beneficial sleep. When you eventually learn to do this, like others already have, you will find that you are getting better and more sleep.
The key to this innovative, cutting-edge approach is the emphasis on changing your relationship with your sleep just as it is, by using mindfulness meditation with an emphasis on self-compassion. As you work into this new relationship with your sleep, you will begin to notice an improvement in the quality and then the quantity of your sleep. You will also find that you have more alertness and energy during waking hours, as well as better cognitive skills. All of this can usually be accomplished in a matter of weeks if you are diligent in working on it.
When you are training yourself to encounter life in this way, you are stopping a war. This is the exhausting war with life that we all wage by unconsciously grasping and resisting, trying to make life different than it is. This war is waged in our own minds and on our bodies, and it wreaks havoc on our well-being—including on our ability to sleep. Each time your mind creates catastrophic stories about the future because of how frustrated you are about not sleeping, you are inadvertently continuing this internal war. The brain interprets that train of thinking as a threat and reactivates the stress response.
To really rest, we need to feel safe and at peace. Humans are programmed that way: our cave-dwelling ancestors survived because they kept one eye open for saber-toothed tigers. But how can we feel safe and at peace? Mindfulness and self- compassion practices can give us that experience of peace because it’s a peace that does not depend on an absence of difficulty. We can learn to encounter ourselves, encounter our lives, with acceptance and compassion and in so doing, bring about the conditions where we can let go into rest. That is the aim of the GMATI approach. With GMATI you will learn the same mindfulness and self-compassion practices that have already helped many people sleep better and find greater contentment in their lives. We will show you how practices taken from programs such as mindfulness-based stress reduction and mindful self-compassion, as well as other mindfulness and relaxation practices, can be used to alleviate the mental, emotional, and physical suffering caused by insomnia. You will learn to identify both internal and external factors that may be compromising sleep and how you can escape from them. Along with reading this book, you can access guided meditations that can be used: (1) throughout the day to train your mind and body to be less reactive to circumstances; (2) before going to bed to create new habits and wind down; and eventually (3) even in the middle of the night when you find yourself awake and need support.
Catherine Polan Orzech, MA, LMFT, has taught mindfulness since 2000. She received her initial training in mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) at the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, and her professional training under the direction of Jon Kabat-Zinn, and is certified to teach MBSR and mindful self-compassion (MSC). She has taught and lectured on the subject of mindfulness internationally, and was founder and codirector of the Montreal Center for Mindfulness.
William H. Moorcroft, PhD, is a registered psychotherapist; behavioral sleep medicine specialist; emeritus professor at Luther College, Decorah, IA; and founder and chief consultant at Northern Colorado Sleep Consultants, LLC, where he now specializes in treating insomnia, children’s sleep problems, nightmares, and sleep problems in shift workers. He is also former director of a Sleep and Dreams Laboratory. Following earning a PhD from Princeton University, Moorcroft committed over forty-five years of his life studying and researching sleep and dreams. During this time, he did additional sleep disorder training at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and Rush Medical College in Chicago.
Copyright © 2019 Catherine Polan Orzech, MA, LMFT and William H. Moorcroft, PhD