Sometimes, our minds can be our own worst enemies when it comes to getting a full night’s sleep. The stresses from the day can leak into our nights, resulting in hours wasted laying in bed, thinking about how tired we will be the following morning. The cycle continues until we exist in a perpetual state of exhaustion, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Insomnia affects 30-60% of adults and is estimated to cost the US economy $63.2 billion per year. At the same time, the US sleep industry nets ~$28 billion/year, and yet the problem, for many, persists. Sleep is critically important for all of us, as it has a wide-reaching impact on the brain, cardiac, and immune system, risk of obesity and diabetes, as well as emotional regulation, and overall well-being. Mindfulness can be a powerful alternative to medications, and numerous studies demonstrate that simple mindfulness techniques can greatly improve sleep.
We interviewed Dr. Gail Gazelle M.D., Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Master Certified Coach for physicians, who offers insight on how insomnia can be harmful to people in many ways, and how practicing mindfulness can help us improve our relationship with sleep. Mindfulness can really do so much for our lives, and the added benefit of better sleep is just a great bonus. Here are Dr. Gazelle’s top three reasons why mindfulness can improve sleep. Keep reading to learn more!
How Practicing Mindfulness Can Help You Sleep Better, According to a Physician
1) Helps clear our minds for rest
When we’re having difficulty sleeping, it is often because our body needs rest but our mind is overly active. Too often, we lie in bed feeling exhausted, yet our mind is busy reviewing the events of the day, rehashing arguments, or planning for the future. With mindfulness, we learn how to quiet the mind, thus allowing the body to get the rest it needs. Having a ton of stimulus can deter your evening quickly. When your mind is active, it can be a lot harder to fall asleep. If you practice intentional mindfulness and meditation, you can clear your mind for better sleep and a quicker way to do it at that. Imagine all of the ways you can recharge your body if you feel more well-rested?
2) Decreases entanglement with emotional stimuli
In addition to the busy mind, our sleep can be disrupted by unprocessed emotions. We can be awake worrying and fearful about our children, our job, our finances, scary world events, or even the fate of the planet. With mindfulness, we gain skills in working with challenging emotions so they don’t arise during the night in the same ineffectual pattern. Do you ever find yourself in a realistic situation in your dreams? This might be because your mind is trying to process a past or future event and figure out how to correct it or make it better for your future self. While it’s great to process these situations and think them through, it may be disruptive to your sleep because you wake up and that can be stressful.
3) Interestingly, what we resist tends to persist
When we have difficulty sleeping, we often start fretting about it. We start thinking “Oh no, it’s going to be another bad night,” or “How am I going to get my work done tomorrow if I can’t get rest tonight?” Sadly, the more we fret, the more the mind stays active; paradoxically, it only fuels the difficulty we have shutting off the mind and allowing the body to rest. Surrender to the chaos of every day life, and you will live in the moment more. It will allow you to be less resistant to changes that may happen that are out of your control.
Meet Our Expert
Dr. Gazelle graduated from Cornell University and Upstate Medical University. She is a part-time Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and an Associate Scientist at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital. A Master Certified Coach through the International Coach Federation (MCC,) she has coached over 500 physicians to help them with burnout and dealing with mental stress. Her mission is simple — she gives physicians, physician leaders, and other healthcare professionals the tools and confidence they need to thrive in their lives and careers. Through coaching physicians, workshops, and keynotes, she helps her clients overcome physician burnout and live incredible lives. The tips and advice she provides are useful for others who are experiencing burnout or just want to try out the practice of mindfulness.