Manataka American Indian Council

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Unable to Sleep?

By Nathan Perez


The next time you find yourself staring at the ceiling unable to sleep, try meditating. And before you scoff, not only are meditation exercises to help you sleep simple — with no need even to move your head from the pillow — the experts think they really work. 


U.S. specialist Dr Andrew Weil suggests a simple breathing exercise to help people sleep. Known as the 4-7-8 method, it involves inhaling for four counts, holding your breath for seven and then exhaling deeply for eight counts making a ‘whoosh’ sound. Dr Weil describes it as a ‘natural tranquilizer’.


Breathing exercises are often used as part of a practice known as ‘mindfulness’. The idea is to focus on the moment, which helps to let go of anxious thoughts that contribute to sleepless nights.


Exercises that focus on what’s going on around you or within your own body — such as breathing — help to achieve this and refocus the mind. Dr Guy Meadows uses mindfulness as part of a program for overcoming insomnia.  Mindfulness is different from the way our brain normally works,’ he says.


‘We spend a huge amount of time worrying about the past and the future. This tendency is an evolutionary tool — the more you can worry, the more you predict what might go wrong and you’ve got a higher chance of survival. However, when it comes to sleep, this tendency is unhelpful.’


Here, he recommends three simple mindful meditation exercises to try at bedtime or if you wake in the middle of the night.


BRUSH YOUR TEETH MINDFULLY -  Doing what Dr Meadows calls ‘mindful daily chores’ can help you sleep. Rather than letting your mind roam while you clean your teeth, really focus on the task in hand.  ‘Practise bringing your mind back to how it feels, how it tastes, how it sounds,’ he says.


GET IN TOUCH -  As you lie in bed, concentrate on everything that’s in contact with your body — in your mind, work through a list of every part.  For example: I can feel the duvet on my toes, I can feel the mattress against my shoulder blades.  If you find it difficult and your  mind often wanders, practice in the day by taking 20 seconds to mentally note everything you can hear, taste, feel or smell.


FOCUS ON BREATHING -  You can count your breaths if you like or you can simply observe your breathing, focusing on the patterns and quirks of it. If your mind wanders, don’t panic.  If you’re starting to worry about something that happened earlier in the day, try not to start an internal dialogue.  Instead acknowledge the thoughts you’re having in an objective way and then try and let them go, coming back to focusing on your breathing. 


Mindful meditation isn’t about trying to have a blank or empty mind, it’s about acceptance,’ says Dr Meadows.