Mindfully Seeking Shut-Eye

October 8th, 2015 by

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Sleep. It’s one of the most important and least prioritized components of health and happiness. It contributes to our overall well-being in enormous ways, from hormone balance and job performance to the foods we choose and whether or not we feel motivated to exercise. Getting enough sleep has numerous benefits including increased longevity, improved mood, better overall health, and a general feeling of contentment and satisfaction with life, to name a few.

We all need deep sleep. Those who have gone without it for extended periods (like new parents and people with insomnia or other sleep disorders) can attest to the fact that sleep deprivation can make daily life feel like unmanageable drudgery. In fact, not getting enough hours of sleep, or failing to get deep sleep and complete sleep cycles at night, can lead to a multitude of physical and psychological issues.

The Connection Between Stress, the Mind, and Sleep

People suffering from sleep disorders may benefit from better “sleep hygiene”, with a nightly routine of relaxing and unwinding, going to bed at the same time each night, and avoiding bright screens, exercise, and stimulating activities before bedtime. However, chemical and hormonal imbalances resulting from long periods of unmanaged stress are often behind insomnia disorders. A number of research studies on mindfulness training for sleep-challenged adults have demonstrated a significant link.

A recent study at the University of Southern California and UCLA found that mindfulness meditation training is more effective for sleep-challenged adults than sleep hygiene education. “We were surprised to find that the effect of mindfulness meditation on sleep quality was large and above and beyond the effect of the sleep hygiene education program,” said David S. Black, PhD, MPH, author of the study and assistant professor of preventive medicine at USC and Director of the American Mindfulness Research Association (goAMRA.org).

The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults aged 26-64 get 7-9 hours of sleep each night. People who regularly practice some form of mindfulness meditation are likely to enjoy more sleep and better quality sleep. Mindfulness practices soothe the nervous system and ease mental patterns associated with stress. Mindfulness practitioners learn to let go of their thoughts about the day before bedtime. As Black notes, “Before going to bed, people who can’t sleep worry a lot, and they start ruminating about not being able to sleep.” Mindfulness practitioners are better able to notice these thoughts and set them aside without chasing them or elaborating and creating more stress and wakefulness.

A Mindfulness Routine for Getting a Nourishing Night’s Sleep

In addition to dimming the lights one hour before bedtime, and putting away anything with a screen – tablet, phone, computer, or TV. (The light causes wakefulness), Shelby Freedman Harris, Psy.D., C.BSM, clinical psychologist and director of Behavioral Sleep Medicine at the Sleep-Wake Disorders Center at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, suggests a mindfulness practice known as the “Body Scan” ten minutes before bedtime. Sit in a comfortable chair and bring your attention to the top of your head, or to your toes, and progressively bring your attention to each part of your body, noticing whatever sensations you become aware of. Gradually move your attention through your entire body. When your mind drifts into thinking (which it will), the practice is to simply notice this (without judging yourself) and then gently escort your attention back to noticing sensations in the body. It doesn’t matter how many times the mind wanders away: Each time you bring your attention back to the body you’re strengthening the mindfulness muscle. Spend about 5 minutes on this practice. Then, get in bed and rest your attention on the sensations of your breath. If you are unable to fall asleep, get up, sit in the comfortable chair again and repeat the Body Scan. Don’t get back into bed until you feel sleepy—and don’t sleep in the chair!

Whether you’re getting sufficient shut-eye or not, mindfulness practice can help prevent sleep disturbances and maintain healthy sleep patterns. Sleep well!

Mindfulness Training & Therapeutic Yoga: Optimal Treatments for Insomnia

September 16th, 2014 by

I remember when chronic pain and obsessive worry kept me awake night after night. Typically, around 2 am, my mind was scanning the horizon like a lighthouse, searching for something to worry about. When it locked on it wouldn’t let go, mentally approaching the “problem” from every conceivable angle – until the alarm clock went off. Does this sound like you?  Are you exhausted day after day due to the inability to sleep? What would life be like if a good nights sleep was something you could count on? How about a life with more energy, better moods, improved concentration, and enhanced health? Sound good?

Restful sleep is a foundation of good physical and emotional health.  But many people lie awake nightly, or have difficulty returning to sleep once awakened.  Sleep medications can produce unwanted side effects, including dependency. Medications can also lose effectiveness over time. Is there a natural alternative that’s actually good for you, without side effects, and the effectiveness of which increases over time? There is!

Medical researchers are looking closely at mindfulness training due to the substantial benefits it offers for insomnia as well as a host of other health, quality of life, and productivity concerns. Stress is a major cause of insomnia, but pain, anxiety, and depression – all magnified by stress – are also associated with sleeplessness. Researchers are studying why mindfulness training offers such valuable relief for insomnia.

Jeff Greeson, PhD, MS, clinical health psychologist at Duke University explains, “When we don’t know what to do with intrusive and persistent thoughts, the mind and body feel threatened. That signals the ‘fight or flight’ response which starts a cascade of sleep-robbing emotions like agitation and anxiety.” Greeson’s study of 151 sleep deprived adults, mostly women, who received 8 weeks of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training in mindfulness techniques and gentle yoga, showed significant improvements in sleep quality, sleep disturbances, and less daytime sleepiness. “When people become more mindful they learn to look at life through a new lens. They learn how to accept the presence of thoughts and feelings that may keep them up at night. They begin to understand that they don’t have to react to them. As a result, they experience greater emotional balance and less sleep disturbance.”

Stress is so pervasive today. People worry about the economy, their jobs, bills. “All that worrying, obsessing, and ruminating can increase the risk of illness and disease,” explains Greeson. “When the mind worries, the body responds.” The key, he says, is not to push those thoughts away, but to acknowledge them “That helps people manage their reaction to stress and anxiety and helps them remain calm.”

Researchers at the University of California at San Diego compared mindfulness training with sleep medication in two groups. One received the 8-week MBSR program. The other was prescribed the sleep medication Lunesta™. The MBSR participants significantly reduced the time it took them to fall asleep, increased their total sleep time, reported no adverse events, and scored their satisfaction with treatment as high. Although the patients who received sleep medication obtained similar benefits, their treatment satisfaction scores were not high, most continued using sleeping pills, and several reported adverse events. Because MBSR produces no side effects, and the positive potential benefits of mindfulness extend far beyond sleep, the researchers encouraged people with insomnia, especially those unable or unwilling to use sleep medications, to consider mindfulness training with MBSR.

This year a study by Duke University and Aetna found mindfulness training to significantly improve sleep, stress, pain, and blood pressure. Researchers concluded that mindfulness training reduces stress by teaching people how to significantly shift their attention to the present moment, with a curious and non-judgmental perspective.

If you’re lying awake night after night with a busy or worrying mind, you may already be feeling the effects – from chronic fatigue to more significant health consequences. Imagine a life with more energy, and the feeling of being well-rested and alert!  You can learn time-tested practices that will reverse the cycle of sleeplessness. Mindfulness training can improve the quality of your sleep, your health, and your life  – no pills, no side effects, no dependency.

 

 

10 Benefits of Rising Early, and How to Do It

June 1st, 2012 by

Image: © Wilfred Stanley Sussenbach | Dreamstime.com

If you think you don’t have time for a meditation or yoga practice, one solution is to become an early riser. This is a great article by Leo Babauta on how and why to do just that. Not only will you have time for your practice, you’ll get more done by 6:30 than many people accomplish in an entire day.

Get Your ZZZ’s Naturally: Mindfulness training & therapeutic yoga are optimal treatments for insomnia

April 15th, 2012 by

I remember when chronic pain and obsessive worry kept me awake night after night. Typically, around 2 am, my mind was scanning the horizon like a lighthouse, searching for something to worry about. When it locked on it wouldn’t let go, mentally approaching the “problem” from every conceivable angle – until the alarm clock went off. Does this sound like you?  Are you exhausted day after day due to the inability to sleep? What would life be like if a good nights sleep was something you could count on? How about a life with more energy, better moods, improved concentration, and enhanced health? Sound good?

Restful sleep is a foundation of good physical and emotional health.  But many people lie awake nightly, or have difficulty returning to sleep once awakened.  Sleep medications can produce unwanted side effects, including dependency. Medications can also lose effectiveness over time. Are there natural alternatives that are actually good for you, without side effects, the effectiveness of which increase over time? There are!

Medical researchers are looking closely at mindfulness training and therapeutic yoga due to the substantial benefits they offer for insomnia as well as a host of other health, quality of life, and productivity concerns. Stress is a major cause of insomnia, but pain, anxiety, and depression – all magnified by stress – are also associated with sleeplessness. Researchers are studying why mindfulness training and therapeutic yoga offer such valuable relief for insomnia.

Jeff Greeson, PhD, MS, clinical health psychologist at Duke University explains, “When we don’t know what to do with intrusive and persistent thoughts, the mind and body feel threatened. That signals the ‘fight or flight’ response which starts a cascade of sleep-robbing emotions like agitation and anxiety.” Greeson’s study of 151 sleep deprived adults, mostly women, who received 8 weeks of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training in mindfulness techniques and gentle yoga, showed significant improvements in sleep quality, sleep disturbances, and less daytime sleepiness. “When people become more mindful they learn to look at life through a new lens. They learn how to accept the presence of thoughts and feelings that may keep them up at night. They begin to understand that they don’t have to react to them. As a result, they experience greater emotional balance and less sleep disturbance.”

Stress is so pervasive today. People worry about the economy, their jobs, bills. “All that worrying, obsessing, and ruminating can increase the risk of illness and disease,” explains Greeson. “When the mind worries, the body responds.” The key, he says, is not to push those thoughts away, but to acknowledge them “That helps people manage their reaction to stress and anxiety and helps them remain calm.”

Researchers at the University of California at San Diego compared mindfulness training with sleep medication in two groups. One received the 8-week MBSR program. The other was prescribed the sleep medication Lunesta™. The MBSR participants significantly reduced the time it took them to fall asleep, increased their total sleep time, reported no adverse events, and scored their satisfaction with treatment as high. Although the patients who received sleep medication obtained similar benefits, their treatment satisfaction scores were not high, most continued using sleeping pills, and several reported adverse events. Because MBSR produces no side effects, and the positive potential benefits of mindfulness extend far beyond sleep, the researchers encouraged people with insomnia, especially those unable or unwilling to use sleep medications, to consider mindfulness training with MBSR.

This year a study by Duke University and Aetna compared mindfulness training with therapeutic yoga and found both to significantly improve sleep, stress, pain, and blood pressure. Researchers said mindfulness training reduces stress by teaching people how to significantly shift their attention to the present moment, with a curious and non-judgmental perspective. Viniyoga, the therapeutic form of yoga examined in this study, utilizes tools for managing stress, including “asanas” (physical postures of yoga), adaptation of asanas to suit the individual’s body, breathing techniques, guided relaxation, mental techniques, and education about starting a home practice.

Mindfulness and therapeutic Viniyoga have dramatically improved the quality of my sleep, as well as virtually every aspect of my life. I would love to speak with you about incorporating these wonderful practices into your life!

References

Mindfulness Training Improves Sleep Quality; Lessens Need for Sleep Medicines. Duke Medicine News and Communications. June 25, 2009.

Gross CR, et. al. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction v. Pharmacotherapy for Primary Chronic Insomnia: A Pilot Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial. Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing 7(2): 76-87, 2011.

Wolever, RQ, et. al. Effective and Viable Mind-Body Stress Reduction in the Workplace: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. February 20, 2012.

Mindfulness : A Foundation for Personal Transformation

February 13th, 2012 by

More and more people want to know about mindfulness as the scientific evidence for its benefits grows stronger. Mindfulness is a process of bringing attention to moment-by-moment experience. It’s a combination of “the self-regulation of attention with an attitude of curiosity, openness, and acceptance toward one’s experiences.” Through a regular mindfulness meditation practice, the mind gradually becomes quiet and shifts away from the thinking process into a state of restful awareness. Over time you can begin to shift from “automatic pilot” to present moment awareness during whatever you may be doing or experiencing. Mindfulness during your daily activities leads to an expanded perspective and understanding of oneself. As you practice, you’ll begin to observe thoughts and feelings with the same quality you observe any sensory experience, without habitually reacting to them, as many of us do. As we know, most of us spend our lives not present and habitually reactive! This is important because the mind tends to take on the qualities of the things we (habitually) pay attention to. One of my teachers describes this phenomenon by saying, “we are always practicing something,” and “whatever we practice we get good at.” For example, if we habitually rehash things that make us angry, we unconsciously get very good at being angry and unhappy. If we unconsciously pay attention and react to worrisome thoughts, we become very, very good worriers.  However, if we intentionally cultivate the quality of patience (as we do toward the fluctuating nature of our own mind in mindfulness practice) we get good at being patient with ourselves and others. If we practice cultivating qualities of non-judgment and kindness (especially toward ourselves) we become kind and less judgmental. By learning and practicing being “present” in the  “moment” (rather than on “automatic pilot”) we can wisely influence what unfolds in this moment, and the next, and thus the rest of our lives.  This is a foundation for transformation and the development of our human potential.

In prior posts I’ve highlighted some of the numerous health and quality of life benefits associated with having a personal mindfulness practice: less stress, reduced anxiety, improved sleep, benefits for people with high blood pressure, chronic pain, diabetes, fibromyalgia, prostate cancer, breast cancer, and depression. But mindfulness doesn’t stop there. Regular practice can also propel the practitioner on a journey of personal growth and transformation. In my work with people who come to study mindfulness to reduce stress, as well as in my own life, I’ve seen how a difficult life situation, even what some might call a physical or emotional “breakdown”, typically signals a transformation – the emergence of something new.  For example, several years ago my own cancer, insomnia, unhealthy weight loss, chronic pain, anxiety and depression signaled the serious need for change in my life. There were things I needed to pay attention to, feel, and release to make room for the new me that was emerging. It was only through a regular meditation practice that I came to understand the underlying origins of my physical and emotional stress. It was a time for undeniable truth with myself. This was a difficult but healing process. By practicing being open to my inner turmoil with compassion, without judging it as good or bad, but simply the truth that was emerging through me at the time, and allowing that pain to be fully felt, I discovered I already had everything I needed – inside –  to face the scary monster within. The anxiety, depression, insomnia, and chronic pain were telling me to look within and to pay attention. The emotions at the root of these symptoms were demanding to be known and felt. Only then did these symptoms and emotions stop running my life. In their place came spaciousness and the possibility for something new to enter. This is transformation and it’s available to you too!  Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a course in which you’ll learn how to practice mindfulness skills and make them a natural part of your life. You’ll begin to respond rather than react to the difficulties of life. This new way of being opens you to the possibility of transformation. Attend the Free MBSR Talk on Wednesday, March 7th at 10 am at the Naples Daily News on Immokalee Road. Also visit www.IntegrativeMindfulness.net.  I look forward to meeting you and practicing mindfulness together!

References

Meditation Practices for Health: State of the Research, AHRQ publication No. 07-E010, June, 2007 prepared by the University of Alberta Evidence-Based Practice Center for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Meditation: The Royal Road to the Transpersonal, Roger Walsh, MD, PhD and Frances Vaughan, PhD, eds. in Paths Beyond Ego: The Transpersonal Vision,  Penguin, 1993 pp. 47-55.

Learn How to Meditate for a Good Night’s Sleep

February 7th, 2012 by

Great article by Cindy Gross on recent research demonstrating the benefits of mindfulness for sleepless nights. She states: “mindfulness is hypothesized to facilitate disengagement from the concerns of the day, and enable falling asleep.” Yeah! Being able to fall asleep without drugs.

 

 

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