“For each new morning with its light, for rest and shelter of the night, for health and food, for love and friends, for everything Thy goodness sends.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Insomnia is often the result of incessant thoughts and persistent emotions that keep us physically or mentally tossing back and forth. It is common to experience a sense of anxiety about what the next day holds or concern over things that have already happened throughout the day. All of these thoughts and emotions take us away from being truly present to the experience of slipping away into a peaceful slumber.
Reflect on some times when you have found yourself struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep soundly. It is quite likely that those episodes of insomnia share some common qualities. Tune in to your own personal tendencies and habits of mind that keep you awake at night. Do you tend to feel particularly wound up after eventful days and notice those thoughts racing through your mind at bedtime? Or perhaps do you tend to lie awake at night, swimming with anxiety and ruminative thoughts about what the next day holds?
Many of the thoughts and emotions that keep us awake at night are negative in some way. They may be negative in the sense that they are excessively focused on worries about the future or filled with anxiety about the past. These types of thoughts and emotions are usually not focused in the present moment. If they were truly focused in the present moment, your thoughts might be more similar to noticing the softness of your pillow beneath your head or feeling the warmth of the blanket that surrounds you.
An attitude of gratitude can have a profound effect on your ability to mindfully drift away to a peaceful night’s sleep. In fact, a recent study led by Dr. Nancy Digdon found that writing in a gratitude journal for 15 minutes each night helped participants worry less at bedtime and consequently sleep longer and more soundly as a result.
Perhaps the results of this study do not seem surprising. Cultivating an attitude of gratitude has been shown to have significantly positive effects on our overall well-being and experience of positive emotions. When we make the choice to mindfully notice all that we have to be grateful for, it is like we have taken the time and effort to put our lives into perspective. As humans, we have a naturally ingrained tendency for our attention to be drawn toward the negative. This has been a useful survival mechanism in the past, but it often gets in the way of productive, happy, and meaningful lives in modern times.
Another study at the University of Manchester in England was interested in the effect that gratitude might have on people’s snooze time. Their study included over 400 adults (40% of whom had sleep disorders) who filled out questionnaires about gratitude, sleep and thoughts that they had prior to falling asleep (“pre-sleep thoughts”). Gratitude was related to having more positive thoughts – and less negative ones – at bedtime. This phenomenon was consequently related to falling asleep faster and having more restful sleep.
When you make the choice to actively experience and express gratitude throughout the day, you are more likely to naturally have your experience filled with positive thoughts and emotions at bedtime. The way that you choose to fill your heart and mind throughout the day has a natural impact on your mood at bedtime. When you have spent the day filled with worry, fear, or sadness, these experiences try to come to bed with you. Just as you can choose to think thoughts filled with fear, you are equally capable of thinking thoughts filled with gratitude.
You don’t have to “have it all” to experience authentic gratitude. In fact, I would be willing to bet that you have much more than you consciously realize in this very moment. Learning to become mindful of pleasant experiences, to slow down and become mindful throughout the day, and take the time to count your blessings all adds up to a calmer heart and mind at bedtime.
If you tend to experience difficulty with falling asleep or getting restful sleep, consider making the commitment to actively cultivate an attitude of gratitude for the next week. Take the time to notice positive events throughout the day – both expected and unexpected. If you are in a romantic relationship, mindfully “catch” your partner doing something positive. Express gratitude for the people you have in your life and let them know how much they mean to you. Give yourself the same compassionate love and care that you would like to receive from another.
As you fall asleep each night for the next week, after filling your day with conscious mental and emotional acts of gratitude, develop a personal gratitude mindfulness practice for sleep. Rather than counting sheep to help you fall asleep, try making a mental list of everything for which you feel genuine gratitude. These things can be small, such as feeling the sun on your face or enjoying a healthy breakfast. Allow your heart and mind to be filled with your list of gratitude as you drift away to sleep.
If, after implementing your personal gratitude mindfulness practice for sleep for the whole week, you noticed any positive changes, why not continue to express gratitude as a part of your regular bedtime routine? Worries about the past keep your heart and mind in the past, which is a shame since the past is already gone. Fears about the future keep your spirit locked onto a vision of the future, which is also a shame since all we truly have is this present moment.
Allow yourself to fully settle into the beauty of the present moment tonight as you fall asleep. If you notice your mind drifting away to the past or the future as you make your mental list of gratitude, refocus your awareness more fully in the present. Allow your mind and body to experience the comforting sensations of your pillows and blankets. Actively express gratitude for any comfort and peace that you feel. Let go of the past and the future, and allow yourself to drift away in the restful slumber of this present moment.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Andrews, L. W. (2011, November 9). [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/minding-the-body/201111/how-gratitude-helps-you-sleep-night
Featured image: Angel Sleeps by planetchopstick / CC BY-ND 2.0