Mindful Sleep


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Sleep is one of the 3 pillars of health, according to ancient Indian medicine, Ayurveda. Therefore, good quality of sleep is indispensable for good health. Unfortunately, most of us have improper sleep on most of our nights. There are many reasons for improper sleep, hyperactive brain, stress, anxiety, fear, anger, and other negative emotions can drastically degrade the quality of our sleep. Sleep quality is not great for most of us and the reason might vary from person to person.

Good quality of sleep cannot be compartmentalized as a separate part of our day. We cannot switch on good sleep after a bad day. Ideally, It can be an incidental result of a peaceful day. Therefore, moment to moment mindfulness helps to create a deep rejuvenating sleep at the end of the day. it is better to correct an emotional slip within a few minutes, rather than planting it as a thorny bush in your mind and letting it grow till the night. Therefore, when all religious texts ask us to forgive the mistakes of others, it is more for our immediate good rather than anyone else’s. No one sleeps better than a forgiving person.    

However, sometimes we do have very bad days. Sometimes, it is difficult to forget or forgive some people immediately. But it is always possible to steer away from the sad memory and find a safe emotional place to tackle it. This is not an escapist approach. In case you have your house on fire, you would first get away from the fire and then try to put it off. There is no sense in standing in the middle of the flames and trying to find a solution. Even if you don’t follow mindfulness the whole day, saving emotional stress is a great practice not only to ensure a great sleep but also a very peaceful day. Find more about it under the heading – anxiety and anger management.

You might have ample justifiable reasons for bad sleep. But let’s not dwell on the reasons for long. In order to remove the darkness, we do not need to think of its reasons; we need to focus on lighting the lamp. Let’s make a resolution to improve the quality of our sleep and have a fresh look at the following awesome ways that we all already know about.

Ways to a mindful sleep

The right time to sleep

The best time to sleep is a few hours (2-3 hours) after the sunset. However, we can make our own time table according to our convenience. However, it is important to be punctual for the bed. For many people, night appears to be the most relaxing time, when they can actually focus and work. Many people work at night and sleep during the day. But the long term effects of this unnatural behavior are bad health and rapid aging.

Some workaholic people are not able to stop working or thinking about it even during night time. However, this extra mental exertion hardly gives us anything except the satisfaction of extra time devoted to work. Whatever is important and worth thinking can be worked upon in 5 hours of daytime. All extra hours we normally put in work might results in low productivity over the years. Looks like these extra hours work on the law of diminishing returns. They constantly decrease in productivity as they increase in number. Therefore, it makes sense to halt the work when it is time to rest.
 Consider sleep as important as a business meeting and pay equal respect to it. Let us be mindful of the important role sleep plays in our lives. We are truly in the hands of God, when we are sleeping. In ancient Indian tradition, sleep is considered to be a goddess that rejuvenates all the creatures. When we are mindful of sleep, we can approach sleep as a pious ritual instead of a by-product of daily metabolism.

Gratefulness

In spite of all kinds of problems in my life, I have had a very peaceful sleep for most of my life. This was sole because of a feeling of gratefulness that I had while I went to sleep. I am averse to cold things, cold weather or anything cold. Therefore, when I went to sleep at night and I had a warm blanket to cover myself, I felt that the blanket is actually God’s love that covers me. In childhood and teenage, most of my days were not great. As I used to lay in my bed, I used to feel so happy that the day is over now and I have no liability for tomorrow as no one knows about it. Only when I got a job and I had more than I ever had, I forgot about this subtle ritual and gradually drifted towards sleepless nights. I forgot about the blanket, as I started taking it for granted. Instead, I kept thinking about all the things that have gone bad and all other things that might go worse. I drifted to sleep in a resentful and angry mood. And what followed was even worse. When I hit the worst possible, then I remembered about the blanket and the warmth that I have always had. Now I feel that we invite problems because we fail to learn and improve without them. I could have gone from good to great, but I chose to move in a downward spiral because a few things were not going according to me.  

Bottom-line, gratefulness is the single most important quality that can change your perspective about things, make you happy and peaceful in a moment, and feel abundant and satisfied.

Music

Light cheerful music is a great way to move towards sleep time if you are tensed or frustrated. It makes sense to start playing a devotional song or soft music that you relate with the sleep time. For example, if you have to get into bed at 10 pm, you can start playing the music by 9.30/9.45 pm. Gradually, your body will start responding to that signal and immediately relax on hearing the specific music. This especially works in case of toddlers and babies who have problems falling asleep.

Body Scan

The body scan is an amazing way to relax the body just before sleep. It can be completed in less than 5-7 min. It is another method to become mindful about the body and consciously choose to relax.

Body Massage

A short and gentle body massage with a moisturizing lotion or oil can be very relaxing before bed. Body massage is another great way to become mindful about the body. You can be mindful about a specific part of the body as you move your hands around it. You can feel the soft skin, throbbing of the heart and rigidity of the bones. You can also become more aware of the stress, pain, inflammation or any other mild sensation that was not felt during the day as you were engrossed in your work. You can massage the painful body part and suggest to your mind that the pain is gradually getting healed.

Mindful Sleep

Now let us assume that after your nighttime rituals, you are finally lying in the bed. Normally, most of us are thinking about some random thoughts and we move into sleep unconsciously. However, sleep is a doorway to our unconscious and subconscious mind. If we can sleep mindfully, we can have a dip in greater consciousness. If we are unaware of the sleep process, we might sleep with a negative emotion or a useless thought. Ancient Indians believed that the thoughts that we sleep with get registered permanently and form sanskaras or mental blocks. Therefore, it is advised to remember god or a higher consciousness as we sleep. You can start mindfulness by remembering God before sleep.   

For mindful sleep, just notice the thoughts passing in your mind. Consider them like cars passing through the road out of a window that you are looking out. You do not focus on any specific car, you do not judge where they are going or coming from, you do not try to imagine who might be sitting inside, none of these. You just watch the cars. They might just make a pretty spectacle to look at that. Zero complexity. In a similar way, you can look at the thoughts passing your mind. As a matter of fact, we might never know why a specific thought appeared in our mind. There is an endless connection of past events that we might be oblivious of. The reasons that we can think of appear as a result of a structured reasoning process of our mind, sourcing facts from conscious memory. Therefore, engaging deeply with any thoughts is as mindless as thinking about who might be sitting inside an unknown red car. So just be aware of the thoughts, no reasoning, no fusing, no justifications; just simple observation. This is mindfulness.

As we become more mindful, strong unresolved thoughts will start emerging at bedtime. It is important to remember this that this is not a degradation of our practice, in fact, it is proof of advancement. Now we are rid of general chatter and have dug deeper into our consciousness. The thoughts can be about a painful past or about uncertain or dangerous future. Sometimes, it might look justified to get involved with the thoughts. 

Consider this example – you are invited to watch a video on a life-size screen. Everything appears lifelike, but you know that it is just a screen. However, you see the image of a very dear friend or your family member approaching. It is quite possible that you might forget for a while that it is just an image, not a real person and you might try to strike a conversation with the image.

I had an experience while meditating. Years back, when I was a little child, my grandfather slapped me very hard for not listening to him. My grandfather was a very strict person. He was visiting us for some time. Till that time, I was almost never beaten at all by my parents. And it was a very stark and painful experience because I did not understand why I was beaten. And nobody said anything about it. But I forgot this experience and never recollected it. However, while meditating I remembered this incident as if it was happening right then and there. I started crying. I could see that I felt lonely and left out. I could feel the situation. I started thinking about the experience again. I felt resentful towards my parents, grandparents and almost everyone around me in a chain reaction. I did wrong. This is not the way such experiences can be handled. They re-emerge to seek an answer. Now it does not have to be a physical or a material solution. In fact, all real solutions are basically threads of acceptance. So what I should have done was to accept that IT HAPPENED. As I accepted that it happened, I could see that my grandfather basically meant good. The thrashing was the only way he knew to communicate something serious. Probably he had a very high temper and was mentally handicapped in that way. This is what he must have been treated like as a child and never grew beyond it. I remembered so many good things he had. He was extremely honest, hard-working person. He was generous and always helped the poor and needy and so on. All these complimentary thoughts can emerge as we open door to them. If I choose to think negative, I will be able to dig out equally potent reasons. The essence is even the good thoughts are not to be fused with. So there is no need for me to reason that since my grandfather was a good person, he did well by slapping me. And probably I can do the same to my daughter. The essence it – IT Happened, period. 

So even painful thoughts that might emerge in your mind at times during the day and esp. before sleep – are just thoughts! They just happened, period. It takes time and patience to achieve this goal and to be honest, I am far from it. But the only benefit that I might have is that I know it when I make a mistake. And it helps to steer in the right direction. So, let’s just focus on the fun with mindfulness every day instead of trying to achieve it as a target.

Other most prevalent thoughts that I face during sleep are thoughts about the future. Thoughts on the future are far more compelling because the future is something that we must prepare for. It can be a fairly compelling argument that if we don’t think about the future, how are we going to be prepared for it? The general procedure to deal with overthinking can be something like this – thinking, esp. overthinking can only deplete your mental energy and leave you feeling drained. How are we going to work in the future if we feel mentally depleted? So there is no need to think, or better stated, worry about the future. These are 2 logical extremes of thought station. You can choose either one of them and you will find yourself to be equally correct. However, with uncertainty and unpredictability of life, this 2 logic will keep changing and you will be oscillating like a pendulum between them. No peace!

In mindfulness, we have the midway, the central stable point when the pendulum is not moving. The power to rest in Mindfulness is the weight of the pendulum. And we all know that heavy pendulum needs more force to get destabilized from its resting position. More mindful you are, the greater the force it will take for any problem to move your mind into chaos. So accept that the future is uncertain, it is unpredictable, it can be even dangerous.

The queries of mind are not real. They are assumptions, like the factor x, in order to solve the equations of life. The conscious mind has limited memory and processing capacity. Therefore, it is not wise to expect the best results from it. It is like expecting a digital calculator to be able to print a document. However, if you accept this limited capacity, you will have fewer reasons to be affected by mental chatter. You will be able to notice it without reacting to it, just the blabbering of a baby. We hear it, we respond to it, but we don’t try to find any meaning in it. Nor do we try to suppress it because it is meaningless. So mind is saying” tomorrow I might get a promotion” – or “ I might get fired”. These might also be practical possibilities for tomorrow. However, there is no need or no gain by fusing your thoughts with emotions. For example, feeling happy at the first thought or feeling sad at the second one is fusing with the thoughts and proving that they are real. Thoughts are like souls, if you acknowledge their presence and believe in them, you can give them body. they can get really powerful if you give affirmations to them over and over again. Most of our phobias and manias are basically strong thoughts. They are so strong that we are not able to handle them. And their seeds can be sown very effectively while going to sleep. So it is extremely important to be mindful while going to sleep, even more, important than being mindful in the daytime. 

Sometimes you might face extremely strong thoughts about the past or about the future and you might get swept away. I had a huge fear of death since I saw my father pass away at a very early age. Sometimes, when I was frustrated and scared as a teenager, I would have thoughts about death while going to bed. The negative or positive thoughts that are attached to a real incident in life can be very difficult to tackle. They look quite real and possible. At that time, I did not know anything about mindfulness, but I devised a way to be happy at bedtime. I would shift my attention towards more real things, like the blanket, bed or the fan that I have and I am comfortable at night. I have a home and I have a bed to sleep. Besides, I started to believe that sleep and death are the times when you meet God. So I would imagine a very loving God who is going to take care of me as I sleep. This was super strong imagery. In fact, I was always the happiest as I went to sleep.

The point is that when you have super-overwhelming emotions already attached to some thoughts, you might find it difficult to practice mindfulness. So you can take help of love and gratitude. Ask yourself the question – “is it happening right now?”, we can be grateful that we have a peaceful time right, even if something wrong is bound to happen.  “what are the good things that I have right now?” or “what are the good things that have happened to me?”. Past positive experiences are always the best staff to hold when you are emotionally shaky. These questions will help to bring yourself back to the present. After that, you can practice your normal routine for sleeping mindfulness.

Cleaning

I would like to share one practice that significantly helped me improve my emotional stability. You can find more information about it on

http://cdn-prod.heartfulness.org/Upload-School/Scripts%20for%20guided%20techniques/GUIDED%20CLEANING%20script%20.pdf

This practice helps to clean the impression that we have collected during the day. It is believed that the sanskaras (the mental blocks) formed during the day are processed by our brain during the sleep and they solidify in our memory. If we are able to remove such mental blocks before they become registered in memory, we will have a clearer mind. Now is it possible to remove the blocks by giving yourself a suggestion that they are getting removed. I believe yes, because you can remove thoughts with another thought of cleaning. Hope that the cleaning process helps you as much as it has helped me!

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