(“Elu” by Harry Koopman on Flickr. Click the photo to go to the original)
As part of my New Year’s Resolution to get 30 more minutes of sleep a night in 2015, I have been asking friends and colleagues to contribute ideas on how to achieve this. I’m really pleased that Dennis Rosen has agreed to help out.
I’ve known Dennis for about ten years now. He was a bit ahead of my in training in Boston. He has been an invaluable resource through my sleep training and afterwards. Like me, he is a pediatric pulmonologist and sleep physician. He is also an accomplished author who writes for the New York Times and Psychology Today, among other publications. He has written a terrific book for parents on sleep issues called :Successful Sleep Strategies for Kids (Harvard Medical School Guides)
. His most recent book is called Vital Conversations: Improving Communication Between Doctors and Patients
and has been published to great acclaim. Here’s Dennis’s advice on how to get more sleep at night, which is applicable to both kids and adults. :
Many are familiar with the concept of sleep hygiene, namely, making your sleeping environment more conducive to sleep. This includes taking steps such as removing the television, computer, and smartphone from the bedroom and keeping the bedroom dark, quiet, and at a comfortable temperature.
As important as maintaining good sleep hygiene is, however, it doesn’t address the mental state of the person in the bedroom. It’s really hard to fall asleep when your head is full of racing thoughts, and diffcult to shut them off just because the clock (or your parents) tell you it’s time to go to bed.
One way to overcome this is to include mindfulness practice as part of getting ready for bed. This can be done through breathing exercises, yoga, or guided imagery. There are many recordings available commercially and on YouTube that can be used to guide you or your child through the process. By focusing on being present, instead of on what just happened that day, or on what needs to happen tomorrow, it can become much easier to clear one’s mind, relax and ultimately to fall asleep faster.
I have intermittently tried to incorporate a mindfulness practice into my daily routines. My difficulty is that my best opportunity for this is at the end of the day when I’m tapped out. Many advocates of mindfulness recommend practicing first thing in the morning, but this is next to impossible when my kids are my alarm clock. I think that “powering down” the brain at bedtime is as important as turning off your cell phone.
Dennis recommends this workbook (Insight Meditation Kit (Step-By-Step Course on How to Meditate)) as a good place to start. I also like this article from the Harvard Business Review on the value of meditation. Finally, I met a yoga teacher the other day who recommended that breathing in for a count of four, holding for a count of seven, and breathing out for a count of eight may be a useful way to settle the mind before bedtime.
Do you use meditation or another mindfulness practice in your daily routine? Do you think that it helps with your sleep?