Anxiety is frequently the reason for troubled sleep. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting over 18 percent of adults every year. People with anxiety tend to have trouble falling and staying asleep due to worry or overthinking situations. When it’s time to fall asleep, they often are not able to “shut off” their minds.
Fortunately, treatment for anxiety is available and very effective. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been consistently proven to be the first line of treatment for anxiety disorders and insomnia. CBT includes relaxation strategies, setting up a consistent daily routine for sleep, challenging distorted thoughts about sleep, exercising during the day, and avoiding caffeine and other substances that can impair sleep.
Much research has also pointed to the benefits of mindful meditation for anxiety and sleep. Regular meditation practice not only calms the mind and body so that it can wind down to fall asleep, but also helps improve the quality of sleep.
Depression is another leading cause of sleep disturbance, and affects 6.7 percent of all American adults. While some people with depression tend to sleep too much, others have insomnia. There is also a large overlap between depression and anxiety, as nearly half of the people diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
CBT is the treatment of choice for depression, often along with anti-depressant medication. CBT for depression involves activity scheduling, challenging negative thoughts, and sleep training.
Mindful meditation is also highly effective for depression, as it has been proven to increase general well-being and mood. Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is an eight-week course that is an evidence-based treatment for depression and anxiety. There are several peer-reviewed studies proving the effectiveness of mindfulness and MBCT with improving sleep. Those without anxiety, depression or sleep disruption also experience better sleep and feel more rested throughout the day with regular meditation practice.
So how do you start this daily practice that will improve your sleep? The most effective approach involves mindfulness training with an instructor who has had formal mindfulness training. Taking an eight-week course greatly improves your chances of success with mindfulness, as this provides the time and amount of training necessary to see the multitude of benefits mindfulness has to offer. If you’re not able to take a course, or waiting for one to start, you can try using apps such as Headspace or 10% Happier to get you started.
It’s important to note that mindful meditation is NOT a relaxation technique. You may feel relaxed during or after practicing, but that feeling is a side effect. The main effects of mindfulness will not be realized until you have practiced daily for at least four to eight weeks.