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Sleep Health: what we’ve learned … so far

by Dr. Jason Ong

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This post by sleep scientist Dr. Jason C. Ong is part of our Sleep Health course. You can experience the full 14-day course with a subscription to the Headspace app.

Well done on making it all the way to the end of the Headspace Sleep Health course. I really hope that it’s helped you to reframe your approach to sleep.

Let’s take a moment just to recap all that we have learned:

Awareness is everything

Looking for that sleepy feeling, just like we do in the body scan, is so helpful for sleep. If it’s not there, don’t force it. Let it go and wait for sleepiness to occur.

Can’t sleep? Don’t.

When you can’t sleep, don’t just lie in bed thinking resentfully about your sleep. This can create negative associations with your bed. It’s much better to get up and do something relaxing. You can even use one of Headspace’s Eyes-Open Nighttime singles. <deep link>

Consistent wake-up

Remember that your circadian rhythm begins with your wake-up time, not when you go to bed. So try to get up within a 15-minute window, even on weekends, so you can avoid social jet lag.

Develop your wind-down routine

The hour or two before you go to bed is the best time to signal to your body that it’s time for sleep. Developing a little sleep ritual, with some relaxing activities, is a fun and helpful way to approach this.

Don’t chase the traffic

When the mind is too busy for sleep, remember to just watch the traffic. Here’s that animation again, if you’d like to remind yourself.

Relax your grip on sleep

Remember to practice those mindfulness techniques, like Beginner’s Mind and letting go. Having very rigid outcomes in mind for your sleep can actually be counterproductive when it comes to drifting off.

Be kind to yourself

Remember to practice self-compassion, even on those days when you’ve slept badly. Make sure you get some nurturing activities into your day.

When you look at this list, are there one or two actions that especially stand out to you? In this case, make it a priority to stick to these practices and habits. Committing to small changes like this can add up to bigger changes in your overall sleep.

Looking forward

Now that you’ve started on this journey, let’s talk about keeping it going. There’s so much material in the Headspace library for you to continue your meditation practice. But also consider these two pointers:

Maintain your mindful stance

Being mindful isn’t something you only do when you meditate. It’s the attitude that you bring to your daytime and your nighttime life. By applying ideas like Beginner’s Mind, Letting Go and non-attachment to outcomes in your day-to-day life, you could be considerably less stressed when you try to sleep at night.

Keep meditating!

Your meditation practice can be a great anchor for your sleep health. It’s sometimes said that your attitude to meditation reflects your attitude to life. So keep showing up for yourself. It only takes a few minutes, and it can really change the rest of your day. Not to mention, your nights.

Dr. Jason Ong

Dr. Jason Ong is an Associate Professor in the Department of Neurology and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine's Center of Circadian and Sleep Medicine. He received his PhD in clinical psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University and completed a fellowship in Behavioral Sleep Medicine at Stanford University. Dr. Ong’s overall purpose is to help people sleep better without using drugs. His research lab is supported by the National Institutes of Health, with projects using mindfulness meditation and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for sleep disorders. In addition to his research interests, Dr. Ong also has a clinical practice where he uses mindfulness and behavioral approaches to help people with insomnia and hypersomnia.

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