It’s 11:30 p.m. and I’m not sleeping. Tonight, there is good reason. Tonight I have a story to finish before I sleep. Other nights, however, the reasons vary from utterly trivial to seemingly unavoidable.
Sometimes I’m angsting about the meaning of some terribly important event from the day, like say, why a neighbor gave me side-eye when I passed his yard walking my barkaholic dog, Banjo. Or maybe it’s my dog’s behavior itself that has my mind wandering (“Why does he bark at flies, for God’s sake – what is wrong with him?!”). Occasionally I’ll miss my “sleep window” because I’ve lost track of time conjugating French verbs in my head, or just as likely, perusing photos of French men on the Paris Metro (you’re welcome, just don’t stay up too late trying to decide if this is the best page on Instagram or a shameful example of reverse sexism). Finally, some nights I just can’t find a position that doesn’t aggravate an old hip injury I suffered while running on the treadmill – most likely while sleep-deprived.
It seems I’m far from alone, dear reader, as there are between 50 and 70 million of us out there burning the midnight oil – or bathing in midnight photons – as the digital case may be. And this is no bueno. This is tres mal, in fact, because according to experts at the well-respected Harvard sleep clinic, sleep deprivation is associated with a host of undesirables such as depression, memory loss, heart disease and suppressed immune function. Dark under-eye circles did not make the list, but throw those in, as well.
It turns out my sleep issues, whether psychically or physically rooted on any given night, are fairly common among the overall population. And if psychic pain and physical pain have one thing in common, it’s that both can be somewhat eased by the ability to relax. “But how?” you ask.
Well, there have been numerous studies over the years to determine effective strategies and sleep interventions, but one recently led by David S. Black, Ph.D., M.P.H., of the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, recommends mindful meditation. The study, which was published in The JAMA Network of Internal Medicine, and included a group of 49 adults, found the practice of being “connected in the moment to our thoughts, but without judgment” was more effective than various sleep routine habits such as avoiding alcohol and maintaining a regular bedtime. According to Black, this is because this particular type of meditation appears to aid the brain in relaxing its arousal system by suppressing negative thoughts associated with tension-inducing stress and the inevitable tossing and turning that results.
The study is lauded for shining light on sleep strategies that do not rely on sleeping pills or other pharmaceutically-dependent interventions. Adam P. Spira, Ph.D., of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, believes that, “effective, non-pharmacological interventions that are both ‘scalable’ and ‘community accessible’ are needed to improve disturbed sleep and prevent clinical levels of insomnia.” And that “such interventions may have a key role in safely reducing the morbidity associated with disturbed sleep in later life.”
This is bueno. This is very bueno. Because in addition to providing benefits ranging from improved mood regulation and better cognitive function to say, fewer treadmill accidents, being in the moment and connected to your thoughts in a non-judgmental way means that perhaps that French Instagram account is perfectly fine to browse, after all. Ooh la la!
For more information on Sleep Awareness Week, visit the National Sleep Foundation.