The Mindset of Sleep

By Mario Esposito
Last Updated: March 10, 2018

Mood and mental health are intrinsically linked to quality of sleep. In fact, many sleep disorders are considered symptoms of mental health issues. What’s worse is that even a small misstep can lead to a downward spiral; start with consistently sleeping less than seven hours a day, and if you don’t pay attention and take care of yourself right away, it could have far reaching consequences. Lack of sleep could lead to lack of physical energy, overthinking, negativity, disproportionate outbursts of emotion, and irritability; which could lead to bouts of insomnia, which could eventually lead to actual depression and/or anxiety.

Here’s where cultivating the right mindset comes into play. With the right frame of mind, a willingness to curb destructive habits, and the desire to stick to helpful routines, most people can effectively reboot the way they approach sleep and drastically improve their quality of life. Below are some ways you can prepare for a good night’s rest every day.

Keep a Journal

First of all, a purely objective accounting of your sleep habits may help you identify why you sleep the way you do; if you feel that this is something that may be useful, you can look for templates online, or use this sample sleep diary from the National Sleep Foundation.

In terms of actual journaling: A 2015 study published by a journal called Behavioral Sleep Medicine found that nighttime worries contributed the most to lack of sleep. While it’s impossible to not worry, one of the best ways to work through your worries is to write them down. Instead of leaving everything unsaid and in your head, keep a journal to track and organize your thoughts. Hopefully this not only eases your worries, but also helps you figure out concrete solutions to your problems.

Be Thankful and Be Positive

Another way to keep a journal is to get into the daily habit of listing down things that you’re thankful for, as this will keep you from dwelling on the negative. It’s often more constructive and better for the heart and mind to focus on the positive. Apart from journaling, you can also try affirmations, prayers or even exercise—particularly running or yoga. Overall, simply thinking about what you are grateful for more often will work wonders; a 2008 study published by the Journal of Psychosomatic Research found higher levels of gratitude correlated with better sleep.

Think Happy Thoughts

A natural extension of being thankful and positive is to focus on happy thoughts, which you can expand upon using visualization exercises. While there many different ones that you can try, many of these start the same way: with you lying down in bed, eyes closed, calling to mind a memory, image or story that you find soothing. It could be anything; from remembering a beloved childhood vacation spot, to going through your favorite song. Just make sure that nothing about it triggers negative emotions.

As long as you focus all your energy on getting into every single small detail connected to it—while letting go of other thoughts and worries—it should work. While it might take some time for this practice to become effective, if you repeat it often enough, you’ll soon find that it does help you calm down and go to sleep.

Relax and Listen to Music

Another recognized relaxation technique is to use sounds. Listening to music improves sleep quality, as a 2008 study explores. Ambient, classical or new age music; binaural beats; sounds occurring in nature, such as waves, bird calls or leaves rustling; and white noise can all put you in a more peaceful mood. They’re also what are often used in actual music therapy done by licensed professionals—which a 2013 study published by the International Journal of Nursing Studies concludes is helpful to people with sleep disorders.

However, if you find that a clinical setting may be overkill or just not your preference, you can simply try it by yourself—even in conjunction with other helpful practices. You can listen to music while doing light stretches or drinking caffeine free tea, for example.

Meditate and Be Mindful

Having already talked about visualization and music therapy techniques, it would be a major oversight to not include actual meditation. A 2015 study published by JAMA Internal Medicine suggests that mindfulness meditation does improve sleep quality, though it shouldn’t take a lot of research to conclude that something meant to evoke relaxation would help.

Like visualization exercises, there are many mindfulness meditation techniques, and even other kinds of meditation completely–some involving just a short prayer or mantra repeated over and over, some done in combination with yoga exercises, some just methodical breathing instructions–but they are all intended to help you to let go and just be.