Each time you think your mind might finally slip away, you are pulled back by yet another thought that keeps you occupied. Something you forgot to do yesterday, mentally adding on to your to-do list. A quick glance towards the pile of paperwork on the desk or the laundry basket in the corner. A rewind of a conversation from the day before. And time passing by that could have been used to rest. Does this sound familiar to you?
Thoughts slowing down
If yes, now imagine this. As you are comfortably wrapped in your blanket, the last log of wood radiating warmth into the room, you feel a light exhaustion in your legs from walking in the woods earlier. The sun already set a while ago and slowly stars are appearing in the sky. Being in the city most of the time, it is easy to forget how dark the night sky can be. And how much lighter the stars shine in contrast.
So you turn towards the window and let your gaze wander. As your eyes are slowly adjusting to the dark, more and more stars appear, even a slight outline of the surroundings is visible. Though intrigued by the neverending sky, a comfortable numbness overcomes you. Your thoughts slow down until finally, you softly drift off into a deep sleep.
But what actually makes the difference here?
As we are used to constant stimulation in our everyday lives, the few minutes just before sleep are often the only ones that are entirely undisturbed. While this might sound like a well deserved break, it can actually have the opposite effect.
Being more mindful of our sleep
Dr. Samia Little Elk, doctor for psychosomatics and sleep therapy and sleep specialist of the Dutch bed manufacturer Auping, says that “especially when it gets dark and quiet around us, we are no longer distracted from our own thoughts and worries and are often too agitated to find our way into a relaxed sleep”.
All the thoughts and emotions that are repressed throughout the day through distractions now come rushing in - like a flood of thoughts, yearning to be processed. This can be a very overwhelming and uncomfortable experience - denying you your well deserved sleep.
So how can we be more mindful of our sleep?
A study commissioned by Auping and conducted by Gfk from the year 2021 found that only a third of people actively take measures to improve their sleep quality. As we spend approximately a third of our lives asleep, it's fair to say sleep quality is life quality. So looking a little more into this can actually be very worthwhile.
The intersection of engagement and overthinking
While we like to blame some of our sleep problems on the everguilty always-on-culture and social algorithms keeping us engaged, there are some things we can actively do to improve the situation.
According to Dr. Little Elk, it's not about eliminating all distractions, but more about choosing mindfully. Soothing things like a calming podcast, set with a sleep timer, or simply counting stars are examples of things to keep engaged with, which will actually enable sleep rather than prevent it. Hitting just the sweet spot of enough engagement to prevent overthinking yet not too much to keep you awake any longer than necessary.
Sleeping well can set the tone for the entire day - we have all found ourselves having a bad day after a restless night. But the opposite goes for a good night's sleep too.
Improved concentration and emotional balance
Just like exercise and healthy food, sleep nurtures the body. Though how much sleep you need and during which times to get it highly depends on the person, the benefits are all the same. 71% say that a restful night makes for a better mood and improved concentration. For more than half, even emotional balance and general motivation is enhanced.
Next time you subconsciously find yourself wishing someone a good night or saying sleep well, take a minute to actively consider this. What does the setting look like? Which thoughts are rushing in my head? Which emotions are they stirring up?
Thank you to Auping and Dr. Samia Little Elk for providing these insights on restful sleep.