Getting a full night of sleep may be the best single thing you can do for yourself to live a happy, healthy life. However, more than 35 percent of Americans report that they do not get the Center for Disease Control’s recommended seven hours of sleep on a regular basis.
If you’re struggling to sleep, you’ll also find yourself struggling in every other area of your life. It’s not unusual for people to be willing to try almost anything to get a good night’s sleep, from home remedies to fancy pillows to sound machines to prescription medicines. One easy thing to try that could help you is something you might find a little unusual — meditation.
The practice of Yoga and mindfulness meditation have been around in India for centuries and are believed to help achieve harmony between the body and the mind. More recently, Transcendental Meditation (TM) – a meditation technique introduced by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India in the mid 1950s, has gained much popularity in the Western part of the world. There has been plenty of research in the past few decades on meditation and yoga and its healing effects on the state of mind. Today there is enough evidence by scientists to prove that those who meditate experience an increase in positive emotions and decrease in negative emotions like stress, anxiety, trauma or depression, which are few of the primary causes for lack of good sleep.
How Does It Work?
Meditation techniques have been found to be useful in countering the effects of stress in both the short and long term. Transcendental Meditation is believed to evoke the “relaxation response,” a deep psychological shift in the body that can ease stress-related ailments. It does this by lowering your blood pressure and helping you to manage your thoughts.
A 1989 study in the Journal of Clinical Psychology also found that transcendental meditation had a greater effect on anxious people than other types of meditation and relaxation.
Long-term practitioners were found to have increased Rapid Eye Movement (REM), brain activity and alertness during sleep in a 1997 study in Sleep Journal, which meant that meditators were able to maintain a higher state of consciousness in deep sleep.
A 2009 study in the Biological Psychology Journal found that Yoga, a practice that integrates body movements (asana), breathing exercises (pranayama) and meditation into a single multidimensional practice, also helped improve sleep quality and modulate cortisol level in long-term practitioners.
Meditation helps you to turn off the pressure and relieve some of your anxiety, even the intrusive thoughts that you can’t quite escape. Mindfulness teaches you that it’s not about escaping or emptying your mind. It’s about learning how to manage and redirect.
“The idea is to create a reflex to more easily bring forth a sense of relaxation,” Dr. Herbert Benson, director emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine, said in a 2015 Harvard Health Blog article.
Benson recommends practicing for 20 minutes a day, while either sitting up or moving to avoid falling asleep while meditating. The goal is to bring yourself to a state of “pure consciousness” in which you are fully conscious and aware but isolated from actually processing the contents of your awareness.
“If you have unproductive worries,” Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, Massachusetts General Hospital’s Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders psychiatrist said in another Harvard Health Blog article, “you can train yourself to experience those thoughts differently.”
“You might think ‘I’m late, I might lose my job if I don’t get there on time, and it will be a disaster!’ Mindfulness teaches you to recognize, ‘Oh, there’s that thought again. I’ve been here before. But it’s just that—a thought, and not a part of my core self,’” Hoge said.
Who Has It Helped?
When it comes to benefits of meditation for good sleep, the practice has been found to be particularly helpful for older adults. Approximately half of all older adults complain of poor sleep due to disturbances.
A 2015 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that mindfulness meditation may be helpful when used as a short-term solution for moderate sleep disturbances in older adults. Those who were meditating during the study also found that they had improved reactions to anxiety, stress, depression, and fatigue.
Another study published in Cardiology In Review in 2004 found that in long-term practitioners, it is also reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases mostly because of its ability to lower the psychosocial stress.
Even young adults and teenagers suffer from lack of sleep due to stress, addictions, poor eating habits, pollutions and other health ailments. They also find it challenging to meditate, mainly because they do not know the right technique. Thus the practice of Yoga and mindfulness can guide them with the right technique and tools that will help them adapt a healthy lifestyle and live in the present.
Former Victoria’s Secret model Miranda Kerr is working on mindfulness meditation for herself and her son as part of her dedication to living a healthy lifestyle, according to an interview in The Independent. Even Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron have worked with a mindfulness meditation teacher, according to an article in Starts at 60.
How Can You Build it Into Your Routine?
When it comes to sleep, it is best that you incorporate the practice into your evening routine. There are several different ways that you can practice mindfulness meditation, through activities like yoga or tai chi, or by learning techniques like TM, listening to guided meditation tracks or practicing Yoga Nidra, or by sitting somewhere comfortable and focusing on your breathing. Meditating in bed may help you get to sleep.
A firm or medium-firm mattress may help you reach proper spinal alignment and be comfortable while you sit or lie down to meditate. You can even meditate while you walk, though this is likely to make you feel more awake due to adrenaline. Regular exercise, such as a nightly walk while you meditate, has also been found to help lower symptoms of disturbed sleep.
No matter how you choose to practice it, mindfulness meditation is designed to help you recognize your thoughts, feelings and other sensations, without getting ensnared and distracted by them. This practice puts you in a better position to manage the sleep disorders and disturbances you’re trying to conquer.
Fitness Magazine offers a beginner’s guide to meditation, if you aren’t sure where to start, but want to give it a try. There are even apps for guiding yourself through the meditation process. Choose something calm to focus on, such as your breath, a word or a phrase, and relax. 15 to 20 minutes of daily practice will do you good.