Study after study has shown that over half of the world population has sleep issues. This has likely gone up quite a bit since the pandemic, as many people have reported problems sleeping due to stress and fatigue surrounding the global health situation. Sleep exhaustion and chronic fatigue are more common than ever. In this article, we’re going to discuss what you can do to alleviate sleep issues, and how meditation improves sleep.
Most adults do not get the recommended amount of sleep, which is 7-9 hours per night. Approximately 45% of Americans report problems sleeping, and around 70% say they don’t get enough sleep. That’s a very high percentage of us suffering from lack of sufficient deep, restful sleep, including insomnia, or the inability to even fall asleep. This is estimated as costing the U.S. over $400 billion in lost productivity due to sleep deprivation. But the cost isn’t just to our workforce and our levels of productivity, but to our well-being and physical health.
I would invite you to take a moment, maybe even close your eyes to reflect on this question. Take a breath, exhale and let it go. What happens when you don’t get good rest? What do you feel? What happens to your mind, body, and energy? What about your emotions? Your work performance? Relationships?
Now open your eyes and become aware of how this lack of sleep permeates, the ripple effect through different parts of your being, your life and health. And many of us just don’t know how to get real rest.
When we don’t get enough rest, it affects our mental clarity and our ability to respond skillfully. It also affects our emotions. We can become more easily frustrated or irritated. When our stress response is more easily activated, we become short with people. We have a tendency to get angry and act out. Also, when the body produces more cortisol, the stress hormone, our metabolism slows down and we gain weight more easily. We may eat more to compensate for energy loss, or drink more caffeine.
All this can affect our relationships with other people. For example, it influences our willingness to connect and bond with others, even our closest loved ones.The amount of sleep we get also affects how we feel at work, and how creative we are, or how innovative we feel.
3 Ways That Meditation Improves Sleep
There are three main ways that meditative practices can help improve how much sleep you get, improve quality of sleep, and help restore your energy. This includes quieting the mind, initiating the relaxation response, and regulating your emotions. Meditation can even help treat insomnia. Many people have found great relief through dedicated practice. Let’s take a closer look at each of these aspects of meditation, and how they can help with sleep issues.
1. Meditation Quiets Your Mind
What is the number one reason people say they can’t sleep? It’s stress. It comes from an overactive mind that has difficulty shutting down at night. What happens when your mind is overactive? The nervous system is revved up and you are in a hyper aroused state, where the stress response can’t shut down.
Through meditation and practice, we can learn how to shift gears and slow down, especially our thought waves. It’s not about emptying the mind, but calming the mind. The more time you spend during the day in a calmer mindset, the easier it is to recover energy and to rest at night.
If you have a very overactive or stressed out mind and you find yourself thinking negative, stressful thoughts, it will drain your energy. What’s more, it will activate a state of hyperarousal. When your mind is like a tornado of thought, it consumes energy. It can make it challenging to settle down at night.
When we talk about quieting the mind, it also means everything that goes with WHAT you think about. The stories we generate, and the beliefs that we carry. If you’re not able to let something go, it can grip your mind and keep the same thoughts cycling over and over again.
Meditation helps to create space and perspective, while also creating a sense of neutrality.This helps to slow down the brainwave state.The more you practice meditation, the easier it becomes. Like an EKG, the signal might start by bouncing up and down erratically, then begin to slow down into a more even, steady pulse with more space between each thought. The practice of meditation is learning how to study the mind in order to be present, to be clear and focused in the moment.
2. Meditation Initiates the Relaxation Response (aka the parasympathetic nervous system)
Many people spend most of their time tuned in to the stress response, ready to fight or flee, in a state of hyperarousal. Anxiety is similar to that hyper state, and comes with a lot of restlessness, busyness, and other self-imposed chaos. A highly energetic person in a constant state of go-go-go, is often avoiding the present moment.
Relaxation is a great practice to invite you into a more meditative mindset. When we initiate the relaxation response, your breath begins to open up, and you find yourself breathing deeper. Your breath is connected to your thoughts, and you may find that as you slow the breath, so do your mind waves moving slower. You begin to release physical tension throughout your body.
This relaxation response signals to your body and brain that it’s safe to let go and release toxins, to rest and digest. Your digestive system starts to move in order to release. You might yawn and release tears. This is your parasympathetic nervous system at work, moving all on its own. This state is a tremendous benefit leading towards good, restful sleep.
3. Meditation Helps Regulate Your Emotions
When you are processing emotions in the background, you might yourself be playing them back over and over again in an endless loop. What meditation does is to help heal our emotions and balance them.
If you find yourself in an extreme emotional range, it helps to bring yourself back to center, to really feel those emotions, be present with them, and then let them go. Today we lack context for emotional processing in our society. When something happens and it bothers us, we often don’t have the motivation or resources to share it with someone. We don’t feel called to share it with anybody. If we don’t take time to process emotionally, we harbor them internally, and it can disturb us in the evening, during sleep, even in our dreams. Meditation helps regulate and resolve these emotions, so they don’t disturb the time we need for sleep.
3 Meditative Practices to Help Improve Sleep
If you find yourself falling asleep during meditation, it usually means you’re not getting enough rest. Many of us are sleep deprived, so don’t feel bad about stopping your practice and letting yourself just go to sleep. and just go to sleep. Sleep is far more important than meditation. If you’re exhausted during meditation, you won’t be able to access the full benefits of your practice.
It’s possible during meditation to enter a state between resting and waking, kind of like taking a Zen nap. But it’s better for your health to get really good rest, to let yourself enter that deep REM sleep. You will receive far more nourishment from that than straining to keep yourself awake for meditation when you’re not fully present. Meditation is about being present, and in order to be present, it’s important to be rested.
Let yourself sleep first. But, you might say, how can I sleep to meditate better, when I need to know how to meditate for sleep? There are a few techniques which can help with both.
There are two highly effective ways to access relaxation for sleep and meditation. The first is through rotation of consciousness through the body. We scan through the body and pay attention to different parts of the body in kind, using a rhythmic pace to help us relax into those different areas. It helps to consciously move your attention out of your mind and into your body in the moment. In this practice, you essentially take a trip through the body, relaxing all the different body parts.
The second way to access relaxation is through guided meditation. It’s one thing to guide yourself in a practice, but another to listen to the guidance of another person to help you relax more deeply. You don’t actually have to do anything, simply listen and let go. Managing the whole practice can cause you to become distracted in your mind and enter a thinking space. In guided meditation, your only activity is listening to the voice of an instructor.
The second practice is visualization, where you learn how to use the imagination to relax your body and mind. Visualizing nature is a wonderful way to feel more at ease. Whether the ocean, the mountains, or clouds, use your mind to visualize the images that bring you peace. This is highly recommended to practice by listening to guided meditation so that you can enter a deeper state of relaxation.
You can also visualize your intention. That is, visualize your intention to have a full, deep, grounded sleep in the evening.
3. Nighttime Ritual
A wonderful way to set the tone of both meditation and sleep is through ritual. Through ritual, you engage in some action that tells your body it’s time for bed. This means turning off electronic devices at least an hour or two before bedtime. You may also turn off the lights and put on some candles. Just doing these things, it signifies to your subconscious brain that it’s time for sleep.
A nighttime ritual helps you shift gears. Close the drapes in your house, turn on soft ambient music, take a bath, use aromatherapy, do whatever it is that helps you relax. Doing this every night before sleep sets the tone, the vibration of your nighttime space. It makes your sleep space sacred. You define that space for yourself. When we value rest and protect our resting space, that sends a message to ourselves and to the universe that this is important.
The Importance of Restful Sleep for Meditation
The value and effectiveness of any of these techniques are only as important as you make them. Whichever one of these techniques works best for you, including a combination of some or all of them, make sure you follow through with intention. If ritual is most effective for you, and closing the curtains to block light is an important part of that, make sure you buy the best curtains you can to keep the light from coming through. If guided meditation works best, find the best guided meditation teacher or recordings that you can.
It might seem counterintuitive, but taking actions with intention so that you can more readily enter a space of non-action is one of the most effective ways to ensure that you get good, restful sleep. Having better sleep will help improve your meditation practice. I hope that some of these tips serve you well for getting better rest and for restoring your energy.
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