You glance at the clock beside your bed. 2am. You’ve been tossing and turning for three hours, unable to relax and sleep. Does this sound familiar? Perhaps you’ve tried all the recommended insomnia-busing tips, like having a hot bath, drinking a calming cup of chamomile tea and putting lavender on your pillow, in vain. But what about meditation? It turns out this age-old practice can encourage your mind and body to relax into a deep sleep.
Sleeping: Vital for Your Health
Sleep isn’t just about relaxing, it is a vital part of your well being. According to a study funded by the National Institute of Health, the brain detoxifies from the byproducts of its daily mental processes during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. This is also the time when you’re most likely to experience lucid dreams. Memories and knowledge are consolidated during deep sleep. Not getting enough sleep results in a toxic build up within the brain that can lead to brain fog. What’s more, your body uses sleep to repair and rejuvenate – your immune system can be significantly weakened if you’re not getting at least 7 or 8 hours a night. And we have all experienced the irritation and fatigue that comes from lack of sleep. That’s why it is important to tackle insomnia head on, and this is where meditation is helpful.
If your mind is racing because of stress, or excitement, you will find it impossible to surrender to sleep. Your body might be exhausted, but your mind is jumping from one thought to another. If you are a hyper-alert or anxious person, you tend to be stuck in a fight-or-flight state of consciousness. This means your body is on alert and ready for action, which is problematic when it’s time to wind down.
Or you might find getting to sleep difficult because you are uncomfortable. If you are experiencing pain or discomfort due to an illness or injury, or aches and pains from over-exercising, it can be difficult to find a good position for sleep.
Meditation is beneficial under such circumstances because it soothes the brain, taking your mind down to lower, more relaxing vibrational frequencies and allowing you to detach from your troubling thoughts. When you meditate, you become so relaxed that you no longer struggle against bodily sensations or negative thought patterns, and instead accept them and let them go so that you can gently fall asleep.
How Meditation Helps You
Although meditating might not switch your brain into exactly the same state of repair and maintenance mode that sleep affords, a study by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health suggest that it nonetheless has an incredibly healing and restorative effect. Meditation alters pathways in your brain from negative to positive. Furthermore, you can strengthen parts of your brain that make you feel good, sharpen your awareness, and increase your compassion. At the same time, you can weaken links to regions of the brain that induce stress and fear. As you are no doubt aware, meditating can also help you feel calm, collected and happy.
How to Meditate
The first thing to do is to be fully present and fully accepting of the present. Being irritated that you cannot sleep will not make it any more likely that sleep will come. Take a few deep breaths and focus on the feeling of your chest rising and falling, the protective weight of the covers on your limbs, the mattress softly supporting your body.
Many people find a guided audio meditation, or calming music or sound waves, can help soothe them towards a more relaxed state of mind, but you can also meditate in silence. Visualize your anxious thoughts as a cloud above you, getting progressively further away. Tune your thoughts towards mindfulness by gently keeping your attention on your breath. Focus on relaxing parts of your body one by one—bring your attention to each limb in turn and consciously feel it become comfortably heavy and relaxed. This will encourage your body to unwind deeply, allowing you to feel incredibly comfortable and calm, which is exactly how you want to be when you get into bed.
Nobody wants to suffer from insomnia—and the good news is that with a little focused attention, you can banish the thoughts that keep you awake and enter a peaceful state of mind that will allow your body to drift into restful, restorative, rejuvenating sleep.References