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Meditation for sleep? When science meets mindfulness

02.02.21 5 min. read

In an ideal world, you would be able to let go of things as soon as your workday ends.. The outside world would no longer matter, everything you've been obsessing over during the day would become irrelevant, and you would be able to focus entirely on your own wellbeing. Indeed, the more successful you are at letting go, the more restful your sleep can be.

Unfortunately, this is most often easier said than done. Especially if you’re going through a particularly stressful period, there are going to be some nights where you simply can’t quiet your mind. 

Are you eager to address what’s driving your racing thoughts, reduce your stress over the long term and generally just sleep better? As the art of letting go, Meditation might be just the solution you’re looking for.

Can meditation and mindfulness improve your sleep??

Though meditation as a practice has been around for more than 2,500 years, its effects are perhaps more important today than ever before. Mindfulness and other forms of meditation have been shown to lower blood pressure levels [1] and reduce the body’s release of the stress hormone known as cortisol [2]. 

A recent meta-analysis of several studies looking at the connection between mindfulness meditation and sleep disorders showed a significant improvement in the quality of sleep among participants who had meditated, but no change in the duration of their sleep [3].

Another recent study took a broader approach and examined additional techniques involving the mind and body. This study also found that meditation, mindfulness and relaxation exercises were able to improve the quality of sleep [4].  

Even adults who suffer from chronic difficulties with falling and/or staying asleep reported that they slept better and felt more rested after participating in a mindfulness-based stress reduction programme. In addition, they found themselves better able to deal with episodes of insomnia when they arose [5]. In fact, the effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction on the quality of sleep were shown to be on par with the effects of the sleeping pill known as eszopiclone [6].  

Meditation and other mindfulness exercises may well be able to give you a more restful and relaxing night of sleep. Luckily, there are many different ways to engage in meditation and mindfulness. After all, what feels right will look different from person to person.

Traditional & Contemporary Meditation: What Works For You? 

Interested in making your first forays into meditation? Would you like to try it on your own? The first thing you should do is switch your phone to airplane mode and make sure you won’t be interrupted for the next couple of minutes. Find somewhere to sit down in a comfortable position with your back straight and your legs crossed. Breathe normally and pay attention to how your breath flows in and out of your body. 

When you try meditation for the first time, make sure not to overdo things or expect too much from yourself. If it feels right, you can set a timer to give yourself a fixed timeframe. Even 2 or 3 minutes of quality meditation counts as a great success when you’re first starting out. Also, you’ll have plenty of time to expand and extend your experience with meditation later, so only do as much as you feel comfortable with.   There’s no such thing as the “perfect” meditation session. Every now and then, your thoughts are going to wander. Especially at the beginning, it’s very rare for us to completely clear our minds right away. 

The most important thing is to let your thoughts come and go as calmly as you can. Enjoy the freedom of not having to follow your thoughts. Instead, just let them be what they are, namely mere products of your mind.

If you’re interested in exploring other forms of meditation, there are many guided sleep meditations to choose from these days, for example in the form of apps and videos of varying lengths. Another approach to relaxing involves doing a simple self-guided body scan where you take a couple of moments to gradually become aware of every part of your body. 

Meditation not for you??

No problem! Even if meditation is not something you’re interested in trying, there are plenty of other ways to become more mindful and possibly even experience better sleep.

Basically, mindfulness means becoming more conscious and accepting the present moment for what it is. This can mean becoming aware of internal processes, such as breathing, but also becoming alert to things that are happening in our immediate surroundings. Mindfulness can also mean cooking a delicious mealfor yourself, reading a good book, or simply listening to your favorite song.. Some gentle yoga exercises can be a wonderful way to relax, especially in the evening. Just for a moment, everything else on your mind – whether it’s getting the washing done or working on your to-do list – is rendered unimportant. 

How to get through the day with more mindfulness

The first thing to do is avoid thinking of your evenings as separate parts of the day, regardless of whether you’re doing a guided meditation, mindfully listening to music or doing whatever else helps you relax and focus on your immediate surroundings. If you don’t allow yourself to have moments of relaxation during the day, you might find it difficult to make a similar switch in the evening. 

Are you interested in participating in a short evening meditation session as a way of engaging in some much-needed self-care? If so, it’s great to have specific rituals that signal to your body and mind that it’s time to relax. For example, you can train yourself to associate certain sensory impressions with your meditation or mindfulness practice. You could establish a favourite place to sit or lie down – a comfy armchair, a pillow on the floor or your bed. You could light your favourite candle, cuddle up with a warm cup of tea or pamper your body and mind with The Good Night creme. Whatever you choose, you should allow yourself to enter a calm state of mind before getting the restful sleep you deserve.

Sources:

[1] Harvard Study: Clearing Your Mind Affects Your Genes and Can Lower Your Blood Pressure

https://www.wbur.org/commonhealth/2018/04/06/harvard-study-relax-genes

[2] Psychoneuroendocrinoimmunology-based meditation (PNEIMED) training reduces salivary cortisol under basal and stressful conditions in healthy university students: Results of a randomized controlled study

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31982328

[3] Mindfulness meditation for insomnia: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27663102/

[4] The Effects of Mind-Body Interventions on Sleep Quality: A Systematic Review https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4487927/

[5] How mindfulness changed my sleep: focus groups with chronic insomnia patients

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24512477/

[6] Mindfulness-based stress reduction versus pharmacotherapy for chronic primary insomnia: a randomized controlled clinical trial

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21397868/ 

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