Tired all the time ? Unable to sleep ? Try Sleep Meditation – a form of meditation that can help you sleep better.
During our mindfulness meditation retreats, we introduce our guests to a variety of meditation methods, in an attempt to help them deal with stress and find the meditation method that each guest can seamlessly incorporate into their everyday lives. One of these methods is Sleep Meditation.
Did you know that horses can sleep standing up ? Indeed, they have a special mechanism in their knees, enabling them to lock their knees in the standing position so that they can sleep standing up. They often do, you will see them stealing a few moments here and there to take a standing nap. They also sleep lying down, but only when they feel completely safe, and one of them is often left standing guard, in case a dragon or something of the sort attacks the herd.
Wouldn’t it have been convenient if people could do the same ? A quick nap while standing in a queue could come in very useful if you have not slept much the previous night. You may not have slept well because you were out till late, then again, like many of us, you may suffer from insomnia : you were lying in bed, wide-awake, staring at the ceiling wide-eyed and unable to fall asleep no matter how hard you try…
Sleep is a natural state that enables your body to rest and recuperate. While asleep, your body goes through different sleep stages in a cycle that lasts about 90 minutes. You can go through five cycles in a night. The sleep stages are:
- light sleep
- deep sleep
- rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. REM sleep is termed active sleep. Vivid dreams occur in REM sleep and brain activity is comparable to that in waking.
Insomnia is defined as the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep for long enough to feel refreshed the next morning, even though one has had had enough opportunity to sleep. Anyone can get insomnia, but it is generally more common in women than in men. The elderly are particularly at risk of getting insomnia.
Insomnia affects people from all walks of life, temporarily or permanently, and for a large variety of reasons. Insomnia can be transient – when it last for only a few nights. It can be acute – when it starts suddenly and persists for a few weeks, or it can be chronic, lasting for months, sometimes years.
There are many causes of insomnia. Stress is one of the most common causes of insomnia. Some types of medication can cause insomnia, so can some physical diseases like hyperthyroidism and some psychological disorders like depression. People with insomnia complain that they have difficulty falling asleep at night, they wake up one or more times during the night, they wake up too early, they still feel tired after a night’s sleep, they feel irritable, anxious, unable to concentrate and uncoordinated and that they worry a lot about their sleeping problems.
To find out exactly what the problem is, it is useful to keep a sleep diary. It will help you to gain a better understanding of your sleep patterns. It can also help you decide which method of treatment to use. Keep a sleep diary for a minimum of two weeks, recording information such as:
- the time you go bed
- how long it takes you to get to sleep
- the number of times you wake up in the night
- what time it is when you wake up
- episodes of daytime tiredness and naps
- what time you eat meals, consume alcohol/caffeine, take exercise and when you are stressed.
Once you have kept your sleep diary for 2 weeks, you should see your doctor, to exclude any medical causes. He will explain that although insomnia may respond to medication, often all that is needed is improved sleep hygiene and a relaxation exercise. Sleeping tablets are a last resort and are often only used in the short-term at the smallest possible dose.
- Establishing a regular time for going to bed and getting up in the morning. Stick to this schedule even on weekends and during vacations.
- Using the bed for sleeping only, not for reading, watching television, or working.
- Avoiding naps, especially in the evening.
- Exercising before dinner. A low point in energy occurs a few hours after exercise; sleep will then come more easily. Exercising close to bedtime, however, may have the opposite effect.
- Taking a hot bath about 1.5 – 2 hours before bedtime.
- Doing something quiet and relaxing in the 30 minutes before bedtime like reading(although not in bed), meditating, or a leisurely walk.
- Keeping the bedroom cool and well ventilated.
- Eating a light snack before bedtime can help sleep, but a large meal may have the opposite effect.
- Spending at least a half hour in daylight every day, preferably early in the day.
- Avoiding fluids just before bedtime as well as stimulants such as caffeine or nicotine.
Avoiding alcohol in the hours before bedtime. While alcohol may help you fall asleep quickly, it can cause you to awaken in the middle of the night.
Relaxation Exercise: Mindfulness Meditation
To healthier sleep habits, you can add a relaxation exercise – such as meditation. A recent study, which appeared in the JAMA Internal Medicine suggests that mindfulness meditation can help. (a mind-calming practice that focuses on breathing and awareness in the present moment.)
The study included 49 middle-aged and older adults who had trouble sleeping. Half of the group completed a mindfulness-awareness program that taught them meditation and other exercises designed to help them focus on “moment-by-moment experiences, thoughts, and emotions. The other half of the group completed a sleep education class that taught them ways to improve their sleep habits. Compared with the people in the sleep education group, those in the mindfulness group had less insomnia, fatigue and depression at the end of the six sessions.
Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present rather than dwell on the unchangeable past or undetermined future. If insomnia is caused by stress, and it often is, mindfulness meditation can help you calm your mind down. Often, when we are stressed, our minds are filled by a thousand-and-one thoughts, rushing around at break-neck speed. Mindfulness meditation helps you focus on the here-and-now and not on everything that went wrong in the past of is likely to go wrong in the future. It helps you distance yourself from these thoughts ; it helps you relax, it helps you sleep. Daily practice, for example, 2 20 minutes sessions, can help you fall asleep with ease and help you stay asleep until you wake up rested and restored.
Mindfulness meditation works by helping you understand your own thought processes and how they work. Mindfulness meditation is about noticing your mind racing, about observing your thoughts one at a time, non-judgementally, without getting involved with the thought and then to move on to the next thought. This technique will help you slow your mind down. When you first start, this can be difficult, but do not get discouraged, each time you realize you are focusing on one specific thought, just bring your mind back to observing the flow of your thoughts.
Below are 2 Sleep Meditations for you to try. I prefer the first one, but if you do not like the voice or anything else about the recording, try the second one. The first lasts 45 minutes, the second one hour.
During our Mindfulness Meditation Retreats, we present this information and these guided meditations on the very first evening as so many of our guests arrive stressed out from having to get everything done at home and at work before they leave, their minds still firmly focused on the environment and problems they left behind.
If you would like to find out more about our retreats/workshops, please contact us on welcometogascony[at]gmail.com or fill in the form below :
Mindfulness Meditation and Improvement in Sleep Quality and Daytime Impairment Among Older Adults With Sleep Disturbances A Randomized Clinical Trial David S. Black, PhD, MPH1; Gillian A. O’Reilly, BS1; Richard Olmstead, PhD2; Elizabeth C. Breen, PhD2; Michael R. Irwin, MD JAMA Intern Med. 2015;175(4):494-501. doi:10.1001 archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2110998
A Mindfulness-Based Approach to the Treatment of Insomnia Jason Ong and David Sholtes J Clin Psychol. 2010 Nov; 66(11): 1175–1184.
Relations among mindfulness, well-being, and sleep Andrew J. Howell, Nancy L. Digdon, Karen Buro, Amanda R. Sheptycki Personality and Individual Differences Volume 45, Issue 8, December 2008, Pages 773–777