InstagramFacebookTwitterTwitter

Wellbeing

How meditation can improve your sleep

How meditation can improve your sleep

Sleep plays a critical role in the quality of our lives.

It keeps us healthy by boosting our immune system, and it is during sleep that our body has a chance to heal – and not just physically.

Sleep gives us an opportunity to process our wakeful experiences, recalibrating our emotional brain circuits to help us manage our feelings and reactions.

When we dream, our body bathes the brain in chemicals that modify painful memories in its own virtual world. Sleep provides our brain the opportunity to reinforce our learning from the day, strengthen our memory and foster creativity.

How much quality sleep we get each night can make a significant difference to our risk of disease (in particular cancer, heart disease and diabetes) and mental illness.

We spend a third of our lives sleeping, so getting enough good quality sleep each night has a favourable impact on the condition and longevity of our lives.

Take a moment to consider how you feel when you don’t get enough sleep. Is it difficult to concentrate? Do you make poor decisions? Do you eat a lot of junk food?

Sleep impacts our energy and moods, our decision-making and judgement, as well as our gut microbiome, hunger-related hormones and cravings for sugars.

Many of us may have things getting in the way of getting a good night’s sleep, including stress, insomnia, poor diet, and lifestyle factors like prioritising staying up late over getting an early night.

The good news is meditation can help break the cycle of poor sleep.

How does meditation improve your sleep?

Meditation supports the production and function of our hormones responsible for sleep including melatonin, adenosine and serotonin. It also places our brain in the right brainwave frequency for sleep.

Meditation resets our body clock by increasing the production of melatonin: the hormone that tells us it is time for sleep.

Meditation also reduces our need for caffeine by giving us a natural energy boost and decreasing the impact of stress. Many of us reach for a coffee when stressed or in need of a ‘pick me up’. Caffeine can stay in our body for an extensive amount of time, and masks the effects of adenosine, the hormone that tells us we are tired and need to sleep.

Caffeine sabotages this important sleep hormone, but by increasing your meditation practice and decreasing your caffeine intake you can ensure your body hears the messages and registers the need for sleep.

Meditation has been proven to help people fall asleep twice as quickly, increase REM sleep (enhancing learning and memory) and preserve deep sleep states (NREM sleep when our body heals and restores itself).

As a relaxation technique, meditation activates our rest and recover mode. It slows down our heart rate and breathing, relaxing our muscles and placing us in the optimum state for sleep.

What are some meditation techniques to foster a good night’s sleep?

If you are having difficulty falling asleep, there are simple meditation techniques that can help you relax and encourage your mind to switch off in readiness for sleep.

4-7-8 breathing

To help improve your sleep try the 4-7-8 breathing technique.

Breathe in and out through your nose – breathe in for a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 7, and then exhale for a count of 8.

Count at a slow and regular pace and when holding your breath try to rest in the pause, rather than it being a tense hold.

Repeat this breathing pattern until you fall asleep.

Meditators have reported that this not only helps them fall asleep, but it also provides a more restful sleep.

Body scan

You can also try a body scan.

Lie on your back with your hands beside you, palms facing upwards. Take a few long and slow deep breaths and allow your body to sink into the surface you are lying on.

Deliberately slow down your breathing, releasing any tension from your body with every exhale. Start your body scan at your feet and work your way up your body.

When practising the body scan, visualise the outline of each part of your body. Imagine each body part as very heavy and sinking downwards and then feeling light and hollow and floating upwards, or you can simply notice the sensations in each part of your body.

Experiment with each of these suggested techniques to see which one works best for you.

How to find the right meditation technique for you

Yoga Nidra

Yoga Nidra is a similar technique to the body scan.

This ancient practice is deeply relaxing and involves settling into your body, setting an intention (a Sankalpa), rotating your consciousness through your body, being aware of your breath, energy and senses, and using visualisations to relax your mind.

When used as a regular practice, Yoga Nidra takes you into a deep sleep. There are guided Yoga Nidra recordings available on Insight Timer.

Mindful meditation

Mindful meditation is the practice of being in the present moment without judgement and without being focused on an outcome.

If you are in bed wanting to go to sleep and finding it difficult, mindful meditation can help shift your focus away from the desire for sleep, so you no longer strive for it.

There are several guided mindful meditation practices you can use to help you get to sleep. But you can do one without guidance.

Simply be mindful of your pre-sleep patterns and how you set up your bedroom for sleep. Begin by reducing your alcohol or caffeine intake, particularly in the afternoon or close to bedtime. Keep your bedroom free of distractions and have it fit for purpose – sleep, rather than to watch TV or using your phone.

Blue light can have an impact on your melatonin production, so it is a good idea to stop using any electrical devices for at least half an hour before you go to sleep. Instead, have a bath, do some breathing exercises, or read a book.

Once in bed, you can be mindful and in the present moment by lying down in a comfortable position, deliberately slowing down your breathing, feeling where your breath is in your body, and then bringing your awareness to your body.

Allow your body to sink into your bed, releasing any tension with every exhale. As thoughts come up, simply acknowledge them, thank them, and then gently redirect your attention back to your body.

The art of mindfulness is not about ‘not thinking’. Of course, thoughts will come up. The art of mindfulness is in the gentle shift of your awareness back to the present moment.

Try meditation to help improve the quality of your sleep

Sleep is essential and we cannot function without it.

Try a meditation practice each night for a couple of weeks. Experiment and notice the difference meditation can make to the quality of your sleep and your life.

Sometimes the changes can be subtle to begin with. Keeping a journal about how you feel when you wake up, how you feel during the day, and if you notice any differences in your sleep patterns.

Kristina Garla

This article was written by Kristina Garla, a meditation teacher, writer, certified Wayapa® practitioner and rebirthing breathwork facilitator.

Kristina holds space for people to heal and connect to themselves, the earth, their story and breath, working with individuals, groups, communities, schools and workplaces to foster wellness in the world.

Learn more at kristinagarla.com