Have you ever had those nights where you lay down to go to sleep only to find that the moment you head hits the pillow your thoughts seemingly go into hyper-drive?
It’s like you turn off the lights so you can sleep only to find that your thoughts just won’t switch off. The reality is that this noise has been with you all day, it’s just that you didn’t notice it as much while you were busy being busy.
I don’t know about you but I used to find this incredibly frustrating, especially if I had something important to do the next day that I needed to be at my best.
I’d lay there stewing in my own negative self-talk around how shitty it was to not be able to stop thinking and frustrated about whether to get up, stay in bed, read a book, or do something to help switch off.
This happened for me on many occasions before I learned to meditate. It wasn’t that meditation was instantly a miracle cure for me as I also needed to educate myself on improving my sleep habits and how I managed stress during the day.
All the research I did on meditation and sleep led me to the understanding that the busier and more stressed I was during the day, the more likely it’s going to follow through into the night. What stress does is create tension in the muscles which if it’s not released before we go to bed causes the mind to stay busy as it feeds of the tension.
Must of us know that getting a good nights sleep is one of the best things you can do for a healthy mind and body. It’s one of the greatest marvels of nature as just by unplugging for a few hours our entire mind-body system gets to de-stress, detoxify and recharge after a long day.
Scientifically, it has been shown that deep sleep is where the magic happens. That’s when thinking stops and the body goes into relaxation and recovery mode. When we’re no longer caught up in the thousands of thoughts we have each day then our brainwaves slow down and that’s when it triggers a relaxation response in the brain.
Interestingly, this is where meditation and sleep have a lot in common. We know that regular meditation practice can result in triggering the relaxation response in the brain. The only difference is that you aren’t asleep. Instead, you are in a state of relaxed awareness which results in relaxing and rejuvenating effects.
It’s also been shown that the more frequently you meditate that you may not need to sleep as much. This, of course, will depend on how long you meditate, the type of meditation you do and what kind of sleep habits you have in place.
Meditation can help with sleep because it reduces stress and tension in the body while helping you to feel rested and energized during your busy day. That’s why meditating first thing in the morning is highly recommended as it’s a great way top start the day and brings more mental and emotional resilience to your everyday life.
Getting a good nights sleep is closely related to the body’s release of stress, or more importantly, the tension that stress builds up in the body. A good nights sleep can certainly helps with de-stressing and letting of tension from the body yet it’s a catch-22 situation if it’s the same tension that won’t let you go to sleep.
This is where the study of meditation and sleep gets interesting… no amount of effort you make mentally will help force the mind to calm down and go to sleep. In fact, the more you ‘try’ and go to sleep, the more it will elude you.
I know because before I’d studied meditation I’d lay awake until all hours of the morning feeling like I was trapped in a nightmare of thoughts. Then, I’d get frustrated by the fact that I was stressing out about not being able to get to sleep.
It’s not just falling asleep that’s the issue either, it can also be waking up after only a short amount of sleep and not being able to get back to sleep. That was something I also struggled with and was keen to understand more about how meditation could help.
That’s when I discovered how mindfulness meditation could help. There was a specific method I was shown by one of my teachers that involved simply watching the thoughts come and go in my head without getting caught up in them.
To my surprise, the first time I used this mindfulness method my mind started to quiet down surprisingly quickly. The more I just relaxed and allowed the thoughts to come and go undisturbed, the more the mind calmed down and the body felt more at peace.
During my first attempt at this it probably took me thirty or so minutes to fall asleep as I noticed that from time-to-time I would start to feel anxious again and then as I remembered to just watch the thoughts and give them space I would start to feel sleepy again.
The more I practiced this mindfulness exercise the easier it seemed to be to nod off to sleep. It even worked a treat if I was waking frequently through the night, waking early in the morning and being unable to go back to sleep, or simply looking for a more restful sleep.
By combining my regular morning meditation with this exercise I had everything I needed to get a good nights sleep and wake in the morning feeling refreshed and energized. These days I rarely need to use the mindfulness exercise as I meditate twice a day for 20 minutes each and I have no trouble falling asleep at all.
If you find that for any reason that being mindful of your thoughts is a bit of a struggle for you as sometimes it takes a bit of practice to get the knack of it you can try a progressive muscle relaxation meditation instead.
This is a great way to help get rid of tension from every part of your body before you go to sleep. The great thing about this meditation practice is that you can do it while lying in bed and it only takes around 10 minutes to do.
The bottom line is that if you want to sleep better and feel more rested then keep trying something different than what you’ve already been doing until you find what works for you. Meditation really is a godsend for me and I know from teaching thousands of others that it will most likely work for you too.
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