Meditation is becoming more widely promoted by doctors who understand the mind/body connection, the benefits of meditation, and the impact of stress relief on sleep.
While chemical sleep aids can be useful in some situations, meditation could be the answer if your sleep is interrupted due to stress.
The stress response is beneficial – it primes you for quick action – but your body is designed to “burn off” that stress through physical action and then return to a resting state. This works perfectly in a crisis situation where your life is in danger. The brain signals a release of cortisol and adrenaline, which gives you a quick burst of speed and strength. Once the danger is over your sympathetic nervous system relaxes and your body goes into a restorative and restful state.
However, most of our modern stresses have nothing to do with physical danger or survival. Most modern “dangers” are of an emotional nature, and they typically center on loss of some kind.
When you worry, you worry about losing something, right?
You fear losing your job, relationship, health, sexual functioning, mobility, home, freedom, money… The trouble with these fears is twofold.
You can’t run away from emotional stresses, or physically fight them. So when you have a stress response because of worry, you can’t “burn off” the stress hormones – unless you are able to go for a run every single time you have an upsetting thought! Over time, they build up in your system and cause a whole lot of health problems, including hormonal imbalances and insomnia.
Emotional problems are not easily solved by physical action. We often get into patterns so that even if we get a new job, change relationships or move, we’ll end up in the same patterns. That means, emotional stresses are difficult to dislodge because we often approach them with the same thinking that caused them in the first place!
Meditation can be used as a way to successfully cope with emotional stresses. Here are some tips to get you started toward a healthy, restorative sleep every night. Read through this list and choose the techniques that feel right to you. There’s no specific order to do these in, and some may not be right for you at the moment. That’s okay – there are plenty to choose from, and they all work!
Meditate on gratitude just before you fall asleep. This will help you shift your focus onto what IS working in your life, instead of what is not working. If you practice gratitude every day, you’ll start to put things into perspective.
For example, I have a friend who at one time was in serious financial trouble. She would sometimes have only $3 to her name and many days until she received a paycheck! But, she taught me a fabulous trick: she would focus NOT on the money that she didn’t have, or how much things cost, but on what she had, right here and right now: a roof over her head, food in the fridge, clothes to wear, great friends, a loyal dog, her health, a vegetable garden, and so on.
When she started thinking about what she had, she realized, she could easily make it for a week on those $3 – as long as there was food to eat and she had gas in the tank, all was well! Then when she got paid, she would buy gas, stock up the pantry and feel even more abundant!
Practice gratitude throughout the day – keep reminding yourself about what is good and what works, and about what you have right now!
Remind yourself that you are smart, creative, resilient, capable, and you can learn anything you need to learn, to get out of any situation.
Be grateful for your amazing mind!
Exercise. Every day, even if you’re not planning on a true “workout” – go for a brisk walk at least once or twice for 10-20 minutes. Physically releasing the stress your body is holding on to, will help you sleep! Just don’t do any vigorous exercise close to bedtime, because you’ll speed up your metabolism and that will make it hard to fall asleep.
Watch what you eat. For good sleep, don’t eat a heavy dinner. It’s better to fuel for the day than to fuel for the night – so think about a hearty breakfast that will give you lots of energy, and make your evening meal small, and easily digestible. Avoid any caffeine after noon (if you’re prone to getting the afternoon “sleepies” at work then go for a brisk walk instead of caffeinating yourself or reaching for sugary sodas).
Minimize alcohol consumption. Your liver does a lot of work in the wee hours of the night, so if you routinely find yourself waking up around 2AM, it’s because your liver is stressed.
Chamomile tea is a wonderful evening beverage!
Meditate at least once a day. It doesn’t really matter what time of day – just commit to a daily practice of at least 15-30 minutes. This is important because meditation boosts serotonin production. Serotonin is essential for the sleep-wake cycle and low levels of serotonin are associated with insomnia, headaches and depression. Boosting your serotonin production will also influence your mood throughout the day!
If you do wake up at night, meditate! Using brainwave entrainment makes this very easy – use headphones to avoid disturbing your partner – just choose your favorite track, and drift off!
This is a great time to do creative visualization because there are very few distractions, and if you use brainwave entrainment, you will find it easy to get into a meditative state even before your mind starts racing. Visualize what can go right. Visualize the ideal situation.
Visualize “yes” and “I can.” This will give your mind something to process when you drift off again!
Over time, a consistent meditation practice can give you enough stress relief that your sleep patterns will stabilize and you’ll once again enjoy a good night’s sleep, every night!