Do you have difficulty sleeping? Is your mind in a whirl as you lay awake in bed? Been using your phone and laptop way later than you should be?
If this sounds familiar, you are likely suffering from insomnia.
Sure, you can take Ambien or other milder substances like melatonin and Kava to get you to sleep, but this isn’t a sustainable solution. Instead, it’s better to get your sleep under control and attempt to rearrange your evening around getting better sleep.
This article looks at how you can use meditation to help get to sleep, and includes Mindfulness Sleep Exercises to encourage healthy sleep.
The Harms of a Lack of Sleep
The more scientists study sleep, the clearer it gets that most Westerners aren’t getting enough high-quality sleep, and this lack of sleep may be causing significant harm in the long term.
Even if you do fall asleep easily, it’s not only about “getting” to sleep but about the quality of your sleep that’s important. During sleep, the body goes through many phases sleep known as REM and non-REM (Rapid Eye Movement). If this is unbalanced, you may keep waking up and then find that you are unable to get back to sleep again.
Researchers have found that lack of sleep can indeed make you physically ill. Having little sleep has the same effect on your body as if you were suffering from long term stress.
It unbalances your hormone production, including lowering testosterone.
If you ever wake up because you’re hungry, blame the gremlin known as ghrelin. It is the hormone that stimulates hunger. On top of that, there is a lower production of the hormone, Leptin, that decreases your hunger.
Hence, nibblers in the night.
That’s right, lack of sleep affects your digestive system. Even worse, it affects the health of your heart by increasing the risk of heart disease.
Rest and Digest
This is a process known as the Parasympathetic Response. It is an autonomic process of your nervous system. Also, the opposite of the “Fight or Flight” response.
Instead of requiring lots of energy, it conserves your energy. The heart rate will slow down and muscles in your digestive system will relax. This is an important process.
When working properly, you will get the right type of sleep while your body continues to function.
But if your mind is racing around with mental clutter, you’re never going to enter into a peaceful phase. That means you will not experience the Parasympathetic Response.
How then can you relax at bedtime?
What you need is a process whereby you can switch off all the noise from your daytime experiences. In a sense, you need to find a means of disassociating awareness. It’s similar to switching your mind off from some bad experience, so you don’t think about the negative thoughts.
In this instance though, you only need to disconnect your mind from all the day’s events.
The ideal way to do this is to meditate in bed. Many practitioners find that by embracing the techniques of mindfulness meditation before bed, they can successfully turn down the volume of their minds to help encourage sleep and restfulness.
Meditation to Help Get to Sleep
By entering a meditative state, you can bring yourself to a point of welcoming sleep, embracing slumber. This is when your blood pressure drops as your pulse slows down.
Plus, any stress hormones in your body will decrease in production. It seems sensible to try and trigger this stage if you’re lying in bed tossing and turning the night hours away.
When you meditate before sleep, you focus on shutting down an overactive mind. Only then will your autonomous nervous system kick in. This is what helps you continue to breathe, digest, and keeps your heart pumping while you sleep.
Meditation Vs. Screens
Screens are now everpresent in our lives. This is the reality. I’m sure Google and Facebook would love to be able to hook us up to the hivemind even when we’re dreaming.
Fortunately, they can’t do that (yet!). But the fact remains that many of us tend to keep using our screens well into the evening, blasting our eyes with blue light and artificial light. This ruins the circadian rhythm, prevents the body from producing melatonin, and causes us to resist getting to sleep.
By putting the phone down (preferably outside the bedroom!) and embracing meditation before bed, you’ll have an opportunity to set yourself aside from your phone and all its temptations.
Turn this time of closing off any technology into a ritual. Use it to formally end your day, and state to yourself that all of the tasks you have for the day are complete as best you could do. Tomorrow is another day, and you will be able to continue to accomplish more when you wake up.
Using Apps for Sleep Meditation
Even though I love many meditation apps, including Insight Timer and 10% Happier, I don’t think they’re the best choice for use before bed. This is because by necessity they’re tied to your phone. Following the advice of Dr. Matthew Walker, mentioned above, it really is critical to get the technology out of the bedroom in order to improve sleep quality.
Free Guided Sleep Meditations may well help you get to sleep. The problem comes if you wake up in the middle of the night and your phone is right there. Reach for it, turn on that screen, and dive back in… you’ve lost two hours of sleep.
Instead, it’s best to go on your own for this sort of meditation. The concepts are not hard, and with a little reading, you can familiarize yourself with how sleep meditation works. Read on and understand the concepts. Then it’s time to put away the technology and implement the techniques.
Mindful Meditation for Sleep
Do you want to silence your worries away before sleep? Meditation can help get you there.
This type of meditation does not send you to sleep but declutters your mind so your body can begin to relax.
Mindful meditation is about observing thoughts and “the self”. That’s not in a selfish way, but in a way that helps your mind to focus and shut out the noisy clutter.
Mindfulness Sleep Exercises
Here’s a Mindful Meditation Exercise to help you achieve this state of mind. Try this and you might achieve the right type of restful sleep.
- Lay in a comfortable position whereby you feel completely relaxed. It is better if you can lay on your back, but don’t worry if not.
- Take a deep breath through your nose for a count of around 7-8 seconds, and then hold it in. As you intake the air, focus your thoughts on allowing your stomach to swell up like a balloon.
- Hold that breath for a count of around 4-5 seconds. At the same time, your chest will also rise, but keep focusing on your stomach only.
- Let the air exhale slowly out of an open mouth, for around 7-8 secs.
- Repeat the breathing exercise a second time. This time, imagine that you are expelling all your day’s worries as you exhale the air out through your mouth.
- Repeat this process around ten times, or until you feel completely relaxed.
- Don’t think worrying thoughts, such as, “Oh my goodness, I must get to sleep.” Instead, focus your thoughts on a particular part of your body, such as your hands and feet. Ask yourself questions, such as, “What do my hands feel like, or my toes?” Be aware of only them and ask more questions, such as, can you feel the air on the skin? Or, can you feel the softness of the covers touching your feet? Is the skin cold or warm? You don’t have to linger for long on such questions, but note how you are NOT thinking about the day’s events.
- Next, focus on any sounds you can hear. Hopefully, there are no alarms ringing or loud noises (if there are, you can observe that they are present, but don’t make them the center of your attention). What can you hear in the peaceful silence, such as light traffic noise in the distance, or a dog barking?
- After a few minutes of listening, bring your mind back to your hands and feet. Do they feel heavy or light? Warm or cold?
- Now that you’re focused on your body once again, imagine yourself lying there on the bed. Put a mental picture in your mind. Visualize what you look like from head to toe. Use your thoughts to do a mental scan down your entire body. Is anywhere feeling tense? Make sure none of your muscles are taut. If they are, force yourself to relax them.
- Think about your breathing and feel your chest going up and down as you breathe.
- If you’re in the mood to do this, take about 5-minutes to fast forward through your day. Think of the more mundane events rather than any problematic ones, such as, what did you eat for each meal? How many different people did you see today?
- If your mind gets ahead of itself and those stressful thoughts sneak in, focus back on those parts of your body. Wiggle your fingers, one at a time.
- The idea is to focus on the mundane only. Having something to do, such as moving certain muscles, or fingers will help that happen.
- If you don’t feel relaxed, then get a bit more adventurous and think of a particular muscle, such as your calf. Squeeze one of the calf muscles, hold it for a count of around 5-6, then let it relax. Move on the to the other leg and repeat. You can work your way around your entire body, but only one muscle at a time. By the time you get to your shoulders, you might even be asleep.
Meditation will not put you to sleep. It merely induces relaxation, which will then hopefully result in sleep.
Conclusion: Meditation to Help Fall Asleep
Some find that using quiet, calming sounds or white noise can make this type of meditation work better. However, I do encourage you not to go put your phone on the nightstand and use it to play music! Instead, consider getting a dedicated speaker for quiet music, or even consider opening a window.
Fresh air and cool temperatures encourage sleep. And as long as the noise outside isn’t too significant, some ambient noise from outdoors can help with sleep.
Meditation helps to clear your mind of clutter before you fall asleep. Because of this, the chances are that you will have a better sleep for it and wake up refreshed and not tired. So close off the technology before bed, and replace it with some mindfulness sleep exercises to help induce a state of natural tiredness.
Good luck. Now get to sleep.