Meditation ― have you ever tried it or considered trying it? Not only is it great for the soul, but it can really help you sleep.
One personality to have experienced the benefits of meditation has been the Virgin Radio presenter, Chris Evans. While he was conducting an interview recently, the popular DJ revealed that he suffers from ‘broken’ sleep. He explained that he wakes up within four hours of going to sleep but then uses meditation to help him get back to sleep.
The most astounding thing about his revelation is how quickly the meditation gets him back to sleep. He has stated that meditation helps him to drop off in five seconds.
That’s mightily impressive, but what makes meditation so powerful when it comes to getting some sleep? Below is a look at how meditation works and how you can use it to sleep much easier.
What’s it all about?
When we go to bed, we’ve been doing a million-and-one things before we actually climb into it. The mind is an active beast and thoughts of the day’s activities race through our head. If you have a long to-do list, they might even turn to the following day and cause you worry. Then you wake up the next day feeling tired and your productivity suffers.
Meditation is all about calming the mind, which makes it perfect for preparing for sleep (or to do any time during the day, actually). It’s about learning to relax, about letting go of the stresses of the day.
The practice triggers a series of physiological changes, a little like the ones the human body experiences in the initial phases of sleep. Breathing slows down and blood pressure drops (although some dispute that meditation influences the latter). If you can train your body to enter a more relaxed state when you wish to, you’ll be in for a much easier sleep.
Is it difficult?
Meditation is fairly straightforward (and budget friendly), although it may require a little practice and some patience, but the basics are, well, just that, really: basic. Here goes …
- Start by sitting or lying down somewhere quiet. This can be on the floor on a gym mat or on top of your bed on a soft, comfortable mattress. The key word here is ‘comfort’. You must be able to relax, and not have your mind wander because the floor is grinding your bones to dust. You must also be able to stay in the position you’ve chosen for a while.
- Close your eyes. Breathe slowly. Breathe deeply.
- Focus on your breathing. If you notice your thoughts drifting away from your breathing, direct them back towards it.
It’s as simple as that. You can start off by doing this for just five minutes a day, but then increase to 10 or longer as you become more used to meditating.
Styles of meditation
That’s just the basics. If you’re really into meditation or want to vary your meditation techniques, it will be of interest to know that there are different styles of meditation. You may prefer one over the other:
This is an ideal form of meditation for beginners. You have to focus on just one thing. It could be something as simple as saying a repeated phrase or mantra or on an object in the room, such as a picture or a candle. If you work in a creative profession, this form of meditation may broaden your imagination.
In terms of guided meditation, there’s a lot of flexibility as to how you go about this. Basically, though, an instructor will lead you through the meditation. They may ask you to relax your toes or other parts of your body. They may even use imagery instead and ask you to visualise a relaxing scene. You can hire a face-to-face coach, borrow meditation materials from a library or, of course, go online and follow meditation tutorials on YouTube.
It’s all about being in the present moment and paying attention to your body, as in the basic technique described above. The idea is to evoke the relaxation response, rather than the stress response, by interrupting your everyday thoughts. This relaxation response becomes easier to generate when you go to bed at night. If possible, you should practise mindfulness meditation during the day.
It’s a popular style and is based on the wider concept of mindfulness, of taking more control of our thoughts and behaviours. Mindfulness recognises the fact that we run on autopilot much of the time and slip into (bad) behaviours or habits without even realising that we do. Mindfulness looks at addressing this.
A safe alternative
One of the fabulous benefits of meditation is that it’s a safe approach to sleeping better. Rather than loading up on sleeping pills or medication, a little meditation could do the trick (but you should speak to your GP before making any changes to your dosage). There are no dangerous side effects to meditation.
As well as being safe, meditation is compatible with other sleep techniques. It works well with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), another method you can try instead of medication. In case you’re wondering what CBT is, where sleep is concerned the approach seeks to change sleeping habits, schedules and any misconceptions that obstruct the patient from sleeping well.
Meditation is all about learning to relax and letting go of stress. Practise meditation each day and you’ll gradually be able to get your body into the habit of feeling more relaxed when you slip between the sheets at night. That to-do list? You can think about that tomorrow.