Stress is commonly the reason why we have trouble sleeping
A lack of good sleep affects us physically, mentally and emotionally. We all have suffered from this at some stage in our lives and we are left feeling fatigued, mentally foggy and out of balance. We know that we aren’t functioning at our best and it can add to the stresses we already face. In fact, stress is usually the reason why we cannot fall or stay asleep. We are worried about what has been going on in our lives and anxious about the future. It can become circular, we worry about something that happened in the past which elicits an emotional response which confirms our original thought and we project that into the future as though it is a fact which creates more stress and worry. All of this causes more stress and we do it over again. At times, it feels like the mind is going a 1000mph and has no intention of stopping. It’s tiresome on its own, but it doesn’t help us get to sleep. When stressed and anxious, we have a hard time coming out of the fight, flight or freeze mode which is the state we are in when stressed and dropping into the relaxation response or rest and digest state where we can ease into sleep.
Meditation induces the relaxation response
This is where meditation can come in and help induce the relaxation response and gently bring about a natural sleep. If you are having sleep problems, especially if due to stress, meditation can help in two ways. First, is to establish a regular, daily if possible, meditation practice from a few minutes up to 20 minutes. This helps because you are training your mind and body to drop into the rest and digest state quicker and easier. Like training a muscle, the more you do it, the stronger it becomes. When you go to bed at night, you will drop into that relaxation response and drift to sleep instead of staying in the stressful fight or flight state. Meditation is simple but not necessarily easy so if you’re new to the practice, meditate for a few minutes and try to build up to 20 minutes a day. Research shows 20 minutes a day brings benefits to help with insomnia and improve sleep.
Second, meditation can be used as a way to fall asleep as it evokes the relaxation response and then you are guided further into a deeper sleep state. I find a guided meditation works best for this technique, especially a yoga nidra ( or yogic sleep) style such as True Rest meditations. You will start by being guided to deepen your breath to take you from the busy mind state to the rest and digest state. You are then guided through body sensing which further drops your body into a relaxed state where the mood regulating hormone serotonin is released. Further guidance brings you to focus on your inner self where your brainwaves drop deeper into the theta state where your thoughts slow down even more. It is here emotional integration and release happens. From here the guidance takes you to the delta state where you restore, regenerate and the stress hormone cortisol is removed from your system. If practicing yoga nidra or True Rest meditation to fall asleep, you are guided to let your mind and body go into that deep rejuvenating sleep.
Getting a good night's sleep
Along with using meditation to get to sleep and a better-quality sleep, it is advisable to have a bedtime routine that supports a restful sleep. Carve out that 30-60 minutes before bedtime to start preparing for sleep. It’s a powerful psychological tool to trigger your mind and body to shut off and sleep. Limit or cut out your screen time during this period before bed. Start to dim the lights as you get ready for bed which triggers a natural message to your mind that the day is over and it’s time to sleep. Do not deal with emails during this time, you want to disengage your mind from your duties. Make this a quiet and as peaceful of time as permitted. The key is to make it a routine. If you use a guided meditation to go to sleep, slip into bed, lights out and hit play.
With gratitude, Theresa