Benefits of sleep
Sleep is essential for our physical, mental and emotional health but even more indispensable is good quality, calming sleep. This is when your brain waves drop into the theta and delta stages and your body repairs and regrows tissues, builds bone and muscle and strengthens the immune system. The question can then be asked, how do I achieve this state of sleep on a regular basis? A lack of good quality sleep results in more stress and anxiety, disease and a poor functioning nervous system.
A regular meditation practice results in the same benefits as deep sleep, decreased heart rate, increased metabolism, stress reduction, maintaining a good weight, high functioning of the nervous system and aids in the development of a good immune system.
Even the novice meditator practicing 2-3 times a week will experience the benefits of relaxation and an easier time falling and staying asleep.
The outcomes of quality sleep and a regular meditation practice are the same but does meditation replace sleep? In short, no. Your body and mind requires sleep but the key is a good quality sleep where the brain waves cycle through and repeat the delta (stages 3 and 4 of Non Rapid Eye Movement) and into the dream state (Rapid Eye Movement).
A 2010 study showed that those that meditate at least 2 hours a day for a few years can have a reduced need for sleep. However, the less experienced meditator still benefited from feeling rested, more alert and focused after meditating.
So, how can meditation help achieve that rested and restorative sleep we all need?
Many styles of meditation will help you relax your mind, calm down your nervous system and allow your body to relax. If practiced in bed or just before bedtime can also aid in drifting off to sleep. It’s important to find a meditation style that works for you.
For going to sleep, I like a guided meditation. True Rest meditations are based on the yoga nidra technique or yogic sleep. Yoga nidra is an ancient practice from India dating back to around 1000 BC through verbal teachings. In essence during the practice, your body goes to sleep in the delta state but your mind stays aware and conscious.
Yoga nidra is typically practiced lying down so it’s ideal as a gateway to a restful sleep. In this form of meditation, the guide takes you through some deep belly or diaphragmatic breathing and then uses body sensing to connect you to your inner self and start to calm the mind and body. When the mind calms, the body can follow. Your brain shifts from the busy doing stage (beta brainwaves) to a more relaxed state (alpha). In the alpha state, anxiety is decreased and the mood regulating hormone, serotonin, is released.
As you are guided to shift your focus on your inner self, you drop into a deep alpha and a theta brainwave state where your thoughts slow down even more, emotional integration and release happens here.
Through the meditation, you are guided to the delta state where thoughts have slowed even more and this is the most restorative state where organs regenerate and the stress hormone, cortisol, is removed from your system.
Our fast-paced daily lives with the stresses and strains can be the cause of us going less into the restorative theta and delta states when we sleep. Our bodies and minds are not getting the relaxation and regeneration needed when we stay more in the beta and alpha states.
True Rest and yoga nidra can bring the practitioner into the deepest state of relaxation while remaining aware and conscious. This type of meditation is useful during the day or as a way to help you melt into sleep. Many users of our Restful Sleep meditations report drifting off to sleep before the end of the recording.
Both True Rest and yoga nidra can be practiced by anyone and everyone. If lying down is not a comfortable option then it can always be practiced while seated.
With gratitude, Theresa