How many times do you catch yourself saying you feel tired? Do you long for a day when you wake-up feeling rested and energized for the day ahead, without the reliance on a double espresso to get you out of bed in the morning?
With the festive season fast approaching and demands on our already weary bodies increasing, the reality of getting some much-needed R&R seems a distant dream. For a lot of us, the humdrum of daily life often leads to the opposite of what we actually need to counter the effects of our busy schedule– a blissful and undisturbed nights sleep. How many times have you fallen into bed, longing for a restful night sleep, only to find that your whirring mind has other plans?
If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. With 1 in 3 people suffering from mild insomnia (1) – reporting difficulty in falling asleep, waking up frequently during the night or waking very early in the morning with an inability to fall back into a restful slumber, there’s an immediate need to up both the quality and quantity of our nighttime zzz’s. But given the increasing demands of modern day life, combined with the decreasing average number of hours we sleep each night, its unsurprising to learn that a lot of us are struggling with an out of balance activity vs. rest equation.
So how do we set our rest records straight and counter the negative effects of our busy lives and sleepless nights? Well, meditation is providing a promising solution to not only reduce the common causes of low quality sleep but perhaps more interestingly; some types of meditation provide the body with bouts of rest deeper than that experienced during sleep. This could provide an effective way to claw back our rest deficits during ‘our waking’ day activities – promising indeed!
Tired of being tired? 3 reasons why meditation can help you rest more deeply and easily:
Both the quality and quantity of our sleep is valuable for maintaining our health and well being – without it we become grumpy, fatigued, stressed, forgetful and find it hard to focus on anything! However, research shows that there are a number of benefits the regular practice of meditation can have on reducing insomnia and disturbed sleeping patterns.
1. Meditation tackles the causes associated with poor sleep so you fall asleep easier:
Stress is one the main culprits for poor sleep. When we lay down at night, the brain detects our horizontal status, switching our body into rest and repair mode. By unloading the over stimulation and stresses of the day, the electrical activity in the brain increases as it starts to remove the excesses within – hence the whirring mind before we sleep or in the middle of night.
By incorporating meditation into our daily routines, we give the body and mind invaluable time to begin the ‘unstressing’ process ahead of our sleep time, working deep at the level of the nervous system to clean out all of the noise, stimulation and daily cares so that when we lay our head down, it is ready to descend into a relaxing night of slumber.
This is confirmed by a research, which showed that prior to learning meditation, a group of insomniacs took on average 75 minutes to fall asleep but in the months following learning to meditate it took them on average, just 15 minutes to drift off into sleep (2)
2. Meditation helps prevent sleep disturbances so it increases the quality of sleep:
Experiencing high levels of stress in our everyday lives has a knock on impact on the type of sleep cycles we experience at night. Sustained activity of the sympathetic nervous system (our fight or flight response) causes us to experience less of the slow wave sleep which is so essential for energy restoration. Instead, we tend to stay shallow in sleep, making us more susceptible to disturbances and interruptions during the night.
Meditation helps to cure insomnia by not only balancing out the stress responses in our bodies, but by lengthening deep sleep cycles, and improving sleep efficiency. In a study of PTSD patients, a disorder characterized by high stress, anxiety and an inability to sleep, it was shown that compared to a control group, those patients who learnt to meditate had significantly reduced bouts of insomnia (3).
3. Meditation helps gain rest deeper than sleep, increasing sleep deprivation recovery time:
Perhaps most promising of all though is that during some types of meditation – for example during transcendental or Vedic meditation, we can experience bouts of deep rest, which are actually deeper than when we sleep. Therefore if we do find ourselves experiencing a poor night’s sleep (self induced through socializing or otherwise!), we find the deep rest gained from meditation allows us to reboot each morning, ready for the demands of the day.
Research shows that during meditation, muscles relax, blood flow to some areas of the body increases, the heart rate slows down, breathing becomes slower and shallower, there’s a decrease in the stress hormone cortisol in the blood and skin resistance increases more than during sleep (4). This provides evidence that the activity of the body and the nervous system during meditation is opposite to that of the stress response and at its deepest points (when the mind is most settled and the breathing most shallow) can be deeper than sleep (5)
This could provide a promising solution for the rest deficits experienced by the sleep-deprived norm. Whilst it’s unlikely that the addition of 2 more hours sleep per night is sustainable in the long term, the prospect of incorporating a twice daily 20 minute mediation into your commute to work maybe the more practical solution we’re after if we’re serious about rebalancing our activity vs. rest equation.
About the Author:
Naomi Wright supports mission-led visionaries reach and inform others about the transformative message of holistic health and well being. Currently working with Will Williams Meditation who provide meditation classes in London, Naomi is interested in how modern science together with eastern wisdom can advance our understanding of how to prevent and treat dis-ease within the mind-body.
2 – Donald E. Miskiman, “The Treatment of Insomnia by Transcendental Meditation Program”, Scientific Research on the Transcendental Meditation Program, Collected Papers, Vol.1, pages 296-298
3 – James S. Brooks and Thomas Scarano, “Transcendental Meditation in the Treatment of Post-Vietnam Adjustment,” Journal of Counseling and Development, vol. 64:212-215, 1985
4 – Ron Jevning “Adrenocortical activity during Meditation”, Hormones and Behaviour 10 (1978), pages 54-60.
5 – Jack Forem: Transcendental Meditation: The Essential Teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Chapter 6, pp98