How and Why to Use Meditation to Sleep Better

 

By Ellie Porter, Guest Author

It’s no secret that a fast-paced, modern lifestyle comes with high-stress levels. Consequently, more and more people find themselves getting far less than the seven to eight hours of sleep necessary to function at their best [1]. Everything from a changing work schedule to too much television can interfere with a regular sleep-wake cycle.  A consistent meditation routine has been shown to reduce the effects of insomnia and other sleep disorders by teaching effective stress control. Meditation cannot only reduce stress but how we perceive pain [2].

Stress Relief

Everything from finances to family and work can cause the stress that causes wakefulness late into the night. Meditation functions as a stress coping mechanism that can help the onset and duration of sleep. Stress usually comes from worrying about past and future events. Rethinking and worrying about a conversation or anticipating problems with a future meeting can keep the mind working when it needs shut down for the night.

 
Meditation, particularly mindfulness meditation, brings the mind back into the present [3] and trains the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that controls reactions to perceived threats, to reduce its activity [4]. The ability to stay in the present reduces symptoms of depression, pain, and high blood pressure. It also reduces the symptoms of many common sleep disorders.

Reduce Pain Perception

In its most basic form, meditation trains the brain how to relax. The mind has a powerful connection with the body. Pain perception relies in part on the anticipation of an event. Meditation keeps the mind focused on the present, which reduces the anticipation and perception of pain.  Even those with chronic pain issues such as cancer treatment have been able to reduce their pain through consistent meditative practice.

Meditation Changes Cells

Meditation also has the ability to change how cells function at the most basic levels. One study found that participants who regularly practiced meditation showed less cell degradation [5] than those who did not.  The participants who meditated showed slow cell degradation, which means the cells aged slower. Though the connection between mind and body isn’t fully understood, the benefits of meditation are hard to ignore.

How to Use Meditation Every Day

Meditation helps eliminate the factors that get in the way of high-quality sleep. Many different meditative methods are easy to bring into a daily routine, but mindfulness meditation has been shown to be one of the most effective when it comes to reducing the effects of sleeplessness [2].

 

The basics of mindfulness meditation involve finding a calming focus such as the sound of the breath or picturing a peaceful scene while breathing deeply. As the mind centers on this focal point, it begins to relax. Practitioners should try to concentrate only on their focal point. If the mind starts to wander, it is gently guided back to the relaxing focal point. Beginners may want to start with guided meditation using an app, DVD, or instructor until comfortable with the method.

 

For better sleep, meditation can be done while sitting in a comfortable chair or even while lying in bed. The mattress should be comfortable so as not to distract the mind or body [6].

 

References

[1] Centers for Disease Control: Basics About Sleep: https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/how_much_sleep.html.

[2] Carlson. L. E. et al. (2014). Mindfulness-based cancer recovery and supportive expressive therapy maintain telomere length relative to controls in distress breast cancer survivors. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/cncr.29063.

 

[3] Corliss, J. (2015). Mindfulness meditation helps fight insomnia, improves sleep from Harvard Health Blog: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/mindfulness-meditation-helps-fight-insomnia-improves-sleep-201502187726.

 

[4] Nauert, R. (2010). Habitual Meditation Reduces Pain Perception from Psych Central: https://psychcentral.com/news/2010/06/03/habitual-meditation-reduces-pain-perception/14261.html.

 

[5] Epel, E. et al (2009)  Can Meditation Slow Rate of Cellular Aging?
Cognitive Stress, Mindfulness, and Telomeres: https://www.upaya.org/uploads/pdfs/MeditationandtelomereEpelANYAS2009.pdf


[6] Memory Foam Mattress Reviews from the Sleep Help Institute: https://www.sleephelp.org/memory-foam-mattress-reviews/.