So far, this year has been unlike any other. Our minds are a turbulent mess of thoughts involving the invisible threat of the virus, the fear of layoffs or pay cuts, the constant flow of (mostly bad) news, the panic that comes with every grocery run and the social isolation of the lockdown. With so many unprecedented changes happening so fast, our minds and bodies haven’t been able to keep up, thus affecting our ability to get a good night's sleep.It doesn’t help that we’re spending the entire day indoors, receiving very little natural light, which is vital for our circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle).Since sleep is important for our physical health, mental wellbeing and the effective functioning of our immune system, it’s time to take some steps towards improving our sleep quality. One simple way to do that is through sleep meditation.
What is sleep meditation
Sleep meditation simply means practising mindfulness or certain meditation techniques just before sleep or anytime you wake up in the middle of the night and have trouble falling back to sleep. Recent studies show that even low‐dose mindfulness and meditation in preparation for sleep, can help calm the mind and relax the body, allowing for improved sleep quality and duration
How it helps
At night, when all other activities have stopped – our mind starts racing. Meditation and mindfulness help us rest our heads and relax our body. Studies show that meditation reduces amygdala reactivity - the part of the brain associated with stress response. Meditation also lowers our heart rate and encourages us to breathe slower, thereby promoting sleep.
Who can benefit from sleep meditation
Anyone with sleep issues or trouble ‘tuning out’ can try sleep meditation. More than half of us are sleep deprived and we don’t know it. Some people have trouble falling asleep, others have restless sleep patterns or wake constantly through the night. Almost all of us use our screens too close to bedtime; suppressing the release of melatonin (sleep-inducing hormone) and delaying sleep. Meditation can be used as an easy, natural and safe medication-free sleep aid.
Sleep Meditation Techniques
Though best when practised just before falling asleep and in a calming environment, these techniques can also be practised multiple times through the day to lower stress and ultimately sleep better at night. There are a number of meditation techniques that can help us relax and nod off, let’s look at 4 of them.
The easiest and most enjoyable form of sleep mediation is to listen to music. Music creates biological changes like slowing your heart rate and breathing, lowering your blood pressure, and also triggers your muscles to relax – everything needed to prepare your body for slumber. Familiar songs work well and preferably music that’s ‘easy’ to listen to like classical, jazz or even meditation music and nature sounds. Adults who listen to even 45min of (relaxing) music before bed, can fall asleep faster, sleep longer and wake up less during the night.
- Body scan
This is a type of meditation where you focus on the sensations of the different parts of your body, right from your toes and all the way up to your head. The method is mainly used to manage pain and anxiety. It is also effective in treating insomnia.
- Gratitude meditation
This type of meditation causes you to reflect on the people and things you are grateful for. A study showed that 2 weeks of gratitude intervention resulted in greater sleep quality and sleep duration among the participants. It also showed less sleep latency and daytime dysfunction. As a part of your bedtime routine, you can think about any three things that happened during the day that you’re grateful for. It can be as simple as a conversation with a loved one, a task completed or a cooking experiment that was successful.
As the name suggests, visualization involves using your mind and imagination to ‘visualize’ your goal or a certain event/outcome. As a sleeping aid, visualization expands your ability to focus on calming and comforting images instead of letting our minds think about things that stress us out. You can imagine yourself in a place you generally feel safe and relaxed – like the beach, mountains, your grandparent’s home, etc. Focus on the details, like the colours around you, the other people/animals present there, the weather and the sounds. There are other specific visualization techniques like picturing yourself on a train station or in an elevator. You can try them and see what works best for you. Other forms of meditation that can be used as sleep aids are abdominal breathing, counting down and mindful meditation. Sleep meditation techniques are very simple to introduce into your daily routine, and over time they may help you fall asleep quicker and get better quality sleep through the night.