#5 of 52 Reasons Why
As a long-time meditator (25+ years) and meditation teacher for more than 12 years, I am on a mission to inspire you to start meditating. So, each week (in 2021) I will be sharing one reason why you should start meditating. Now, I know there are way more than 52 good and important reasons .. but let’s start somewhere. Just like learning to meditate, you just have to start. This also gives me a permission slip to dive into some new scientific research and also share insights from my own practice. You can find each post here and also on LinkedIn come say hello here!
52 REASONS WHY .. YOU SHOULD MEDITATE
How well do you sleep?
What is the quality of your sleep?
As a meditation teacher, I have found one of the first tangible benefits experienced by new meditators .. is that they find they are sleeping better. Easier. Longer. Deeper. More refreshing. This is often the first feedback that I get when we gather for our second class. It’s sometimes that quick.
A 2019 report by the Sleep Health Foundation (Australia) found that almost 60% of Australian adults regularly experience at least one negative sleep symptom – like trouble falling or trouble staying asleep (usually occurring three or more times per week), and 14.8 percent had symptoms which could result in a diagnosis of clinical insomnia.
Additional research I found this week from YouGov, showed that one in three Australians believe they are not getting enough shut-eye – which is most generally considered to be between seven and eight hours a night for the average adult.
Consistent and high-quality sleep is considered vital for our health and wellbeing.
Without good quality sleep, there can be some serious health consequences ranging from risk of chronic conditions, such as hypertension and obesity, an accident, or injury resulting from sleep deprivation and poor mental health. From Michael R Irwin MD, Cousins Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry at the Cousins Centre for Psychoneuroimmunology and director of the Mindful Awareness Research Centre at UCLA:
“Both sleep disturbance – that is, the quality of one’s sleep – and duration, are both associated with mortality risk and increases in the incidence and severity of immune-mediated inflammatory diseases”
There have been a number of studies done around meditation and sleep: most finding that regular meditation can help practitioners fall asleep in less time, enjoy more restful sleep and take less time to recover from sleep deprivation. There was even a reported study by The American Journal of Medicine (1996) that found 100% of patients with chronic insomnia involved in their study reported improved sleep, and 91% either eliminated or reduced their use of sleep medication, after receiving treatment that included meditation.
A 2015 study
Research from a team in the Netherlands (2015) A low-dose mindfulness intervention and recovery from work: Effects on psychological detachment, sleep quality and sleep duration, suggested that even a small amount of mindfulness meditation can help calm our hyperactive minds and improve our sleep.
“We were interested in knowing whether a low-dose training could be helpful because it is easier for people to do as compared to an eight-week program,” says Ute Hülsheger, associate professor of work and organizational psychology at Maastricht University and the lead author of the study.
In the study, participants with no formal meditation training were given reading materials introducing the basics of mindfulness, received instructions and audio of guided meditations including breathing exercises, body scan and loving kindness practice. Over two weeks participants were asked to meditate using different combinations of these exercises for 10 minutes each day, before and after work, along with completing a questionnaire at each end of the day, tracking their sleep quality and mindfulness practice, and their ability to psychologically detach from work-related thoughts after coming home.
The results indicate that over the course of the two-week period, meditators experienced steady improvements in sleep quality, sleep duration, and mindfulness, but not significant enhancements in their ability to psychologically detach from work – which was, in part, considered something that would require a longer period of practice and study.
How Does Meditation Affect Sleep?
* We are also cultivating a state of acceptance and nonjudgmental awareness in our meditation practice, which can help reduce rumination, excessive mental analysis, or distress – and this supports emotional regulation.
* Physiologically, meditation slows the heart rate and breathing and lowers levels of cortisol (the stress hormone). Over the longer term, the relaxation response (opposite to the stress response) has also been shown to reduce stress-related inflammation and oxidative stress.
* It appears that meditation also provokes lasting changes in the brain that may influence sleep. One study on experienced meditators found that they display improvements in slow-wave sleep and REM sleep, as well as having fewer awakenings throughout the night.
From my experience .. one of the most common responses from students who are learning to meditate in a class environment, is first, how close they felt they were to sleep when practicing (for even just a few minutes in a classroom of strangers) and then, how well they slept the night after class. This is often a delightful surprise to those new to meditation and can be an invaluable insight (and motivator) for them to continue with their meditation practice. Like. Why wouldn’t you?
For myself, I love my sleep and I am an excellent nap-taker, but as I get older I am finding that I can too easily wake during the night. That being said, I have a huge toolbox of meditative resources at hand to assist me in returning quickly to sleep. They most definitely work!
Caveat: Meditation is not sleeping .. but I believe we can use some of the skills that we develop in meditation to help us in getting to sleep and returning to sleep. I recommend a mental acknowledgment (informing your mind) that you are NOT meditating, but using some of the meditative tools in your toolbox to help you to sleep. It is important that our mind does not confuse the two .. meditation is not sleeping, and we don’t wish to negatively influence our meditation, or our sleep, by mixing the two.
MINI MEDITATION FOR SLEEP
Step 1: Do all that you can in preparation. Remove distractions. Get off technology at least an hour before sleep. Keep your sleeping environment clean, uncluttered, well ventilated, quiet, and with reduced lighting.
Step 2: Find your Breath. Take your awareness to your belly and invite your belly to be soft and open. Notice how you can encourage your breath to flow deep into your belly, and when you release your breath your belly softens and relaxes. You might imagine a small balloon in your belly .. as you inhale the balloon gently expands, as you exhale the balloon relaxes back.
Step 3. Counting. Begin to count your EXHALATIONS backward from 100 to 1 (and then repeat if necessary). This is a very gentle and silent counting of each exhalation … starting with ‘100’ .. next exhalation ‘99’ … next exhalation ‘98’ down to ‘1’.
Step 4. Be Kind. You may lose count. You may drift off into an adventure on some tropical island in your mind. Don’t worry if this happens. If you do notice that you have been distracted, first be kind to yourself and then gently invite your awareness back to your exhalation and the counting of your exhalation.
Inevitably, on most occasions, you will not complete the full countdown and won’t remember where you reached the next morning .. but hopefully, you will have had a full and deep sleep.
“My secret? I meditate!”
Sarah, Quiet Mind Meditation
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Past posts for #Meditation52ReasonsWhy