Meditation and Sleep

Here are some tips on how you can use meditation and yogic techniques to help restore your natural sleep balance.

How can you use your meditation practice to help cultivate better sleep?

It really is important to develop a regular daily practice of meditation.  This will increase your vitality and energy so you will be less likely to take naps at 7 pm or do other things to disrupt your sleep patterns.  Meditation can help you function and feel good during the day.  My youngest child did not sleep through the night from the time she was born until she was almost 3 years old!  Honestly meditation was the only thing that kept me sane. (And for any poor, sleep-deprived parents out there, there is hope; I now have a sound sleeping kindergartener.)

There are two main types of sleep disturbances. Some people have trouble falling asleep at bedtime and others fall asleep at bedtime, but then wake up at 3 or 4 am and can’t get back to sleep.  Of course many people exhibit both symptoms.

For people who have trouble falling asleep

I would recommend practicing your meditation after work, (it’s still OK to do it in the morning as well) so you can decompress and release some of the day’s stress.  As a general rule, I would caution about practicing meditation right before sleep, as it may cause some people to get energized and as the saying goes “rob your sleep.”  However, everyone is different and some people may find it does help them sleep.  You will have to experiment with that on your own. If you do find meditating before bed the best choice for you, I would recommend a guided meditation.  This is more restful than deeply internal, and especially if the speaker has a soothing voice, it can help you to drift off.  Audio book tapes can also accomplish this.   Meditating around 8 pm, a few hours before sleep is another practical option (kids are settled, dinner is finished).

For people who wake up in the middle of the night, for example at 3 or 4 am and can’t get back to sleep

Meditation and SleepIn this case it is very beneficial to practice your So Hum Primordial Sound Meditation. (Or if you have received your own mantra, use that.) I have found that if I ever wake up in the middle of the night and I practice meditation, I can easily fall asleep afterwards.  Before if this happened to me I would try reading, or TV, or just lying in bed calculating how many hours until I had to get up.  But if I discipline myself to sit up and meditate even for just 15 minutes, I am amazed at how easily sleep comes afterwards.  One of my clients was a long time sufferer of disruptive sleep.

She was often waking up around 3 or 4 am and the first time she practiced her meditation she was able to go back to sleep easily.  It really works.  You just have to tell yourself instead of sitting there fretting or tossing, to sit up and meditate.  Do it sitting in bed, that’s fine.  Even if you don’t get back to sleep, at least you are restoring yourself, and by meditating you are lowering your brain waves, slowing them down closer to the sleep state.

Here are some additional general Ayurvedic tips to help you sleep better:

  • Try and finish your eating by 7 pm, so you are not digesting at sleep time. While a tea can be relaxing, don’t drink a tea, even herbal too close to bedtime as you will be up having to relieve yourself.
  • And of course caffeine is a stimulant. Not only should you cut it out at night, according to Ayurveda you should have your last cup by early afternoon, for some dosha types even much earlier.
  • While alcohol may make you sleepy and even fall asleep, it disrupts sleep patterns and can wake you up later, so avoid alcohol as a sleep aid.
  • An seasonal tip, especially for those of us in the depths of winter is to get exposure to sunlight, particularly in the first few hours after waking in the morning. This helps regulate your bodyʼs natural release of melatonin, a hormone that is part of our sleep-wake cycle. A sun lamp/light (again used after waking) can also achieve this and help you find it easier to fall asleep at night.
  • Bedtime routine is important; a bath before bed, a book, a little journaling, a light massage, are all good ways to prepare the mind/body for quieting down.  ( I know you’re thinking a massage, dream on, but even just a few minutes giving your own feet a gentle rub can be soothing.)
  • Try and avoid violent or stimulating TV, a super-charged workout (gentle yoga or stretching ok), work emails or intense conversations at least an hour before bedtime.
  • What is the best time to to go to bed according to Ayurveda? Between 10 and 10:30 pm.

There are also pranayama or breathing techniques that can aid in better sleep.  If you know Alternate Nostril Breathing or Nadi Shodhana, this exercise has a relaxing effect on your mind or body, and is very helpful in reducing anxiety, especially when your mind is racing when you are trying to fall asleep.  This pranayama exercise is also great to do before meditating as it has a quieting effect.  If you haven’t encountered this technique, where you breathe in one nostril and out the other, I will post a how to video soon on the site

I hope this bit of information helps.  Please write and let me know how your meditating is going.

Blessings and happy sleep,