The benefits of meditation have been known in the Eastern world for generations, but we’re only now beginning to understand the science behind this age-old practice. In a fast-paced, technology-driven world, sometimes you need to take a step back to see how stress might be affecting your life. It could be damaging your relationships, wreaking havoc on your health, or leaving you sleep-deprived. If you want to reduce stress, center yourself, and improve the quantity and quality of your sleep, meditation might be right for you.
Stress-Related Sleep Deprivation
Stress comes with many harmful physical and mental side effects. A few you may have experienced include:
- Headaches or migraines
- Muscle tension, especially in the shoulders and back
- Chest pain
- Reduced sex drive
- Stomach upset such as acid reflux
- Lack of focus
- Appetite changes
- Social withdrawal
Stress can prevent you from reaching the deepest levels of sleep needed for full regenerative rest, compromising your immune system, affecting your appetite, and overall well-being.
Stress and sleep deprivation form a vicious cycle. Stress makes it hard to sleep, yet lack of sleep makes it difficult to deal with stress, making the effects of stress more pronounced. Bringing stress under control can help put you back on track for getting the full seven to eight hours of sleep you need each night.
Using Meditation as a Relaxation Tool
Where does meditation come into the equation? Meditation can break the stress-sleep deprivation cycle. Meditation triggers what’s called the “relaxation response.” This response is accompanied by a decrease in oxygen consumption, an increased exhalation of nitric oxide, and a reduction in psychological distress. Other short and long-term effects of the relaxation response include:
- Slowed brain wave patterns
- Improved appearance of your skin
- Decreased muscle tension
- Slowed heart rate
- Improved immune system
- Lower blood pressure
- Restored circulation
- Decreased metabolism
- Increase in communication skills
Other methods of treating sleep deprivation, like sleep education, have proven to be less effective than regular meditation. With continued practice, meditation can fundamentally change how genes express themselves. The genes begin to reverse the damage done by stress to individual cells. In addition, the amount of proteins that cause stress-related inflammation goes down, reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and other illnesses and disorders.
Meditation for Better Sleep
Today, meditation has become more accessible than in the past. Many yoga classes discuss and incorporate meditation as part of the class because the two are so closely related. Apps, websites, and online videos are readily available to help you learn meditative techniques. It can be done before bed to help you let go of stress and relieve tension. Whether you’re sitting in a quiet room or lying on your mattress ready to fall asleep, you can follow meditation instructions to help you drift off to sleep.
If you’re looking for a simple technique to try right away, mindfulness meditation works well for beginners. It involves breathing deeply from the diaphragm and listening and focusing on the inhalation and exhalation of the breath. Some techniques also involve the visualization of a nature scene or counting down numbers. The more you practice, the better you’ll get at developing a method that can change your relationship with stress and sleep.
From Sarah Johnson of Tuck