Worrying about the world keeping you up at night? With the current state of things, there's quite a lot to lose sleep over. And many of us weren't even getting great shut-eye before the novel coronavirus pandemic.
In fact, 63 percent of Americans said they fretted about the future while 45 percent reported that they struggled to sleep at night due to stress in a 2017 Stress in America survey by the American Psychological Association.
"Chronic sleep loss has many causes but, most often, what keeps us up at night are racing thoughts, worries about tomorrow or replaying scenes from the day," Jodie Skillicorn, DO, an osteopathic physician, holistic psychiatrist and author of Healing Depression Without Medication: A Psychiatrist's Guide to Balancing Mind, Body, and Soul, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
If tossing and turning in the sheets is all too familiar, practicing a simple meditation before bed may help calm your concerns and give you the peace of mind you need to nod off.
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How Meditation Can Improve Sleep
"Meditation is helpful because it calms the nervous system, balancing the sympathetic system of arousal with the parasympathetic system of rest and digestion," Dr. Skillicorn says.
That's because "when we're stressed, we often get stuck in sympathetic overdrive (aka fight-or-flight mode) and cannot turn our body or brain off even though we're tired," she explains.
So, by calming the nervous system, you can quiet the racing thoughts.
Indeed, research has discovered that meditation may help individuals manage sleep disturbances. An April 2015 study in JAMA Internal Medicine found that adults with chronic sleep struggles who practiced meditation (compared to those who received sleep hygiene education) exhibited fewer symptoms of insomnia, depression, anxiety, stress and fatigue, plus decreased markers of inflammation.
But which meditation technique is best before bedtime?
"Meditations that involve less cognition work better for sleep," Dr. Skillicorn says. In other words, those that require less thinking. "For example, a mindfulness meditation focused on offering compassion to others would probably not be the best choice before sleep," she explains.
Conversely, focusing on belly breathing is ideal. "Deep, slow, steady breaths into the belly activate the vagal nerve, which winds up to the limbic part of the brain where we monitor for threats," Dr. Skillicorn says. That is, by breathing deeply, you're sending a message of safety to the part of the brain that's ever vigilant for danger.
A 5-Minute Meditation for Better Sleep
If you're a meditation newbie, there are a bunch of stress-busting meditation apps you can download when counting sheep doesn't do the trick. To get you started, try this 5-minute bedtime meditation by Dr. Skillicorn to help you drift off to dreamland.
1. Begin by creating an environment for sleep. Darken the room and remove all electronic devices. Consider turning down the thermostat. Both darkness and a drop in body temperature are required to initiate sleep.
2. Lie down in bed on your back and make yourself comfortable.
3. Prepare for meditation by tightening all the muscles in your body: Point or flex your toes and clench your hands in fists. Lift your arms, legs and head off the bed. Clench your jaw and scrunch your face. Hold this position while holding your breath as long as you can, and then, when ready, release the body with a loud exhale through the mouth.
4. Pause for a moment and notice the sensations in your body. Repeat step 3 one or two more times, ending with an exhalation that invites the body to release any and all tension.
5. Pause and notice where your body is touching the bed and where there are spaces. Notice areas of tightness and areas with more spaciousness. Notice your breath and the beating of your heart.
6. Bring your focus to your breath, noticing it as it is in this moment, not trying to change anything. Lay one hand over the chest and one hand over the belly to feel the movement of the breath through the body. Feel the air passing through the nostrils. Notice the rise and fall of the chest and the belly.
7. Notice the count of your inhalation. You will now intentionally shift the pattern of your breathing in order to send a message to the brain that it is safe to go to sleep. Whatever the count of your inhalation, you will pause at the top of the breath for the same count, and then exhale for double that count. For example, if you inhale for a count of three, you will pause for a count of three, and then exhale for a count of six. By doubling the exhalation, you are turning off the fight-or-flight part of the nervous system and amplifying the rest and digest part of the nervous system.
8. Continue this pattern of breathing for as long as you like and then allow the breath to return to normal. As best as you can, continue to follow the movement of the breath with your hands and your awareness until you drift off to sleep.
9. If you start to notice thoughts or frustration because you have not yet fallen asleep, simply notice the thoughts ("there is thinking") and emotions ("there is frustration; there is anxiety") and bring your awareness back to the body and the breath.
10. Repeat until you fall asleep.
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