Feeling alert and restored upon waking after a good night’s sleep is experienced regularly by only 32% of Americans. At least once a week, the rest of us struggle to get both the quantity and quality of sleep we need. If you fall into this majority, chances are you’re on the lookout for ways you can get a little more shut-eye and wake up feeling refreshed rather than drained. Instead of reaching for the sleeping pills, mindfulness meditation can give you the rest you need without the grogginess on waking.
What is Mindfulness Meditation?
Mindfulness meditation involves focusing your mind in the present moment, usually through breathing or visualization exercises. The practice enables you to disrupt the train of everyday thoughts and induce a relaxed state in both mind and body. Simply choose a calming focus, such as the breath, a sound, or short positive phrase to focus and meditate on. When you notice your mind straying from your thought or intention, simply your focus back to your breath.
Even a short practice each day has been shown to calm overactive minds. In one recent study, participants who practiced just 10 minute mindfulness exercises over a two-week period before and after work experienced steady increases in sleep quality and duration.
How does mindfulness impact sleep?
Mindful meditations promote what is known as a relaxation response in our bodies. This response is defined as a release of natural chemicals and brain signals that decrease our body’s activity and increase blood flow to our brain. This physical response has been proven to relieve a number of stress-related ailments, including depression and anxiety; two key contributors of poor sleep.
Furthermore, the results of one clinical trial found that those who practiced meditation for eight weeks or more had physical changes to their brains. A higher concentration of grey matter – the brain tissue that contains nerve cells – in the pons region of the brain – the part integral for REM sleep and dreaming were evident. Showing a strong connection between meditation and strengthening the parts of our brain responsible for sleep.
When is the best time to practice mindfulness?
If your main purpose for practicing mindfulness is to get a better night’s rest, it is wise to meditate not only before bed, but also as part of your morning routine. Getting up at the same time to meditate in the morning will not only improve your focus and increase the benefits of mindfulness practice overall, it will also aid your body clock, support your circadian rhythms, and help you sleep better at night too.
Practicing meditation before bed will also help you switch off your mind and prepare your body for sleep. Additionally, incorporating calming yoga moves along with mindfulness practices can also help you drift off comfortably into deep, restorative sleep.
Ideally, practicing mindfulness for as little as 10 – 15 minutes each morning and evening will help you achieve consistent good sleep. Mindfulness practices have been found to have a positive effect on all sorts of sleep disorders – from trouble getting to sleep, disturbed and disrupted sleep and even insomnia. A Stanford study on treating insomnia with meditation resulted in 60% of participants no longer being regarded as insomniacs at its conclusion.
As scientists and doctors learn more about sleep and the benefits of mindfulness and other meditative practices, it is becoming clear that mindfulness does impact sleep quality beneficially. The more we practice, the less stress we feel in everyday life and also with sleep.
Lisa is a freelance writer and cycle instructor from NC. Her life's passion is to help others find physical, mental, and emotional balance. You can see more of her work at Mattress Advisor, where she regularly contributes sleep health content."