Hack Your Sleep with Mindfulness Meditation
If you want to sleep better and even train yourself to need less sleep, it’s time to start a consistent mindfulness meditation practice.
Don’t worry, if you’re thinking you need to be “good” at meditating, you do not. Everyone who meditates consistently, from novices to Vipassana retreat experts experience positive improvements in their sleep when meditating regularly.
Consistent meditators have known this for centuries, but only recently has legitimate research come out to validate and expand upon this thought. Some of this research is cited here, but ultimately, you’re the best researcher when it comes to your bio-individual sleep.
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So what’s the connection between meditation and sleep?
Improve your sleep with mindfulness meditation
There are many different styles of meditation and all of them can have profound effects on our well-being. One could argue that every type of meditation benefits our sleep, but for the sake of this article, we’re focusing on one of the most popular types; mindfulness meditation.
This is in part because the majority of peer-reviewed research focuses on mindfulness meditation instead of others. Where the science goes, we go.
According to Mindful.org,
“Mindfulness meditation asks us to suspend judgment and unleash our natural curiosity about the workings of the mind, approaching our experience with warmth and kindness, to ourselves and others.”
Essentially it’s a mind-calming practice that focuses on the breath and an awareness of the present moment.
In a recent study on the effects of mindfulness meditation on sleep, researchers found that meditators experienced less insomnia, fatigue and better daytime functioning after several weeks of daily mindful meditation.
This can be directly attributed to meditation’s ability to do two major things when it comes to our sleep:
We discuss these two hormones a lot in my 7-Step Primal Sleep Method because they have a big say when it comes to our sleep.
So why do we want to decrease cortisol?
Cortisol is known as the ‘fight or flight’ stress hormone that helps our bodies fend off attackers, like big jungle cats. When timed correctly and in the proper amounts, cortisol is great for us and can be life-saving.
At other times, though, like when an email from a disgruntled colleague comes in, it triggers a reaction of stress. Unfortunately, our bodies have not evolved to understand the difference between work stress and man-eating tiger stress. Since there is so much stimulus coming at us each day, many people are living in a chronic state of stress, or elevate cortisol.
Chronic stress negatively impacts sleep
When your body has elevated cortisol for prolonged periods of time you become a stressed out mess. This results in tossing and turning at night, laying in bed thinking about things outside of your control and not fully reaching deep stages of sleep. When this happens, you may deal with it by scrolling on your phone or watching late-night TV hoping for a distraction from your stressful thoughts and monkey mind.
Yet you’ll quickly find that looking at social media, glancing at your email or seeing whatever junk is on TV is only going to stress you out more as well as induce alertness as the blue light stimulates your pineal gland.
This quickly snowballs out of control keeping us stressed out and sleep deprived.
The more stressed you are the less likely you are to get adequate and quality sleep. The less sleep you get, the more stressed you’ll be.
This is something I am all too familiar with during my insomniac phase where I had multiple emotional breakdowns in public places and ran a red light without even realizing it. Whoops.
Eventually, if this cycle goes on for long enough our body will decide it’s easier to stay in a state of stress rather than use the energy to enter in and out of it. This results in chronic stress and opens the doors to a whole slew of nasty conditions and diseases, like depression, autoimmune disorders, digestive issues, neurological conditions, joint pain and essentially every sleep disorder out there.
Disturbingly, chronic stress is the #1 cause of the six leading causes of death in the U.S and accounts for 75 to 90 percent of all doctors visits.
Mindfulness meditation reduces stress
Time to take a chill “pill.”
Or rather, to sit down and breathe. The best way to do so? With mindfulness meditation, which reduces cortisol levels in the blood and helps the body enter into the parasympathetic nervous system or the ‘rest and digest’ system.
When your cortisol levels are down, you experience less stress, anxiety, insomnia symptoms, depression, and fatigue. You are physically more relaxed and your mind is still, which is the exact state you want to be in when getting ready for sleep.
To get these benefits, it’s recommended that you meditate between 15 and 20 minutes twice each day. If you’re new to mindfulness meditation and would like guidance on how to do it properly, check out this article from Mindfulness.org.
Action Step: Next time you’re laying in bed at night wide awake ask yourself if it’s because of stress. If so, write down what is stressing you out and meditate for 15-20 minutes. Or until you fall asleep.
Mindfulness meditation increases melatonin
The other hormone critical for a good nights rest is the one most commonly associated with sleep: melatonin.
While mindfulness meditation works hard to decrease cortisol it also works at increasing melatonin levels. Melatonin, the critical hormone that regulates our sleep, is produced in both the pineal gland and in the gut (which also means that your gut health and nutritional choices are important for proper sleep).
Many people suffering from insomnia, sleep disorders, circadian rhythm disorders, and leaky gut issues produce less melatonin than they need for optimal sleep. Not surprisingly, the production of melatonin is suppressed by stress. So as meditation reduces the stress your body is better able to produce melatonin.
Researchers have found that “meditation increases melatonin concentration” in the pineal gland, with some numbers ranging from 98 to 300 percent in individuals.
If you’ve been prescribed melatonin supplements to help with sleep, consider mindful meditation instead. As with all supplements, the efficacy of melatonin pills is questionable and varies across brands. In fact, some sleep experts are even ditching them altogether unless you’re trying to address a circadian rhythm disorder like Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder (DSPD).
Mindfulness meditation helps regulate your energy
If you’ve ever reached for an energy drink, coffee or sugary snack in late-afternoon, you’ve gone looking for a boost in energy. You also probably experienced some sort of crash afterward.
Instead, you can meditate during the times that you’d typically go reaching for an energy boost, which will have the same–if not better– results, and without the crash.
According to Los Angeles-based meditator and my personal meditation teacher, Light Watkins: Meditating at the appropriate times will help regulate your energy at the appropriate intervals.
In an interview on the Model Health Show, Light mentions “one of the reasons why people sleep better when they start meditating, is because they're getting their supply of energy at the appropriate times.”
If you did not sleep well at night you can meditate in the morning and get a clean surge of energy without the negative side effects that stimulants often come with. Even if you did get a great night of sleep, meditating will still provide you with the calming and uplifting benefits which you can carry into your day.
To do so, he recommends you wake up and do 15-20 minutes of meditation as part of your morning routine.
Then in the afternoon when our energy begins crashing between 2:00 and 4:00, you can do your second meditation for another jolt of energy. Doing this instead of reaching for a coffee or sugary sweet will not only help you sleep better that night but help you become more mindful and all the other benefits meditation provides.
Light recommends being careful as to when you meditate because of the energizing effects that it has. If you wait until 11:00 at night you will be re-energized and now in your second wind, which will have a negative effect on your sleep.
Action Step: Meditate at the right times during the day to receive an energy boost when it’s needed. The best times are before breakfast and mid-late afternoon before dinner.