In my last blog on new sleep studies, I covered a study done last fall on meditation and emotion – maybe a little far afield for “sleep studies,” but I think the work has serious implications for the reasons meditation helps sleep. On-the-ground practitioners, therapists, and doctors have seen patients benefit from meditation – but the exact mechanisms behind that beneficial result are still pretty obscure to doctors and medical scientists.
But it still works. Maybe not for everyone, every single time – but case studies abound of individuals whose insomnia, anxiety, or even physical health problems like asthma have improved after several weeks of regular meditation. Here are the reasons I think meditation can have such an impact on sleep. Hopefully in a few years, science will back me up here.
- Meditation encourages discipline. It takes discipline to get onto the cushion every day. In our hustle-and-bustle world, committing to make time to “just sit” is harder than it sounds. Creating that space becomes a routine, and the discipline to stick to a positive routine can be a big factor in building sleep hygiene habits that work.
- Meditation creates calm. The research I reviewed in my last post shows a biophysical change in the way we respond to emotional stimuli even off the cushion, out in the real world. People who meditate are more likely to stay “cool and collected,” even in emotional situations. That ability to keep calm can translate into greater relaxation in the evenings, the ability to set aside concerns or fears and go to sleep.
- Meditation improves focus. Many meditation techniques emphasize quieting thoughts and “clearing the mind” of clutter. This ability to focus – whether on breath, a candle flame, and image, or the environment as a whole – can translate to improved focus during the normal course of a day, as we go about our tasks. Better focus means more things get checked off the to-do list faster, and a shorter to-do list means less to worry about at bedtime.
- Meditation encourages well-being. An overall sense of well-being – contentment, happiness, equanimity, any of those “opposites” to anxiety and depression – are often reported by meditation practitioners. Feelings of anxiety and depression are reported with great frequency by people who have trouble sleeping… and alleviating those feelings often leads to a return of healthy sleep patterns.
Overall, meditation offers a variety of very tangible benefits to those who are willing to sit down and be still for at least five minutes a day. Sleep is the most pertinent aspect on this blog, but the benefits don’t stop there.
Do you meditate? How often? Do you notice a difference when you stop meditating regularly?