You would think as a natural biological function that sleep would come easily. But, for many people, getting a full seven to eight hours of sleep feels nearly impossible. Everything from your work schedule and family circumstances to a medical condition or caregiving responsibilities can interfere with your ability to get a full night’s rest.
This is how sleep deprivation affects you.
Anytime you get less than seven hours of sleep, you enter a state of sleep deprivation wherein the mind and body slow and alter how they work. For example, appetite control gets difficult when you’re tired because the stomach releases more hunger hormone while the satiety hormone gets released in smaller amounts. Overeating and unwanted weight gain are often the results.
Sleep deprivation causes neurons in the brain to slow down diminishing your reasoning and decision-making abilities. It also affects your memory, recall, and ability to make connections between old memories and new experiences. Not to mention the fact that if you get less than four hours of sleep, your driving abilities are comparable to someone driving under the influence of alcohol.
Prolonged sleep deprivation has been linked to many conditions and illnesses such as:
high blood pressure
But, meditation can improve your sleep and help counteract the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation.
How Meditation Improves Your Sleep
Meditation helps improve your sleep in several ways. One of the first is through stress management. Stress and sleep deprivation create a cyclical relationship that can be hard to break. The more stress you experience, the harder it is to sleep, and the harder it is to rest, the more stress you feel.
When you’re sleep deprived, the emotional centre of the brain, the amygdala, becomes more sensitive to negative stimuli such as anxiety. At the same time, the prefrontal cortex or reasoning centre of the brain becomes less active. Meditation thickens the prefrontal cortex and strengthens the connection between it and the amygdala. Essentially, it brings balance back to your emotional centre, allowing negative thoughts to enter and leave your mind without causing as much stress.
Meditation also improves the quality of your sleep. As you age, you spend less time in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which leaves less time for muscles to heal and the immune system to recharge fully. However, a consistent meditation routine can help you spend more time in REM sleep much like you did when you were younger. The more time you spend in REM sleep, the more rested you feel. Meditation acts as sleep’s version of a fountain of youth.
There are many meditative methods, but mindfulness meditation has proven to be one of the most helpful for sleeping. It causes a relaxation response wherein the heart rate and blood pressure drop. Those who practice daily develop the ability to trigger their relaxation response when needed.
Mindfulness meditation teaches the mind to focus on present sensations. It involves deep breathing and concentrating on the in and out movement of the breath. Some practitioners like to focus on a word, sound, or phrase. As negative thoughts of the past or future enter the mind, they are allowed to flow out without distracting from the present.
The key to improving your sleep with meditation is consistency. Meditation takes time to work, but when used faithfully, it can reduce stress and help you reach the deepest level of rest.
This article was written by Samantha Kent, a researcher for SleepHelp.org.