Meditation and Insomnia | Quieting the Mind So the Body Can Rest

I was an insomniac for over 10 years. Even when I was sleeping, I wasn’t sleeping well.

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According to the National Institutes of Health,

“30 percent of the general population complains of sleep disruption, and approximately 10 percent have associated symptoms of daytime functional impairment consistent with the diagnosis of insomnia.”

With over 327 million people in America alone, these numbers are staggering. You may not have severe symptoms as I did, but interrupted sleep, difficulty falling or staying asleep, and restlessness throughout the night have a huge effect on your immune system. 

I tried everything I could think of to help me fall asleep:

– reading the dictionary
– warm baths before bed
– melatonin
– exercise

Nothing seemed to work.  In college, my roommates would rub lavender oil on my feet, take me on midnight drives, and do everything they could think of that might help.

All the chamomile tea in the world couldn’t stop my brain from feeling like it had too many browser tabs open. It was as though as soon as the sun went down, every possible worry and anxiety that had built up during the day decided to shout at me all at once.

Years later, I rediscovered meditation.

I had learned how to meditate as a teenager, but had abandoned the practice when I went to college. But now, I began listening to my body and learned to treat it like a friend instead of an enemy. 

My sister, a yoga instructor, walked me through guided meditations when I had difficulty with anxiety and panic attacks. She taught me how powerful the mind is, and how even in the most difficult moments, we can choose not to let our thoughts overpower us. 

To help relieve insomnia, you can meditate anytime during the day. However, you may find it most beneficial to practice at night before you go to bed.

Be sure that all electronics are off – TV, smart phones, tablets – for at least an hour before bed.

(If you aren’t willing to part with your smartphone, begin to ween yourself off. Use apps such as Moment or Quality Time.)

Electronics emit short-wave, blue light that stimulates the brain. Apps such as Twilight that gradually turn your screen a red tint, filtering the amount of blue light that you’re exposed to once the sun goes down. 

Being exposed to blue light after it has begun to get dark blocks your body’s melatonin production, as well as interrupting circadian rhythms. This can be especially harmful in children.

Once you’re ready for bed, make yourself comfortable. You can meditate sitting or laying down, whichever is most comfortable for you. Turn the lights down, make sure you are comfortable and warm, and if you need, play a guided meditation or listen to soft music

A short guided meditation

  • Begin by centering yourself. Sit comfortably, legs folded beneath you, or feet resting on the floor.
  • Back straight, face muscles softened.  Relax your jaw. Close your eyes
  • Take a deep breath in slowly. Feel your belly and lungs expand, and then, even more slowly, release.
  • Allow those spaces to empty, taking with them anything that may be distracting you or holding you back.
  • Continue to breathe, deeper, and deeper, with each inhalation.  Observe your body – where you feel discomfort or pain, where you feel warm or cold. Don’t dwell on any of these thoughts, just take notice of them and move on.
  • Working from your toes, up your feet to your ankles, on up your shins, calves, and thighs: in your mind, tell each of these to relax. Not a demand, but cooperation. 
  • Continue moving up your root chakra, through your sacral chakra, into your belly. Allow belly to unwind and relax, breathing in deeper and deeper.
  • Work your way up through your chest, your neck, and into your face. Anywhere your attention is drawn, tell it to relax. Your eyelids, your jaw, forehead, and so-on. 
  • After you have worked to the top of your head, take a moment to sit and observe your breath. Notice if it has deepened since you began. If you have any intruding thoughts, don’t try to force them away. Instead, acknowledge they are there, and watch as they float away, carried like a kite on a breeze, or a toy boat in a pond.
  • Sit with your body for as long as you’re comfortable before taking one last inhale. Exhale deeply, and open your eyes.

Rest, and be well. 

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