Have you forgotten how to sleep? Do you lie in bed, staring at the ceiling, worrying away as you chalk up yet another sleepless night? Or wake up too early, in a state of anxiety? If you answered yes, you’re in good company. Deep and regular sleep plays an important role in physical and mental health, yet around 70 million Americans suffer from sleep problems, with insomnia being the most common. No wonder people are desperately trying to cure their insomnia symptoms and learn to sleep better. (Always talk to your doctor, first, as insomnia can have many causes and cures.)
Today, more and more people are turning to mindfulness and meditation to help them tackle their sleep issues, and research reported by Harvard University, Northwestern Memorial Hospital and elsewhere indicates it’s effective. You don’t need to be a seasoned meditator, either. Even beginners can learn meditation techniques with a little bit of practice. Get started with these strategies.
Triggering the relaxation response
Dr. Herbert Benson, director emeritus of the Harvard-affiliated Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine, shares on the Harvard Health Blog how practicing meditation helps elicit the relaxation response, which enables sleep. He suggests trying these two steps daily to help you more easily drop into the relaxation response when trying to fall asleep:
Step 1: Choose a calming focus: Focus on your breath, or on a short phrase or word, like “relax” or “peace”. If it’s a word or sound, you can repeat it quietly to yourself or say it out loud.
Step 2: Let go and relax. If your mind has wandered, acknowledge this by saying to yourself, “thinking, thinking,” and returning back to your focus.
Dr. Benson recommends practicing this every day, during the day (not necessarily before bedtime), for 20-minute periods.
Developing a consistent meditation practice using Muse
It can be a real challenge for many people to make the time to meditate and to truly relax and focus. Muse, the brain-sensing headband, can help. Muse is a personal meditation assistant that connects wirelessly to your smartphone or tablet and gives you real-time feedback as you meditate. The headband detects when your mind is wandering during meditation and guides you back to calm, making it easier for you to hone your focus to learn the skill. Tracking, challenges, reminders and rewards help you build a more regular meditation practice, as well. Many people are reporting increased calm and better sleep after meditating with Muse, along with improved motivation to meditate more often. Try using Muse with the two steps mentioned above, using your breath as your focus.
Learn expert sleep tips, like building a pre-bedtime routine
Expert sleep tips (geared towards athletes but adaptable to many lifestyles) reported recently by Yahoo! Health include strategies like this one from Cheri Mah, sleep and athletic performance research scientist at UCSF and Stanford. Cheri suggests building a pre-bedtime routine designed to help you unwind that could include, for instance, 20-30 min. of journaling, reading, or meditating. She suggests that you also include light stretching or yoga and pair that activity with breathing exercises to activate the parasympathetic system.
In the same list of tips, Dr. W. Christopher Winter, M.D., notes that Muse is “a great tool to receive feedback on if and when your mind is settled”. Visit our online store to get your own Muse headband. What are other people saying about Muse? For a selection of reviews, check out this post.