” If we can’t rest, it’s because we don’t stop running. We have been running for a very long time. We run still and always, even in our sleep”– Thich Nhat Hanh –
Learn to be mindful helps with rest and sleep
Do you know what a tiger does in a forest, when he is blessed? He looks for a calm place. He stays there several days without moving. Sometimes even without eating or drinking. He knows that resting is the best way to heal. “We, humans, have lost this wisdom. We don’t have confidence in the capacity of our bodies to heal. We also lost our capacity to rest” (Thich Nhat Hanh).
According to the National Sleep Foundation, 30 to 40 percent of adults have difficulty sleeping, and 10 to 15 percent suffer from chronic insomnia (Medical News Today).
What do most people think about first when they face insomnia? Sleeping pills!
But learn to find back our confidence in our own body, to listen to it, and to allow it to rest, is the best way to deal with many of our health issues. Including sleeplessness.
Mindfulness meditation helps you to just pay attention to your body. You are aware that you have a body. You learn to listen and take care of it. You cut yourself out of the noisy ever-running world. You are a lot more aware of the surrounding environment. The air that surrounds you. The sound of your breath. Your belly going up and down with each respiration. The floor underneath you… Mindfulness meditation allows you to experience a calm and rest that you’ve never experienced before.
Want to know all about mindfulness meditation and sleep? Check if you know these 3 things that most people don’t.
#1. Mindfulness meditation helps sleep better than … sleep therapy – Research shows
Why do we need to learn to be mindful in order to sleep better?
If you’ve ever crawled under the covers with a full to-do list or anxiety about an important meeting tomorrow, you know what I mean. Our thoughts seem to be an uncontrolled wild horse. It brought us from the regret of the past to worries about the future. And most of these, right before we need to sleep. “Sleep disturbances, like having a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep, affect millions of Americans” (Harvard Health Publishing).
How to sleep better? A sleeping pill or sleep therapy might be your first thought. But look at this. A small study suggests that mindfulness meditation — a mind-calming practice that focuses on breathing and awareness of the present moment — is even better than sleep therapy.
Here is a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine. 49 middle-aged and older adults had trouble sleeping. Half completed a mindfulness awareness program that taught them mindfulness meditation. The other half completed a sleep education class, that taught them ways to improve their sleep habits.
Guess what? Compared with the people in the sleep education group, those in the mindfulness group had less insomnia, fatigue, and depression (Harvard Health Publishing). So yes, learn mindfulness meditation helps sleep better than … sleep therapy!
#2. Nighttime mindfulness meditation – If we try, it’ll probably not working
Sounds great and you are eager to try? Hold on, with sleep, as with meditation practice, intentions are easier said than done. If you lie down with the intention to force yourself to sleep, you are less likely to sleep.
The same for meditation. Have you ever “tried” to reach a meditative state? You will see that it can only be reached when you don’t “try”. When you sit down simply, without the “intention” to reach it.
If you join a zazen (sitting meditation), “no tension, no intention” is what you will always hear in a “kusen” (oral teaching). No tension of the body, no intention of the mind. With meditation, one observes desires, thoughts, emotions coming and going, without worrying about them.
“In considering any meditation related to sleep, recognize that there’s nothing to force and nothing to make happen. Since striving makes sleep more challenging, set out to practice without specific expectations or goals” (Mindful). Yes, if you want to sleep better, don’t just “try it too hard” just once right before bedtime. Consistent practice is golden and without too much expectation. The results will show up with time.
#3. Want to sleep better? Meditate during… day time! Harvard says
Dr. Herbert Benson, director of the Harvard-affiliated Institute for Mind-Body Medicine, confirms this. He recommends practicing mindfulness during the day, ideally for 20 minutes. “The idea is to create a reflex to more easily bring forth a sense of relaxation”( (Harvard Health Publishing)
According to him, the relaxation response is “a deep physiological shift in the body that’s the opposite of the stress response […]For many people, sleep disorders are closely tied to stress […]Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on your breathing. It brings your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future. It helps you break the train of your everyday thoughts to evoke the relaxation response” (Harvard Health Publishing)
So why day time meditation is the best? Indeed, the aim of meditation is to fully awake you. We are relaxed but awake. When you do nighttime meditation, especially bedtime meditation, you may struggle not to fall asleep. Your meditation may not last a long time. This is particularly true for beginners.
Therefore, the practice of mindfulness meditation, although can be done anytime, is best during the daytime or early evening. Your daytime practice can even be done sitting up or moving (as in yoga or tai chi) so as to avoid nodding off. Frequent practice can evoke the relaxation response at night when you can’t sleep.
Sleep better from now on
So now we know that mindfulness meditation is better for sleep than sleep therapy. But we don’t force it & try too hard. And the best is consistent practices.
When you are in bed unable to sleep, the best thing to do is to come back to your breath. Rest is almost as beneficial as sleep. Accepting first that you’re doing your best, and be kind to yourself. With your breath, you bring peace to your mind and your body.
But don’t wait a sleepless night to start mindfulness meditation. Make it a practice, and a way of living. Find back the most ancient and simple wisdom of the world: the capacity to rest.