Meditation and Sleep

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Meditation and Sleep

updated July 26, 2019

This is an excerpt of a comprehensive article. For additional information, including research data and useful resources.

Between 50 and 70 million American adults chronically suffer from some sleep or wakefulness disorder. About 85 percent of U.S. employees report losing sleep due to work-related stress. Lack of rest undermines wellbeing, productivity, and longevity as risks for depression, anxiety disorders, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, heart attack, stroke, and other civilizational diseases increase.

People robbed of sleep are often driven to reach for sleeping pills. But sleep aids have downsides. They include rapidly increasing tolerance and the corresponding loss of power as well as various side effects. Cautionary tales about Ambien-induced short-term memory loss and the corresponding uninhibited cravings for, say, sweets or sex at bedtime–often forgotten in the morning–are legendary. So instead, we recommend turning to a side-effect free tool. Mindfulness meditation, one of the most common complementary health approaches, can help put restless minds—and bodies—to sleep. The “mind-calming practice that focuses on breathing and awareness of the present moment” has also been demonstrated to diminish fatigue, anxiety, depression, rewire brains, and even repair genes.

Mindfulness works by helping the sleep-deprived focus on the present moment. This is done by observing and acknowledging the sensations, feelings, and thoughts that pass through the mind–all with the awareness that we are not our thoughts and our emotions. This therapeutic method has roots in Buddhist psychology. The appeal of mindfulness has increased markedly in the U.S. over the last 15 years. The key to mindfulness meditation is the practice of detachment from potentially troubling feelings and thoughts. Detachment-based meditation takes place when “a feeling or a thought remains a feeling or a thought and we can remain aware of that without automatically reacting to it.” That is when we are able to see a thought as (merely) a thought and a feeling as (merely) a feeling. It’s freeing! When we do this, we are better able to let go of the anxiety that threatens our sleep.

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