The best relaxation “trick” that will have you out like a light in minutes at bedtime
Updated: Mar 23
I’m excited to share with you how the mindfulness practice of meditation can help you get a good night’s sleep.
Meditation isn’t just for hippies anymore. Oprah is doing it, and so are comedian and activist Russell Brand and singer Sheryl Crow. Everyone from football coaches to fashion designers makes a daily practice of meditation, and there’s good reason.
“There is a true biological effect,” says John Denninger, a psychiatrist and the director of research at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. “The kinds of things that happen when you meditate do have effects throughout the body, not just in the brain.”
During meditation your pulse slows, blood pressure drops and stress hormones decrease. Isn’t it funny that these same things happen when we sleep?
Calm brain waves cancel out busy ones
There are a number of reasons why meditation can help us sleep better.
First, the pons part of the brain serves as the on-off switch for REM sleep and regulates melatonin, the hormone that helps us sleep. Meditation has been shown to build up the pons, which aids in deep, quality sleep.
Second, cortisol, one of our stress hormones, gets a bad rap, but it’s a necessary hormone that wakes us up in the morning and keeps us alert throughout the day. Cortisol levels should lower and melatonin should start increasing as we approach bedtime. In this day and age too many of us have elevated cortisol levels all day and night because of chronic stress, poor diet and not enough — or, for many of us in Jackson, too much — exercise. Because cortisol suppresses melatonin, constant high levels will sabotage our sleep. The good news is that when we meditate, our cortisol levels decrease and our levels of melatonin are boosted, setting us up for a good night’s sleep.
And, third, people who suffer from insomnia tend to have an excess of beta brain waves. Those are the same brain waves we have when we’re anxious or depressed. Experienced meditators, however, have higher levels of alpha, theta and delta brain waves. Those calming brain waves cancel out the stressful beta ones, so we are better able to relax and sleep well.
To sum it up, “meditation effectively rebalances all of the biological markers for night after night of super deep, natural sleep, every night of the week — ensuring you wake up feeling fresh and rejuvenated every morning,” according to Paradigm Meditations, an Australian company that offers guided meditations, music and courses.
Different kinds of meditation
There are many different types of meditation so you can try one that appeals to you. Here are a few to choose from:
• Mindfulness: focusing on the present moment.
• Progressive relaxation or a mindful body scan.
• Concentration meditation: repeating a mantra or focusing on an object.
• Guided mediation: Someone walks you through the process.
I found it easier to focus using guided meditations when I first started my practice. The apps Headspace, Calm and Insight Timer have some wonderful free guided meditations, and there are countless guided meditations on YouTube as well. Also, Deepak Chopra and Oprah regularly offer free 21-day challenges with combined guided and concentration meditations that show up in your email inbox daily.
Start your practice
Meditation is something you can do even if you feel like you have no time. Just two to five minutes of sitting quietly with your eyes closed and breathing calmly can have a big benefit.
Don’t worry that you’re doing it wrong. You may have heard that you’re supposed to have a blank mind with no thoughts, but that’s not realistic, especially when you’re first starting out. When you notice that you’ve lost focus, simply return to your breath or the mantra or your guided meditation. It becomes easier and more comfortable with time.
If meditation is new to you, I suggest starting during the day for two weeks to get used to it. Starting anything new at bedtime can be stressful. It’s also much harder when you’re tired and at the end of a busy day. Once you’re a little more comfortable with your practice, then you can begin meditating before bed. I suggest doing it at the beginning of your bedtime routine about 30 minutes to an hour before bed so you aren’t so tired that you actually fall asleep.
When you add anything new to your day, the best way to ensure that you make time for it is to add it to your calendar. Put a reminder in your phone or block off time in your schedule. If you just tell yourself that you’ll do it when you have time, you’ll almost never make the time. So you’ve got to make it a priority and stick to it.