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breathe deeply, sleep soundly: the connection between sleep and meditation

A good night's sleep can do wonders for your overall wellbeing. With so many physical and mental processes linked to sleep and the emotional benefits of feeling well-rested and recharged, we've become increasingly aware of the need for balanced and healthy sleep hygiene. After all, why aim for one good night's sleep when you can make every night more restful? 
 
One of the most helpful practices you can call on to support your sleep hygiene is meditation. It's an ancient practice that comes in all forms and offers many scientifically proven benefits. The connection between meditation and sleep is no exception, with each of our body's sleep cycles positively impacted by meditative practice in different ways. 
 
We spoke with Matt Young from the Melbourne Meditation Centre who explained more about these unique benefits – along with how you can call on meditation's power to improve your sleep hygiene.

what are some benefits of meditation and getting a good night's sleep?

Sleep isn't just crucial for our overall wellbeing – it's essential. With better sleep hygiene a part of our daily lives, we notice all sorts of positive physical, mental and emotional impacts.  
 
It can improve our mood, help us manage stress, recover from physical injuries, boost our immune system, and even stimulate our creativity and emotional intelligence. On the other hand, a lack of sleep can cause an increase in anxiety and depression, a drop in our attention span and a higher risk of disease and inflammation. 
 
That's where meditation comes in. Meditation taps into our body and brain's natural capabilities to help us improve our sleep.  
 
This begins before our eyelids have even fallen shut, as meditation alleviates some of the stress and anxiety about getting enough rest that can keep us up in the first place. Once we're in a sleep state, meditation continues to work wonders by changing the patterns of our brain waves.

"Your brain produces more theta and alpha waves, which helps us enter deeper, more restful sleep stages, " says Matt.  
 
"The parts of our brain involved in dreaming – like the amygdala, hippocampus and prefrontal cortex – are also stimulated, leading to more vivid, creative and emotionally-fulfilling dreams". 
 
In short, a brain that's comfortable meditating is often more relaxed during sleep and enjoys all kinds of health benefits.  

stage 1

This is a light, non-REM (rapid eye movement) sleep that lasts 1-7 minutes – and is the transition between being awake and asleep. Our heart rate, breathing, eye movements, and brain waves start slowing down. "During this stage, meditation can help you relax and transition from wakefulness to sleep more easily", says Matt. "It can also reduce the chances of being disturbed by external noises or thoughts".

stage 2

Matt describes this stage as "a deeper non-REM sleep lasting 10-25 minutes. Eye movements stop, and body temperature drops. Brain waves become more regular but show occasional bursts of activity called sleep spindles and K-complexes". Meditation can increase the production of these – which helps to protect our sleep from being interrupted.

stage 3

This stage is also known as slow-wave, delta or deep sleep. It's the deepest non-REM sleep and lasts 20-40 minutes, with our heart rate, respiration, and brain waves becoming regular and slow. "This is the most difficult stage to wake up from and may cause grogginess if interrupted", Matt notes. 

This kind of deep sleep is also when your body is most capable of repairing itself, boosting your immune system and releasing growth hormones. Making meditation an excellent tool for enhancing the quality and duration of this deep sleep. 

stage 4

This is the REM sleep stage, which lasts 10-60 minutes. It's the stage of our sleep where most dreaming occurs – and our muscles are temporarily paralysed to prevent acting out the dreams. Even though we're asleep, it's here that our brain waves are most similar to when we're awake. So how does meditation impact this stage? 

"Meditation can stimulate the parts of the brain that are involved in dreaming, such as the amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex", Matt says.

"This can lead to more vivid and meaningful dreams, as well as better emotional regulation and creativity." 

are there certain types of meditation – or times to practice – for the best possible outcomes?

In short, no. Since our relationship with meditation in our daily lives is unique to each of us – and meditation improves the nervous system rather than the act of sleep itself – you're more likely to experience the benefits of meditation on your sleep hygiene if you find a form you enjoy. This includes the ideal time and space that brings out your most positive mindset.  

For many people, yoga nidra and body scan practices are the ideal preference, with mindful movement and micro-movement practices also considered very effective – even though they might need to be performed out of bed. 

Here are five tips from Matt to help you uncover your uniquely beneficial meditative style: 

1

Do short meditations and mindfulness practices throughout the working day to maintain balance – and prevent stressful thoughts from keeping you awake at bedtime.

2

Meditate on your commute home from work or soon after arriving home to process the events of the day, help calm your nervous system, lower your heart rate, and increase melatonin levels.

3

Meditate once you're in bed to help relax your body deeply – so that you can fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly.

4

Meditate at night if you find yourself awake and unable to go back to sleep. This will help you to remain relaxed and rested if sleep doesn't come.

5

Meditate in the morning to start the day with helpful intentions and a positive attitude.

what are some other tips for better sleep hygiene?

There are all kinds of insights, tips and advice regarding sleep hygiene and the environment we create for ourselves to fall asleep in. However, Matt's advice is to not worry about those environmental factors. 
 
"People can fall asleep with the TV blaring. They can fall asleep on planes and trains. If you're tired enough, it's impossible to stop yourself from falling asleep", he says.  
 
"Instead, make sure that you are getting up at a consistent hour, not going to bed too early, and not trying to banish your nighttime worries or make yourself fall asleep, which are habits that keep you awake". 
 
With meditation on hand to help support your path to more restful, enriching sleep, to improve your sleep hygiene Matt suggests that you:

  1. "Make no effort to fall asleep. In fact, see how long you can stay awake. That takes the pressure off, helps you relax, and makes sleep much more likely".
  1. "Make no effort to stop thinking, no matter what you are thinking about. When you try to stop your thoughts, you send a signal to your nervous system and brain saying "thoughts are a problem." Your brain then regards every thought as a threat – keeping your nervous system wired and preventing you from being able to relax and fall asleep".
  1. "Trust that your body is perfectly capable of falling asleep and enjoy the process of falling asleep, however long it takes. Take time to savour and appreciate the simple comforts: the softness of your pillow or the weight and warmth of the blanket".

Try incorporating meditation into your sleep routine with Matt’s meditation classes on endota Retreat.  

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