Meditate your way to sleep

‘Heartfulness’ meditation can help calm your mind and ease your slumber

Chronic sleep deprivation has become a scourge of our modern times. The ever-increasing work pressure, meetings, deadlines, the stress of exams and domestic responsibilities have led to a constant decline in sleep hours of people across all age groups. Sleeplessness has become a sort of “badge of honour.” You may feel compelled to talk about how busy you are or how much you are accomplishing, even if pushing yourself to do increasingly more is causing you to damage your health by foregoing sleep. Yet, sleep is as important as food and water. It occupies one-third of our lives.

Ill-effects galore

In different studies, approximately 25% of adults mentioned that their sleep was not satisfactory. At least 10-15% have symptoms of sleep deprivation negatively affecting their day-time work, while 6-10% actually meet the diagnostic criteria for insomnia.

The chronic shrinking of sleep time has resulted in circadian rhythm disorders. Sleep problems are also prevalent among children and teenagers due to prolonged use of the internet and television. Studies show that this has resulted in obesity, cognitive impairment and emotional disturbances. In adults, sleep disturbances lead to a wide range of health problems such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, anxiety, depression, premature ageing, alcoholism and other substance abuse. Chronic sleep restriction can eventually impact society in terms of loss of productivity and increased health costs.

Just meditate

Fortunately, several studies have shown that meditation can fight insomnia and improve quality of sleep and, in turn, improve health. According to National Science Foundation, our brain produces 50,000 thoughts per day. Around 95% of these thoughts are repetitive, restrictive, spiral of anxieties and worries about the past and future. Even though the body is at rest, the mind cannot unwind itself. This is the fundamental cause of stress leading to sleep disturbances. Training our minds to meditate by ignoring thoughts brings us to the awareness of the present and creates a balanced state within, thereby removes stress.

The path of the heart

Simplified heart-based raja yoga meditation techniques, like ‘heartfulness’, is designed to suit our hectic lives. With its holistic approach, it is effective in improving sleep and quality of life, when practised regularly.

Heartfulness meditation is all about resting the mind on the heart with one single thought and ignoring all other thoughts — as uninvited guests. Regular practice of this very act trains the mind to pursue only the necessary thoughts and ignore the unwanted ones. This is the true regulation of mind where it is guided by the heart and there is no cluttering of unwanted thoughts.

The heart is the seat of intellect and wisdom. Connecting to the depth of heart develops sensitivity, emotional strength and a connection to one’s inner self. The heartfulness technique for rejuvenation of mind, by removing deep impressions through autosuggestion, is useful to declutter the mind. The burden of emotional stress remains as long as thoughts remain in touch with the physical mind. With this state of mind, one needs longer time to fall asleep and gets, if at all, only a disturbed sleep.

Deep meditation on the heart takes the mind into the finer layers of consciousness, physical awareness is lost, and the traffic of unwanted thoughts causing emotional stress is automatically removed. Sleep will be instantaneous, deep and undisturbed for a balanced mind that is trained through regular meditation. Let’s look at some of the effects of meditation on sleep:

  • Relaxation response: While sleeping, our heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate and minute ventilation go down and there is decreased oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide elimination. Meditation induces similar physiological changes except that the person remains alert although the physical body goes into a state of deep relaxation.
  • Enhancing melatonin: Meditation augments synthesis of melatonin in the pineal gland, a hormone that regulates the natural sleep cycle. Stress inhibits the production of melatonin. Risk of breast cancer is linked to the reduction in melatonin levels due to sleep deprivation. Meditation, by enhancing melatonin levels, prevents this risk. Soon after beginning a meditation routine, many people have reported better quality of sleep as well as the need for less sleep.
  • Alleviating anxiety & depression: Meditation-induced regulation of mind directly reduces anxiety and depression. This effect is noted in both beginners and advanced meditators. Brainwaves get stimulated in the same way during both meditation and deep sleep, from boosting the alpha, theta and delta waves and reducing the stress-associated beta waves.
  • Curing ailments: Meditation has proven benefits in the prevention, treatment and rehabilitation of hypertension, ischemic heart disease, bronchial asthma, COPD, anxiety neurosis, depression, cancer, certain degenerative diseases and many chronic pain conditions. Sleep disturbances are common in these conditions which are also improved by meditation. Meditation also influences the cognitive behavioural and emotional aspects of these patients, thus improving their overall prognosis.

Meditative practices thus help to integrate the brain functions, regulate the various physiological mechanisms resulting in a state of mental, emotional and physical well-being.

(The author is a global guide for Heartfulness)

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