We take stock of the benefits of meditation on our sleep
Where does meditation come from?
From the Latin meditare, which means to contemplate, meditation is a technique that consists of training the mind to free itself from negative and parasitic thoughts. Meditation aims to get the upper hand on those negative ruminations that prevent us from moving forward in life. Meditation is about chasing away or at least controlling those thoughts that sometimes run in a loop in our mind.
Even if mindfulness exercises and meditation seem to be very fashionable (just look at the success of applications such as Little Bamboo), it is an ancient spiritual practice. Meditation originated in India over 5,000 years ago. It spread throughout Asia around 600 BC and finally arrived in the West in the 18th century. It was not until 1928 and the publication of the “Tibetan Book of the Dead” (written by the great master Padmasambhava in the 8th century) that meditation and Buddhist philosophy really interested the West. From the 1960s onwards, yoga and the various meditation techniques became popular and secularised in the West.
What is meditation?
Meditation is a break in the frantic rhythm of our daily lives: it is a moment when we choose to say Stop. We pause and observe what is happening within us. The practice of meditation consists of training ourselves to maintain our attention and to prevent our mind from being captured by thoughts that constantly arise. It is a state of letting go in which we cannot necessarily stop thoughts from being in our mind, but in which these thoughts do not dominate us, they are in the background but do not take over. Meditation can help to manage stress, improve concentration, confidence and also improve sleep.
What are the benefits of meditation on sleep?
Sleep is vital to our good health. When you sleep, your brain goes through different phases that strengthen your ability to recover to keep your energy throughout the day. Sufficiently deep sleep calms your blood pressure and strengthens your immune system. The negative effects of a lack of sleep are immediate and long-lasting, so it is essential to do everything possible to preserve it.
More than ever in these times of health crisis, mental and physical stress is omnipresent and this can considerably affect the quality of our sleep. Meditation can be an invaluable ally in restoring sleep, whether you have trouble falling asleep, or suffer from insomnia that keeps you awake at night.
Most of the time, when we have trouble falling asleep, or when we wake up at night, an uncontrollable flow of thoughts invades us that turn endlessly. You may be tired, but nothing happens, you do not find sleep. One of the bases of meditation is precisely the control of this incessant flow, to put it at a distance and to take distance on all these thoughts. The regular practice of meditation helps to calm the mind and find sleep more easily.
How to meditate before bed?
Before teaching you to meditate, please make sure that your environment is conducive to meditation and therefore to sleep. Simple decor, calm atmosphere, put all the chances on your side by drinking a tea or an infusion with chamomile, passionflower or valerian, plants with relaxing properties recognized.
The meditation session can be done in bed or on the floor on a mat, in the lotus position or even lying down. The lying position allows for an easier transition to sleep, while the sitting position allows for a clear separation of the meditation and sleep states.
Concentrate on your breathing, start by paying attention to your inhalations and exhalations without modifying them before slowing down the rhythm if necessary. Take deep breaths in and out for a long time. You can also hold the air for a few seconds before exhaling. Repeat the exercise 5 times.
The body scan technique involves focusing your attention on each part of your body and observing areas of tension. While keeping part of your attention on your breath, think of all your limbs, from the tips of your toes through your spine to the top of your head.
Visualise a place, real or imagined, where you feel good and let your mind dwell there. You can focus on any mental image that inspires you, for example a colour.
You can also use a mantra, a phrase of your own or a simple syllable (e.g. aum). Repeat it mentally or say it out loud. The vibrations from the vocal chords bring the body into a good state of readiness to dispel distracting thoughts.
There are now many applications or resources on the web that can be used to introduce you to meditation. Most of them are in the form of meditations accompanied by music or sounds. The latter aim to bring inner calm or to access more easily a state of relaxation. Don’t hesitate to give it a try. You may not succeed at first, but don’t be discouraged, persevere, meditation is a long-term process and the results will appear after several weeks. It is also quite possible to meditate in the morning.