I’ve been teaching meditation techniques to help sleep for 15 years and I’d like to share with you this very effective, and simple technique.
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Tell me if this sounds familiar . . . It’s 2:30 am. You’ve been lying in bed for hours feeling miserable, tired, and stressed because tomorrow (actually, just later today) you’ve got a very important day but you JUST. CAN’T. SLEEP. The more you lie there not sleeping, the more worried you get about not sleeping, and you start the downward spiral of sleeplessness. If you’re lucky, you might eventually fall asleep only to wake up from a few hours of fitted sleep, feeling exhausted. Or worse, you sleep like a mummy through your alarm and are late for your important day.
If this has ever happened to you, you’re not alone. Millions of people are plagued with the lack of good sleep. But what do you do? There are many solutions to sleeplessness, including drugs, cleaning up your diet, and cutting out caffeine, but have you considered meditation?
Meditation helps sleep for one very simple reason: presence.
ften times, we can’t sleep primarily because our minds are playing out the day we just had or are about to have. Our brain can’t tell the difference between real threat and perceived threat. The thoughts and worries about tomorrow make our nervous system react as if the threat were real and present.
Your nervous system doesn’t want you to sleep if there’s a perceived threat; you’ve evolved not to sleep through being stalked by a predator. Consequentially, thinking and worrying makes adrenaline starts to pump through your body, increases your heart rate, and makes your mind sharp and active. Thinking and worrying is the recipe for NOT sleeping.
Meditation’s primary objective is to allow you to get out of the past or future and inhabit the present moment ONLY. The more we practice regular presence through meditation, the more we are able to be present in every-day life. This presence will also train our minds to stay out of the past or future when we are trying to sleep.
Ok, that sounds great but how do I meditate? Here’s a very simple meditation practice that not only helps you to practice daily presence but can also help you get good, consistent sleep.
The Countdown Meditation
For every-day meditation, do the following:
- Set a timer for 5 minutes (you can extend the time the more you practice).
- Sit upright.
- Close your eyes.
- Watch your breath move in and out for a few rounds
- In your mind, start to count your breaths backward from the number 30, e.g., exhale “30,” inhale “29,” exhale “28,” etc.
- When you lose your count, start back at 30.
- When you get to zero, start back at 30.
- When the timer rings, you’re done.
It’s important to remember that the goal is presence, not getting to zero so it doesn’t matter if you go 3 times all the way from 30-0, nor does it matter if you start over 20 times.
For getting to sleep, do the following:
- Prepare for bed and do everything you need to prior to going to sleep.
- Brain dump. Before you climb into bed, set a timer for 2 minutes and on a notepad, write down all of the immediate things you have on your mind. Don’t let this go beyond 2 minutes lest this devolves into a fuel-for-worry fest.
- Fold up the paper and put it aside. Tell yourself that you don’t need to think or do anything about that list until tomorrow.
- Put the timer away.
- Lie down, turn off the light, and notice your breath for a few rounds.
- Start counting your breaths (just like the every-day version of Countdown) but start at 100.
- When any thoughts or worries come up, let them go knowing that you’ve already done your brain dump. Tell those thoughts that they should have presented themselves when you were writing them down, and start over counting your breath. If the stillness of mind reveals something that requires absolute immediate action, ask yourself if it REALLY needs immediate attention. If so, get up and do it quickly but then come back to bed and resume the Countdown Meditation at 100
- If you lose your count because you’re falling asleep, let go and enjoy the ride. Mission accomplished. We’ll see you in the morning, Sunshine. Don’t be surprised if you have to go a few times all the way through before you fall asleep. Most often, you’ll fall asleep during the first go.
By practicing this simple meditation technique, you can help your mind be more present every day and train yourself into better, more regular, and deeper sleep.
I’d like to offer you a challenge to do the Countdown Meditation, either the every-day sitting or going to sleep version, for seven days, for at least 5 minutes a day. Write me at scott@scottmooreyoga and tell me how it went.