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Does this sound familiar . . .
It’s the end of a very long day, you’re dead tired, and you want nothing more than to lay your head on your pillow and to drift off to a deep, relaxing, sleep.
But no sooner do you close your eyes than an arrant worry or thought bounces into your head, and then another, and another, until before you know it, you are lying in bed, with your mind lit up like a Christmas tree, wide awake. Despite your exhaustion, there’s no sleep in sight and your initial worries become compounded by anxiety over how you are going to function tomorrow without any sleep.
If you struggle with sleep, you’re not alone. The National Sleep Foundation says that 45% of Americans report decreased daily function due to insufficient or poor quality sleep. A 2013 Gallup Report said that 2 in 5 Americans have chronic sleep problems. And if a chronic lack of sleep isn’t bad enough, according to statistics from Harvard Medical School, lack of good or sufficient sleep also inhibits learning and memory, and contributes to a host of other serious health problems.
One of the largest reasons for sleeplessness is an overactive mind. And before you get a prescription to knock yourself out, perhaps try addressing the cause and learn to quiet your mind with a few simple yet effective meditation techniques, one of which I'll show you today.
“Why do I need meditation?”
Meditation helps you sleep for one simple reason: presence. Often times, we can’t sleep because our brains are rehearsing the past or future. Our species has survived, in part, because we are hardwired to anticipate threats before going to bed, historically a time when humans have been most vulnerable.
But if during your brain’s nightly safety-check, a thought or worry lingers, your brain starts processing it as if it were an actual threat because our brains aren’t actually that good at knowing the difference between perceived and actual reality, like when we our body responds to a nightmare or an intense movie. Similarly, with the scene of our thoughts about past or future playing in our mind, our body responds by sending adrenaline throughout the system and before we know it, a thought about tomorrow’s board meeting has caused our muscles and minds to become revved up and ready to act when we should be sleeping.
Knowing that our brains don’t distinguish well between the perceived and actual reality, we can leverage that function for our benefit. But more about that later. . .
“Ok, I’m getting stressed just thinking about it. How does meditation help?”
Through meditation, your mind escapes the trappings of the past and future and sees that there is no present threat, giving your body and mind the all-systems-clear for sleep. You may have an important board meeting in the morning, but with the gentle focus of meditation, your mind simply rests in the here and now. So rather than inadvertently stewing in the anxiety of what tomorrow might hold, you choose to rest in the peace of what is present at this moment, perhaps the enveloping quiet and dark of your bedroom or the sensation of your body relaxing into bed. Meditation is as simple as being here rather than there.
“Easier said than done. Besides, who has the time? Oh, and how do I meditate, by the way?”
Well, meditation is easier than you may think and doesn't need to take a long time. Here's a very simple and effective meditation practice that you can use to focus your mind and create the conditions for deep, nourishing, and peaceful sleep.
The Night Time Countdown Meditation
1. Prepare for bed and do everything you need to prior to going to sleep.
2. Brain dump. Before you climb into bed, set a timer for 5 minutes and on a notepad, write down all of the immediate things you have on your mind. Don’t let this go beyond 5 minutes lest this devolves into a fuel-for-worry fest.
3. Lie down, close your eyes and commit to a comfortable position. Relax your nervous system with one long sigh. Then spend a minute noticing your breath.
4. In your mind, start counting your breaths backward from 100. As you exhale, think, "100." As you inhale, think, "99." Exhale, "98," and so on. If you lose your count due to other thoughts, start over and if you get to zero start over.
5. 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 to stay out of the past and future and create the conditions for deep, nourishing and peaceful sleep. The Countdown Meditation systematically powers down your brain by allowing it to focus on something singular and simple, like counting. Counting backward helps engage the mind just enough to help it from wandering but not enough to make it excited.
Do you ever have problems getting to sleep? I'd love to hear from you about what you struggle with and what has helped you. Try this technique and tell me how it goes.
There's so much more great information I want to share with you on this essential topic. Stay tuned for some more incredible solutions for great sleep coming very soon!
Namaste, and nighty-night.