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For those who practise it, meditation can provide any number of benefits. While for some, practising meditation is all about exploring their spirituality, for others, meditation simply helps them to relax, helping to improve their calmness and clarity, while allowing them to de-stress and find a greater sense of happiness.
Among the many benefits of meditation is said to be the ability to improve sleep. For those who suffer from insomnia and have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep, practising meditation for sleep may offer a way to help calm the mind and body to help them fall asleep faster, to then enjoy better quality sleep overall.
The mind is a busy place. Most of the time, our minds are wandering, juggling thoughts as we go about our everyday lives. We could be thinking about the past or the future, worrying or making plans, organising or fantasising, daydreaming or agonising. Meditation is designed to help calm our minds, to help train our brain to be less stressed, to be calmer, and to be kinder.
By training our attention, meditation can bring the mind back to the present moment, allowing us to step out of distracted thought and become more present, more balanced and more clear-headed. When you meditate, you’re not trying to turn off your thoughts or feelings. Instead, you’re learning to observe them without judgment, to eventually better understand them in time.
Like any other skill, meditation is something that you need to practise. Just as you need to practise reading to become proficient, just as you need to work on your skills in a sport if you want to excel, you need to practise meditating to enjoy its benefits. You may want to think of it as a muscle that you’ve never used before, one that needs to be used in order to function properly.
But, it’s also worth bearing in mind that there is no such thing as perfect meditation. Meditation is something you practise, not something you perfect. You may find that when you start meditating, you only manage a few minutes at a time. You may find that your focus wanders and you forget that you’re supposed to be meditating. But, that’s part of the process of improving your skill.
When you start meditating, it can be helpful to find out more about the different types of meditation. Here are some of the well-known types of meditation, and what they have to offer:
Mindfulness Meditation: As the most popular form of meditation, mindfulness meditation involves paying close attention to your body to help you focus on the present moment. This could mean simply paying attention to your breath, or to the feeling of the floor underneath you. When your mind starts to wander, observe that, and try to steer yourself back to your mindful state without judging yourself.
Concentration Meditation: As the name suggests, concentration meditation involves concentrating on one specific thing, focusing your awareness to allow you to quiet your mind and relax your body. You may choose to focus on the flame of a candle, or a spoken mantra.
Guided Meditation: Often working well for beginners, guided meditation provides instruction throughout the meditation. The instructor may lead you through guided imagery, perhaps focusing on a white, sandy beach with waves softly lapping against the sand. Alternatively, the instructor may ask you to focus on relaxing each of your body parts in turn, bringing focus to each one. If you’re interested in guided meditation, you may join a group or find an instructor, or you could find guided meditation sessions available online or on an app.
Over the years, research has shown the benefits of meditation on sleep. According to a study on transcendental meditation*, senior meditators were shown to spend more time in the slow wave sleep (SWS) phase with higher theta-alpha power and background delta activity, together with reduced electromyogram. Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep was also found to be enhanced.
A later study** on mindfulness meditation found that senior practitioners enjoyed enhanced states of SWS and REM sleep compared to that of the non-meditating control group. These meditators also benefited from a higher number of sleep cycles, indicating better quality sleep. Meanwhile, older meditators were found to retain the sleep pattern of the younger non-meditating controls.
What does that mean for you? By meditating, you can train your mind to create the inner conditions needed for a better night’s rest. Meditation can work to settle the mind, stopping thoughts from racing around and keeping you awake. And, with a settled mind, you can rest your body, relaxing into sleep more quickly to enjoy a great night’s sleep.
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