Treating Insomnia & Sleep Deprivation with Meditation

Getting enough of good nights sleep is crucial for being able to sustain a positive mood the following day. Newly formed research suggests that sleep deprivation (the lack of sleep) can contribute to emotional distress that impairs the ability to concentrate, and differentiate between emotions and neutral events.

“You haven’t had your coffee yet, have you?” — an excellent everyday example of how people can seem a little drowsy before having had their morning coffee.

Here in this post we will be focusing more on the root causes for sleep distress and how to fix them effectively with the help of meditation. Whether you’re suffering from long-term insomnia, sleep deprivation, or general inability to get a good night’s rest — we will cover the latest scientific research and the appropriate meditation techniques to set you on your path of healing from this uncomfortable situation.

How many hours of sleep do you really need?

The quality of sleep that you experience each night can help you determine your overall health, well-being, and whether or not you’re suffering from sleep depression and/or insomnia.

This table data shows the average recommended amount of sleep that a person for his particular age should strive to have each night.

1-2 years 14 to 17 hours of sleep Less than 9 hours of sleep
More than 19 hours of sleep
3-5 years 10 to 13 hours of sleep Less than 8 hours of sleep
More than 18 hours of sleep
6-13 years 9 to 11 hours of sleep Less than 8 hours of sleep
More than 16 hours of sleep
14-17 years 8 to 10 hours of sleep Less than 7 hours of sleep
More than 14 hours of sleep
18-25 years 7 to 9 hours of sleep Less than 6 hours of sleep
More than 12 hours of sleep
26-64 years 7 to 9 hours of sleep Less than 6 hours of sleep
More than 11 hours of sleep
> 65 years 7 to 8 hours of sleep Less than 5 hours of sleep
More than 9 hours of sleep

The following graph has been made possible thanks to thorough research from National Sleep Foundation.

What are the benefits of a good night’s sleep?

You might have heard someone say it before, “Are you getting your beauty sleep on?” — this is a wonderful example of how sleep helps us to rejuvenate ourselves so we feel and look better in everyday situations.

Sleep might seem like a boring activity in the bigger picture, but it’s a natural way for the body to replenish and heal itself. Some studies have shown that sleeping could be extra useful for students who wish accelerate and retain their learning process.

“Our results suggest that interleaving sleep between practice sessions leads to a twofold advantage, reducing the time spent relearning and ensuring a much better long-term retention than practice alone.”

Some researches believe that sleep is brain’s ally when it comes to clearing out any rubbish that’s collected itself up there.

A good night’s rest may literally clear the mind. Using mice, researchers showed for the first time that the space between brain cells may increase during sleep, allowing the brain to flush out toxins that build up during waking hours. These results suggest a new role for sleep in health and disease.

You don’t have to overwhelm yourself with all these scientific theories and findings, everyone knows what a good night’s rest feels like: it feels good! But.. what if sleep has become a struggle?

Why insomnia occurs?

Insomnia is best described as habitual sleeplessness; the inability to sleep. Common symptoms of insomnia include the inability to fall asleep, having to wake up during the night and have difficulty to go back to sleep, also strong tiredness upon waking.

In medical terms there are two types of insomnia: primary and secondary. We will be focusing on secondary — the type of insomnia that occurs because of an external circumstance. Such circumstances are often stress-related, depressive behavior oriented, or because of an illness such as asthma, cancer, etc,.

Apart from types, there are also causes. The causes are either acute or chronic. To best describe both causes, here’s a presentation that shows the differences between both.

What causes insomnia to occur?

Acute insomniaChronic insomnia
Stressful event: loss of job, relationship breakup, passing of a family member, sudden change. Long-term depression and/or anxiety.
Unexpected illness: physical injury, heart problems, cancer. Chronic stress-related problems.
Emotional & physical discomfort. Difficulty to sleep at night because of pain and/or discomfort.
Disturbance in the surroundings, such as noise when trying to fall asleep. Habitual related: smoking, drug addiction, alcohol.
Distorted sleep schedule because of external events. Neurological conditions.

Do any of the above sound familiar to you? Whether you’re suffering from chronic or acute insomnia, we will look at ways that meditation can help you improve the quality of the sleep that you have each night; without the need to take medication.

My biggest sleep-related problems have always been about external / background noises, for that I’ve learned to utilize the benefits of earplugs, though at times my sleep problems aren’t just about external noises, but also depressive and anxiety-based disorders that have manifested themselves because of a sudden life event.

Being an adult can be a stressful thing, there’s many things to juggle at once and stress can occasionally take the front seat, that leads to:

  • Tension in the body.
  • Overly analyzing past/future events.
  • Worries about possible outcomes.
  • Too many responsibilities, self-pressure.

Not all insomnia is self-caused, yet most insomnia related problems can be worked through using simple mindfulness techniques such as meditation. With meditation it’s possible to calm the mind, and ultimately worries, to a tolerable level.

How can meditation help cure insomnia and sleep deprivation?

Research led by Stanford University Medical Center found that mindfulness meditation can be a feasible method for dealing with insomnia. You can read more about this study on ScienceDirect, here is a short excerpt from the final results.

The overall patterns of change with treatment demonstrate improvements in nighttime symptoms of insomnia, reductions in pre–sleep arousal, and reductions in sleep-related distress. In addition, an association was found between the practice of meditation and reduction in trait hyperarousal. Together, these findings support further testing to evaluate the efficacy of the intervention and the specific contributions of mindfulness meditation using more rigorous controlled designs.

That is just one of the many studies that are being concluded about the effects that mindfulness has on insomnia. Here are some of the most prominent studies:

It’s important to remember that well-being itself contributes greatly to the quality of sleep that one experiences during the nightfall, and many of these studies are directly correlated with the effects of well-being on one’s sleep patterns.

How meditation shifts you into a new perspective.

We could talk about scientific research all day long, yet without putting in any real effort into the habit of meditation you wouldn’t really experience any changes, would you?

It’s easy to take a couple of numbing pills and call it a day, the numbness often helps one to drift away to the dreamland, but does it ever solve our deeper issues that have come to the surface? If it did, then we’d all be running around emotionally free!

“There is something good in all seeming failures. You are not to see that now. Time will reveal it. Be patient.” — Swami Sivananda

Meditation is different. It’s relaxing, as much as it is revealing. Meditation calms the mind, it calms the body, and it relaxes the nervous system. It’s a perfectly valid tool for relaxation, but it doesn’t lose its potency to help you unravel the present-moment issues that are causing disturbances in your life experience; insomnia or sleep deprivation.

When you take into account the cues about being worried too much, or over analyzing a particular situation — it becomes easier to apply meditation as a remedy to help yourself be more centered, to be grounded in your experience and recognize that some things in life are inevitably going to happen.

I’m the worst when it comes to noise influence around me, I just can’t take it. What is there to do, get angry at myself? Blame the air conditioning for being so loud? Neither of those, the only path is acceptance, and in my case the use of earplugs as mentioned earlier.

There’s always a solution for the problems we face, sometimes it might take a little bit longer to recognize that solution — meditation is an excellent gateway for getting closer to that voice that’s always bubbling inside; voice we’ve all come to know as our intuition.

Simple (but effective!) meditation technique for those suffering with insomnia and/or sleep deprivation.

The following meditation will work best when done 10-20 minutes before planning to go to sleep. This section is also assuming that you know “how to” meditate, but don’t worry if you don’t — refer back to our previous articles about mindfulness meditation for beginners, and beginner-friendly meditation techniques for those starting out.

You can do this visualization meditation for as little as 5 minutes or as long as 30 minutes — it really is up to you, the level of comfort you feel with meditation, and the severity of your discomfort that you’re experiencing.

Meditation for treating insomnia.

Find a peaceful place in your bedroom, or anywhere else in house/apartment you’re living in. Set the intention of being engaged in your meditation practice for the betterment of your present-moment situation.

  1. Sit in a comfortable cross-legged (or any other meditation posture you prefer) position and slowly begin to relax. Begin to notice your in-breaths and out-breaths, one by one feel them enter and exit through your nostrils. When you feel comfortable, close your eyes and continue with the same pattern.
  2. Once you start feeling fully engaged with your breath and you feel that you’re in a meditative state, you can begin the visualization.
  3. The next time you inhale a new breath, imagine that you’re inhaling all the colors of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet — affirm to yourself the abundant goodness that you’re nourishing yourself with; know that these colors are helping you to purify any negativity within you.
  4. As you begin to exhale, see a dark brown / black color begin to go outside of your nostrils — this is all the tension and tightness that has stored itself in your body; affirm to yourself that you’re now letting go of that tension and tightness, and feel lighter with each exhalation.
  5. Continue with this breathing pattern for as long as you feel comfortable.

Visualization has been used as a multi-varied tool of improving performance of athletes for decades, but it isn’t limited to just helping those who love to compete in sports — it’s a universal method of mental training that can be helpful in overcoming obstacles in life without putting any real physical pressure on yourself. Even just a few minutes a day can make a huge difference in your perspective of your issues at hand.

I hope that this post was able to shed some light on the situation for you and keep an eye out for any upcoming follow-ups for the topic of insomnia, apart from mental training there’s always the influence of substances and food that we put within our bodies that can have an effect on our sleep quality and patterns.

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