I've lived with insomnia for almost a decade. It started with hitting my head on a chair. "Nothing more than a mild concussion," they said. If only that had meant it wouldn't affect me for the rest of my life. It's a rare night when I can fall asleep easily and stay asleep through the night; and about once a month I just won't be able to sleep at all.
Insomnia can be caused by a number of things. Aging alone decreases the neurotransmitters and affects sleep patterns. I am getting older! Stress and anxiety don't help, and neither does chronic illness. Check. Check. And Check. Add indigestion and medications (or better yet indigestion caused by medications) and you can end up with serious issues with insomnia.
Lucky me, I have all of that!
But, insomnia is about more than just lost sleep; insomnia impairs your cognitive functioning, your behaviors, and your emotions. Insomnia impacts every facet of your life, and it can often feel like nothing helps.
You follow all the instructions for great sleep hygiene, making sure the room is completely dark, the TV is off an hour before bed, you avoid electronics, take a warm bath, etc. Yet sleep still doesn't come. Or, you fall asleep only to wake up again two hours later. It seems like no matter how many sheep you count, you just can't get back to sleep. But, I have found one thing you've probably not tried that really can help me get to sleep, or get back to sleep, and stay asleep --meditation.
Meditation is a practice, based on Eastern theology, of clearing the mind and focusing on a specific thought, to change the way you think. Meditation has been shown to be a powerful tool to help not only aid with insomnia, but improve self-confidence, develop positive emotions, reduce anxiety, and improve immune response (Sun, Kang, Wang, & Zeng, 2013).
Meditation is quite easy to learn thanks to the large number of apps available that offer meditation training. Typically, the apps allow you to choose a focus and most offer meditation to help calm you and help you fall asleep.
To find these apps visit the app store for your device and search for "meditation". You'll find several free apps, so just try a few until you find one you like.
I've tried a few of these apps and I've found that they can be really helpful. The meditations typically begin by telling you to clear your mind, they then provide you with guided imagery to help you focus your mind on an image that calms you and lulls you into sleep.
If you have a busy mind, like I do, it can be difficult to clear it and really focus on the imagery. I struggled, often finding my thoughts wavering back to real life, but the more that I practiced the easier it got to return to the focus provided by the meditation.
Often when I wake up in the middle of the night I will plug my headphones in and turn on one of these meditation apps and before I know it I'm back in a restful state and asleep; sometimes I won't wake again until morning.
I find that when I'm using meditation regularly, I sleep better, and staying calmer during the day.
These apps will typically allow you to choose to play a meditation once or have it repeat. Often, when I've chosen the latter I will wake up in the morning to find that it is still playing and I've slept right through it. I also find that when I use these meditations to help me sleep I wake up in a more restful state with less anxiety.
I will also use meditation during the day to help calm my nerves when I'm feeling anxious or stressed. A simple 15 minute meditation really helps clear the mind and leaves me refreshed, focused, and ready to face the day again. This decreased stress during the day may also contribute to the reduced insomnia later.
Proper sleep is associated with increased production, higher quality of life, improved cognitive functioning, improved life satisfaction and happiness, and decreased inflammation (Irwin, et al., 2013). Insomnia often prevents our ability to get this proper sleep, but meditation can help. By learning to use meditation to conquer your insomnia you will find that you not only sleep better at night, but you wake up more refreshed, less stressed, and with higher mental functioning. Using meditation during the day can also help reduce your stress and aid in conquering insomnia.