Mindfulness meditation and its effect on sleep

You're laying in the dark, tossing and turning to find a comfortable position. The numbers on your digital clock are ticking by, constantly reminding you how quickly morning is approaching.

Everyone has experienced sleepless nights. Whether you're actively stressing about the day or simply can't relax, it's a common problem that affects people of all ages. Prescription medication and revised sleep habits are two popular ways to cure insomnia and reduce daytime sleepiness. However, you may find that mindfulness meditation is the secret to a night of quality sleep.

Find out how this type of focused thinking can remedy the tossing and turning you face at night and how to begin practicing mindfulness mediation. 

Mindfulness meditation and its benefits
Perhaps you've heard of mindfulness and meditation separately, but aren't aware of what this relaxation process encompasses. Mindfulness is described by Merriam-Webster as the practice of remaining aware of your thoughts and emotions in the present. Meditation involves quiet reflection and relaxation, whether it's combined with yoga movements, guided by someone or practiced alone. When you indulge in mindfulness meditation, you focus on what your body is doing and feeling at that moment while letting stressful thoughts fall by the wayside.

Learn how to relax before bed with mindfulness meditation. Learn how to relax before bed with mindfulness meditation.

A recent study conducted at the University of Southern California and published in JAMA Internal Medicine observed the use of mindfulness meditation as mind-body treatment for insomnia in adults age 55 and older. Roughly 50 participants were separated into two trial groups.

Half of the adults learned how to change their bedtime habits to combat sleeplessness. For example, participants maintained a regular bedtime, avoided food and alcohol right before bed and kept electronic devices out of bed. The other group of adults went through six weeks of mindfulness meditation training with an instructor. Results showed that the mindful group had improved sleep and moods after practicing meditation. These participants experienced a 13 percent boost in the quality of their sleep, while the sleep habit group jumped less than 5 percent. 

Give mindfulness meditation a try
The goal of mindfulness meditation is bringing your mind into the present moment to relax your being, rather than stressing out about what happened during your day or what's coming up tomorrow. Once you work through this process enough, it will hopefully become a reflexive response to internal turmoil.

The easiest way to learn about mindfulness meditation is through an instructor, but luckily the Internet is brimming with helpful information. Look through videos on YouTube to find guided mindfulness meditation sessions or download an app to your smartphone or tablet that walks you through the steps.

"Think about each muscle loosening as you relax."

To start, get into a comfortable pose. Many people choose to lay flat on their back with their arms at their sides. If you'd prefer, try sitting up with your legs crossed for the exercise.

The first step to focus on your thoughts is tuning into your breath. Become aware of the oxygen entering your lungs and the carbon dioxide leaving your body. It might help to rest your hands on your stomach as you take deep, belly breaths to bring even more attention to the action. Feel each part of your body touching the bed or the floor, from the tip of your toes to the back of your head. Think about each muscle loosening as you relax into the moment and let life's stressors go.

It can take some time to get the hang of mindfulness meditation. It's important that you don't scold yourself for wandering thoughts because that will only cause more stress. Instead, pat yourself on the back for all of the time you successfully focus on the moment you're in.

If you find this method isn't for you, look into other types of meditation, such as imagery. With this practice, you choose a safe and relaxing place that you can clearly visualize as a way to relax. Some people imagine themselves laying on a pristine beach with the waves crashing nearby, while others envision humbling snow-capped mountains. Brainstorm to find your happy place and travel there in your mind for peaceful sleep.