According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic. Not getting enough sleep has obvious short-term consequences (irritability, memory problems, low motivation or trouble focusing on tasks) but people who aren’t sleeping enough on a regular basis are also more likely to suffer from chronic diseases (hypertension, diabetes, depression and obesity).
Our bodies require long periods of sleep to restore and rejuvenate, grow muscle, repair tissue and synthesize hormones. Our brains need sleep in order to consolidate the day’s events from short-term memory to long-term memory (as many people have now seen in animation via the film Inside Out). Additionally, scientists have found that our brains process waste products, left by the normal daily functioning of cells, while we sleep.
If you have difficulty sleeping, you can lie awake and know that you’re not alone: Each night millions of people in the U.S. struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep. If that knowledge offers no comfort, a recent study from UCLA suggests that mindful meditation can help by preparing the body and mind to slide into a state of quiet wakefulness.
If you practice yoga, you’re familiar with the relaxing effects of Savasana, a.k.a. the corpse pose, which is the first step in sleep meditation. As the name implies, this uncomplicated maneuver requires that you lie still on your back. Let your legs sprawl out comfortably and rest your arms by your sides, not touching any part of your body.
Next, scan your body from your toes to your head with your mind, noticing how each section feels by working methodically through the toes, heels, tops of the feet, bottoms of the feet, lower legs, knees and on upward. Notice the weight of your body against the mattress, the sensation where the sheets touch your skin, the temperature of each section of your body and if there are any areas of tension. If you find tension, clench the muscles around that spot gently for 15 seconds or so and then relax the muscle. Let that tension go. If your mind wanders during this process, that’s OK. Move back to scanning your body, starting wherever you left off.
Once you reach the crown of you head, quit scanning and focus on your breath. Take a few deep breaths and listen to each one. Then let the breath slow and become smooth and natural. Notice how it fills your chest and stomach on each inhale and how the body relaxes with each exhale. Then visualize each breath, following it in your mind as if moves into your lungs and out. If you notice your mind beginning to drift toward dreamy nonsensical images, follow it there.
Hopefully, the next thing you notice is waking up in the morning. But if you awake in the middle of the night, stay in bed and repeat the process.