Meditation is an ancient spiritual practice that is increasingly being validated by modern science for its ability to alter how your brain works1. Sleep is all about the brain. You need the correct balance of hormones and neurotransmitters to enter the land of nod. With a recent sleep survey showing 45% of Australians are sleep deprived, a down payment of 10-20minutes of meditation is a solid investment in your sleep.
Think of meditation a little like exercise – the best results will come from developing a regular practice and gradually strengthening your meditation muscle. The results may not be instantaneous, but if you persist, you can expect to see benefits in 4-6 weeks.
1. Balance your brain waves
Your nerves communicate via electrical pulses. These operate at different frequencies depending on your activity level. Delta and theta waves are slow and occur during sleep. Alpha waves arise in a wakeful but relaxed state whereas beta waves are when you are awake, and your brain activity is high. While we need beta waves to get things done, too many at the wrong time lead to restlessness, anxiety and trouble sleeping. Deep meditation mimics delta and theta brain waves and can reset your brain waves allowing you to enter a sleep state more quickly 2.
2. Stop the stress
In order to sleep your nervous system needs to be in a state of parasympathetic dominance or “resting and digesting”3. If you are anxious or stressed (sympathetic dominance), you release adrenaline and noradrenaline. These two substances produced by your adrenal glands are designed to make you alert. Your heart pumps faster; blood goes from your digestive system to your skeletal muscle and your breathing rate increases. You’re primed to run away from the tiger! Biochemically speaking, this means your body is about as far away from chilling out as you can get. To make a bad situation worse, this also increases the urinary excretion of zinc and magnesium – two minerals required to make your relaxing sleep neurotransmitters. Meditating for between 10-20 minutes per day especially just before sleep dials down your nervous system to chill out mode (parasympathetic) by increasing the production of the calming neurotransmitters GABA and serotonin2. You’ll then slip effortlessly into the land of nod.
3. Increase melatonin
Melatonin is known as the sleep or vampire hormone. It only rises once it gets dark and we need it to maintain sleep. Melatonin production can decrease with age and stress. Regular meditators have been shown to have up to 3 times greater melatonin production than non-meditators1. The more natural melatonin you have, the better you will sleep.
4. Decrease cortisol
Cortisol has opposing actions to melatonin. Cortisol should be high in the morning to energise us for the day ahead. We need it to be low at the end of the day when melatonin comes out to play. If you are someone who is “wired and tired” your daily cortisol profile is out of whack. You may feel exhausted, but you’ll have trouble going to sleep. A regular meditation practice will help get your cortisol rhythm back in sync4.
Relax for refreshing sleep
You’ll probably notice that these four benefits of meditation have a common theme – they all promote relaxation on a neurological, physiological or hormonal level. Just like anything else in life some people find reaching a state of calm easier than others. Meditation is a vehicle that can help you get there. Just like a vehicle, there are all sorts of different styles. Experiment, develop a regular practice and reap the benefits of a refreshing sleep.
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Norelle Hentschel is a degree qualified Naturopath and operates a clinic in Crows Nest, North Sydney. She enjoys helping people feel better and can assist with a broad range of health conditions or general health maintenance.
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- Neuendorf R, Wahbeh H, Chamine I, Yu J, Hutchison K, Oken BS. The Effects of Mind-Body Interventions on Sleep Quality : A Systematic Review. 2015;2015.
- Newberg AB, Iversen J. The neural basis of the complex mental task of meditation : neurotransmitter and neurochemical considerations. 2003;61:282-291. doi:10.1016/S0306-9877(03)00175-0.
- Sun J, Kang J, Wang P, Zeng H. Self-relaxation training can improve sleep quality and cognitive functions in the older : a one-year randomised controlled trial. 2013:1270-1280. doi:10.1111/jocn.12096.
- Wu W, Kwong E, Lan X, Jiang X. The Effect of a Meditative Movement Intervention on Quality of Sleep in the Elderly : J Altern Complement Med. 2015;21(9):509-519. doi:10.1089/acm.2014.0251.