How to Meditate

Meditation can improve sleep.

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Meditation should not be a substitute for sleep. Just as you need to have a healthy diet but can supplement it with vitamins, minerals, fish or flaxseed oil and the like, meditation is a great supplement to your mental and physical health. But it is not a replacement for sleep, exercise, healthy food and breathing clean air!

Meditation can help you fall asleep.

It can help you overcome certain types of insomnia. Once you learn to meditate and have a daily meditation practice, you will know how to relax instantly – how to do the breathing and do the mental focusing that allows you to relax within seconds. Use this meditation technique when you fall asleep and when you need to return to sleep, perhaps after getting up to go the bathroom or tend to a crying baby or sick relative.

Meditation can help you stay asleep.

Meditation helps relieve stress. Meditation produces a decrease in the production of blood lactate, the protein that causes stress. (Too much lactate can cause a panic attack.) Meditation also lowers the production of cortisol, another stress-producing hormone that can keep you awake. MeditationPlus™ also helps you find creative solutions to the problems, relationships, and situations in life that create stress in your life. In this indirect way, meditation can help you from ruminating during the night and allow you to work on the problems in the restful state of meditation!

Meditation can alleviate sleep apnea.

Because MeditationPlus™ calms down the hypothalamus, it helps you avoid the cravings, carbohydrate addiction, and appetite increases that acute or chronic sleep deprivation cause. In this way, meditation can help you avoid gaining weight, help you lose weight and help you maintain a weight loss. Since excess weight, especially around the neck, is one of the leading causes of sleep apnea, which is the leading sleep disorder, meditation can benefit tens of millions who suffer from sleep apnea, and whose sleep apnea snoring is keeping tens of millions of healthy adults from getting adequate sleep!

Sometimes, meditation is more beneficial than taking a nap.

Yes, we believe that meditation is no substitute for a good night’s sleep. But consider this difference between meditation and napping. When you nap, especially if you take more than a cap nap and go into a Stage 4 deep sleep phase, then it can take up to 3 or 4 hours for your blood sugar to rise to a level where your brain has sufficient glucose to think clearly and have good judgment. And the brain, though only 2 to 3 percent of your body weight, uses 25 percent of the energy – of the glucose and of the oxygen – you body is going to use in a day. It needs glucose and glucose is the only blood sugar it can use.

Meditation, unlike sleep, can lower your need for oxygen and glucose, but after meditation, the glucose will rise almost immediately. So unlike sleep, you will have the glucose you need to think clearly and to make better decisions, even to discuss or argue more logically and perhaps more creatively (and maybe with more wit!). Thus, if you need to rejuvenate your mind before going into an important meeting, or needing to think clearly on an exam after pulling an all-nighter, or having discussing a problem with a partner or child or colleague, it may be better to meditate than take a nap, especially an hour-long nap with deep sleep. Take the nap afterwards, but meditate before.

Meditate after a nap.

Let’s say you are at a wedding weekend, full of partying, late night conversations, dancing and drinking. Take your nap. Then meditate. Meditation can bring up that blood sugar, calm that hypothalamus and allow you to eat a big meal without pigging out. It can calm production of the hormones that govern appetite and satiety. It can decrease nervousness and stress that cause you to overeat sweets, junk food or consume too much alcohol. And it can improve your mind enough to make your happier, wittier, more conversational, and less likely to say or do the wrong thing.

Meditation can reduce hot flashes.

According to Dr. Gabriel Weiss, meditation has been found to reduce hot flashes, that hormone-causing night-sweat that can wreck sleep numerous times in the night of a pre-menopausal or menopausal woman. Like the indirect affect of meditation on stress and sleep apnea, meditation can improve sleep by decreasing hot flashes.

Meditation can improve depression and anxiety.

Meditation can restore the neurotransmitters that are necessary to ward off depression, which causes either insomnia or oversleeping and can interfere with the quality of sleep.

Meditation can improve your Circadian Rhythm.

Since meditation can help you relax, it can help you adjust to new time zones, help overcome Jet Lag, and adjust to Daylight Saving Time. It can also help you cope with someone whose Circadian rhythm is radically different from your own by allowing you to be less-stressed and more calm!

Meditation can benefit a REM-deprived sleep.

Some sleeping aids help a person sleep through the night but don’t allow their minds to spend as much time in REM sleep. Meditation Plus, especially the second part of it, has many similarities to REM sleep, especially to defragmenting the brain’s storage and fostering creative solutions, as REM sleep has been found to accomplish for problem solving. And it does this with a calm midbrain instead of an active midbrain as in REM sleep.

Remember that meditation is not a substitute for sleep, that if you fall asleep while meditating enjoy the cat nap. Remember that meditation can sometimes benefit you more than a nap. And remember that meditation can benefit your overall health, as well as help you overcome some major sleep disorders like sleep apnea and insomnia. Sleep is great and meditation is, too!

Additional information about sleep

What is sleep and why do we need it?

Throughout history sleep was regarded as a passive state of simply “not being awake.” Then, during the 1930s, scientists discovered the chemical reactions in the brain that produce waves of electrical current. They also learned to measure these waves with an electroencephalogram, or EEG, and began understanding and appreciating the value of sleep.

As its neurons fire and connect with one another, the brain produces electrical waves – small and large ones, fast and slow ones. When you are awake, the waves rip through your brain in nanoseconds, to form billions of connections. For most – 75 to 80 percent – of sleep, the waves slow down (except for short, periodic bursts of activity). They charge up again for dreaming and the stage of sleep known as Rapid Eye Movement, or REM, for short. In fact, the rest of the time, when the waves are slow, is called non-Rapid Eye Movement, of NREM, for short.

There are actually five stages of sleep, depending on the frequency and length of the brain waves. The first two stages of NREM are known as “light sleep,” because the waves are slowing down, except for those short bursts, called sleep spindles.

The next two stages of NREM are known as “deep sleep” because half the waves in the brain, called delta waves, will be exceedingly slow and long.

The last of the five stages – REM – is when brain waves pick up energy. And as mentioned already, it is the time of sleep when we dream.

The purpose of the first four stages – light sleep and, especially deep sleep – is for the body to restore and rejuvenate itself. The purpose of REM, dreaming, seems to be to restore the mind. Both are essential for health and well-being.

Deep sleep and body restoration.

Because it is such a restful state for the body, the heart does not need to pump as much blood. This causes a drop in blood pressure by as much as 20 to 30 percent, giving the heart a rest. With less blood flowing, the brain cools a bit.

During deep sleep the brain’s pituitary gland produces a vital substance, called growth hormone, or GH for short. This hormone is essential for both growing and rejuvenating nearly every tissue in our body and is produced almost exclusively at night, during deep sleep. So when we say that a child “grew overnight,” due to sleep and production of GH, the child did grow overnight! Indeed, this may be one reason that growing infants, children, and adolescents sleep so long.

Adults also need growth hormone, Dr. Michael Breus explains in his book, Good Night. Growth hormone is vital for stimulating cells to increase in size and more rapidly. It enhances the movement of amino acids through the cell membranes and increases the rate of protein synthesis. It is what stimulates tissue repair, cell replacement, brain function, and enzyme production, affecting almost every single cell in the body, renewing skin and bones, regenerating the heart, liver, lungs, and kidneys, bringing back organ and tissue function to more youthful levels. It revitalizes the immune system and lowers the risk factor for heart attack and stroke. It does more (read his book for a fuller explanation). As Dr. Breus states, “No deep sleep, no Dr. GH.”

During deep sleep the body produces cytokines, the cellular hormone that strengthens the immune system and helps it fight various infections. That is why sufficient sleep and sufficient deep sleep, in particular, is necessary for preventing or fighting tumors, cancer, and inflammatory diseases, such as arthritis.

REM sleep.

Much like deep sleep, this stage does vital restoration work. Only the focus of this work seems to be on the mind, as memory, concentration, creativity, alertness and cognition get the rejuvenation. To do this work, neurons start firing and connecting with the speed they do when you are awake. This activity requires energy – oxygen and glucose – so the heart needs to beat more blood, which raises breathing and heart rates, blood pressure, and body temperature. It also markedly increases activity in the sympathetic nervous system that is responsible for the stress-producing “fight-or-flight response.” Despite all this mental activity, the body hardly moves except to twitch from time to time. Or get sexually aroused! (Yes, during REM guys get erections and women get turned on.)

The activity during REM stimulates the brain’s regions that are used in learning, perhaps a reason infants spend half their sleeping time in REM. REM sleep is when specific neural connections are made that support retention (memory), organization (cognition and creativity), and shore up space in the brain that allows for the brain to learn and perform new tasks (much like defragmenting your computer). Mental defragmentation during dreaming? Who would have guessed except maybe Sigmund Freud!

REM is so vital to the mental capacity of the brain that if you deprive someone of their REM sleep after they have tried to study or learn something new before going to sleep, they will retain far less information and may even lose what they learned altogether. Dreaming is a time of sorting the new with the old, of integrating the information acquired during the day with information already stored in the brain. This may be one reason why dreaming often conjures up past memories of people, places, and events.

Without the emotional sorting of REM sleep, a person can feel anxious or depressed, or emotionally drained. However, deprived of REM, many will naturally tend to make it up the next night with an increased amount of REM sleep, which may be one reason that people who are emotionally drained or depressed often sleep an excessive amount (though many are often too anxious to fall asleep or stay asleep). Also interesting are the results of sleep studies on rats. Rats have a life span of 2 to 3 years, but deprived of just their REM sleep, they only live an average of a month or so!

We sleep in cycles throughout the night.

During the night, a normal sleeper moves between the five stages of sleep in a rather predictable pattern, drifting into light sleep, then deep sleep, then REM sleep. They may wake up from a dream, especially from a nightmare or to go the bathroom before repeating another stage or another sleep cycle.

On the average, a sleep cycle tends to last 60 to 120 minutes. Depending on how much sleep a person needs, as well as how much sleep is going to be possible, a person may go through anywhere from 3 to 6 sleep cycles in a night’s sleep. Half of that sleep is usually spent in light sleep and about 20 to 25 percent each in deep sleep and in REM sleep.

A person can be awakened during a sleep cycle by a snoring partner, a crying infant, a telephone call, restless leg syndrome, and a hot flash. Or maybe by the alarm clock! And just as some people struggle to fall asleep in the first place, some people may awaken after a dream and have trouble starting the next sleep cycle.

What is interesting – and important – is that the length of a particular stage of sleep varies from cycle to cycle. The first cycle of sleep at night usually contains the longest deep sleep but shortest REM, while the last cycle, occurring before awakening, contains the least amount of deep sleep stage but the longest amount of dreaming. (The reason waking up naturally instead is so important. Why let an rob you of your valuable REM sleep?)

Remember: Sleep is necessary for both your body and your mind to restore themselves. The body does most of this at the beginning sleep while the mind does most of its work at the end of the night, just before waking up – naturally.

How much sleep is enough?

How much sleep you need depends on many factors, including age, activity when awake, health, (fighting an infection or recovering from an injury will require more sleep or make it difficult to get adequate sleep), emotions (depressed people need more sleep), and the like. On average, the more you will be growing or repairing tissue, the more sleep you are likely to need. Thus, newborns, who will triple their weight in a year and substantially increase their brain size, spend up to 75 percent of their time sleeping and growing adolescents need to spend 40 to 50 percent of their time sleeping. In contrast, the majority of healthy adults spend about 20 to 30 percent of their time sleeping.

Some experts (including those whose research is funded by pharmaceutical companies selling sleeping aids) will say that 8 hours is the ideal duration for healthy sleep. Other experts claim 7 and 9 hours of sleep for adults is ideal. Still others, basing their research on longitudinal studies with over a million subjects, have found the healthiest sleep to last 6.5 hours. This is the amount of sleep the average adult American now gets. Remember, though, these are averages and “ideals.” They are not necessarily the amount of sleep you need.

You may be at the small end of the curve who are “short sleepers” – people who only need 4 to 6 hours of sleep to stay healthy. Or you may be at the other end of the curve – and be a “long sleepers,” who requires more than 9 hours of sleep. (We are talking here about “need.” If you are getting less sleep than you need, you are not a “short sleeper,” you are a sleep-deprived average sleeper.

Some are cultural. For example, in the U.S. the norm is to sleep all night and avoid napping during the day, although some workplaces now see the value of creating a space where a tired employee can take a nap (wise advice, considering how much sleep deprivation can affect a person’s judgment and reaction time.) In contrast, some, like the Mediterranean or Latin Americans, sleep at night and allow time for siestas – leisure naps, after a leisurely eaten meal. Babies and people in unusual circumstances, such as astronauts, may sleep 4 to 6 times a day.

Many factors can influence a person’s Circadian Rhythm, which is the time they tend to fall asleep and wake-up. It can be when their body manufactures the melatonin, the major sleep-inducing hormone. Circadian Rhythm in teenagers seems to delay to 11 to sunrise, although most schools fail to recognize this (and start so early that a large percentage of teens fall asleep during class). Some people – the larks among us – need to get to sleep early and then rise early. Others – the owls – go to bed late and wake up late. Most adults, however, fall asleep between 10 and 12 p.m. and wake between 6 and 8 a.m. unless they are one of the millions of shift-workers, who work night shifts all the time or in rotation. (And whose health often suffers for that.)

The best way to find learn how much sleep you need is to go to bed regularly, wake up without an alarm, not depend on caffeine or other stimulants, and see how much sleep you need to feel well-rested and mentally alert. You’ll know if you are getting enough sleep if you feel energetic, healthy, and yes, feel relatively happy, without relying on caffeine or any other stimulant. (Remember that if your immune system needs to fight a cold or flu, or if you have added stress in your life, you need more sleep than average then.) Another is if you can wake up without an alarm clock or someone telling you it is time to wake up. And perhaps the common measure is to glance in the mirror. If you look tired, there is a good chance that you are tired and getting insufficient sleep!

Sleep is as vital to life as eating and breathing, which is why benefits of sleep are so extensive.

Sleep is one of the key ingredients to good health. It gives us mental alertness, physical coordination, and restores and rejuvenates nearly every cell in our body. It improves our memory, mental concentration, and creativity. We need sleep. And most of us love it!

Alas, it is not always easy to get a good night’s sleep, and at times, it may be exceedingly difficult. We can begin the blame for that on Thomas Edison, for inventing the light bulb in 1879. Today, we can blame technology, especially streaming TV, the Internet, and the smart phone. Often, we can lay the blame for sleep deprivation on a crying baby, a snoring bed partner, loud neighbors, storms, barking dogs, or a thousand other distractions. Some of us wake from sleep apnea (breathing difficulties), a nightmare, Restless Leg Syndrome, cramps, hot flashes or the need to urinate. Or we wake up and can’t get back to sleep. Or we have trouble falling asleep in the first place. We can put the blame on sickness, injuries, pain, worry and even happiness (such as falling in love and talking into the wee hours of the morning). The list of sleep-robbers is endless and sometimes includes ourselves, for working too late, drinking too much coffee, exercising too close to bedtime, or any of the thousands of reasons that exist today for not getting to bed on time!

Given the benefits of sleep, especially restorative deep sleep and REM stage sleep, the dangers of acute (short-term) sleep deprivation or chronic (long-term) sleep deprivation are substantial One of the most common misconceptions about sleep is that you it is easy to catch up on sleep over a weekend. Sleep deprivation accumulates and like interest on money owed, is not always easy to stay on top of. Sure, you can make up for a bad night’s sleep with a nap or sleeping later the next morning.

As sleep deficits accumulate, especially over time – over weeks, months, years, and decades, both your body and mind will pay the price – sometimes, dearly. An acute (short-term) sleep deficit can weaken your immune system, making you more susceptible to cold and flu. One sleep-deprived night can make you crave sweets and junk food, make you less patient, more argumentative, and more accident prone.

According to one study, people who suffer from chronic insomnia are 5 times as likely to become depressed and 20 times as likely to develop panic disorder. According to Dr. Mehmet Oz, adult women sleeping less than 6 hours a night had a 50 percent higher risk of infection, heart disease and stroke. In still another study, comparing those given the flu vaccination who slept 8 hours in the lab compared to those allowed only 4 hours of sleep, the sleep-deprived participants had only half as many flu antibodies as those who had 8 hours of sleep a night.

Chronic sleep deprivation can cause depression, high blood pressure, polyps, cancer, stroke, chronic inflammation such as arthritis, weight gain, obesity, diabetes, sexual dysfunction, dementia, and Alzheimer’s. And that’s just the short list. Everyone who has studied chronic sleep deprivation – or experienced it – knows how challenging and how dangerous life can be without sufficient sleep.

As stated previously, there are many reasons for both acute and chronic sleep deprivation and consequences. Read the books we have recommended below for a complete discussion of this important issue. Two of the major consequences – increased stress and increased risk of weight gain, obesity and diabetes – are discussed on this site on other benefit pages. Suffice to say here that chronic sleep deprivation is a major contributing factor in insulin resistance and Type 2 Diabetes (one study showed that sleep deprivation makes a person 4.5 times more likely to develop pre-diabetes insulin resistance). It is also a major cause accidents.

People are sleep-deprived, even for one night, may take more risks due to poorer judgment. They also take longer to react. In this way, sleep deprivation caused the nuclear disaster at Three Mile Island and the Valdez oil spill in the Gulf Sea. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, overtired drivers are as dangerous as drunk drivers and cause as many accidents as fatalities: 100,000 motor vehicle accidents a year; and over 1,500 deaths. And neither caffeine nor loud music can compensate for a lack of sleep behind the wheel. They may keep a driver awake – and may not – but they fail to keep the driver’s mind alert enough to make a good judgment or react quickly enough to avoid an accident.

There are over 120 studies about meditation listed on clinicaltrials.gov, which is a clearinghouse of research that is supported by the National Institute of Health.

 

How to Meditate