“Sleep is the best meditation.” ~ The Dalai Lama to People magazine in 1979
Do you sleep well?
These days, I do. I typically fall asleep quickly and enjoy several hours of deep rest before waking up to go pee once or twice in the wee hours of the morning. I love sleep. I adore naps and typically take them a few times throughout the week.
But it hasn’t always been this way.
I used to be plagued by insomnia due to the vicious thought patterns that came along with my bouts of chronic anxiety and depression.
I couldn’t stop the thought cycles and would toss and turn, huff and puff, and finally get up and get on the computer, stimulating my brain and making it unlikely that I would get any quality sleep that night. At rock bottom, I had become so distressed and ruled by panic that I didn’t sleep for three consecutive nights, at which point I became completely delusional and even suicidal.
According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute:
Studies show that sleep deficiency alters activity in some parts of the brain. If you’re sleep deficient, you may have trouble making decisions, solving problems, controlling your emotions and behavior, and coping with change. Sleep deficiency also has been linked to depression, suicide, and risk-taking behavior.
Meditation changed my waking life and my ability to sleep, slowly but surely.
When I am meditating consistently, I shift from needing eight hours to only needing five or six to feel re-energized and happily awake. Even 20 to 30 minutes can make a huge difference. (And, although it might not affect your need for sleep, as little as five or ten minutes of daily meditation is better than nothing!)
While on my first ten-day meditation retreat several years ago, I found myself sleeping fitfully, tossing and turning for hours with an active mind before finally being able to drift into sweet unconsciousness—only to be awoken by the four a.m. bell for morning meditation.
Learning (thanks to Goenka, the late, great teacher of Vipassana meditation) to just rest and practice horizontal meditation rather than trying to force myself to sleep has shifted my relationship to insomnia forevermore. Now, when I can’t sleep or when I wake up ridiculously early in the morning, I will first meditate (lying down or perhaps sitting up in bed if so inspired). I will read or write or daydream. Usually, I eventually tire myself out and fall back asleep for another hour or two.
Sleeplessness is more than a bummer—it causes all kinds of physical, emotional and mental problems.
The root cause of most sleep deprivation is stress. Hence, eating well, exercising and practicing yoga, relaxation and meditation can help immensely. Of course, a few glasses of wine or sleeping pills or other sleep-inducing substances work faster and require less effort. But we quickly develop tolerance and require more and more of the substance to get to sleep, plus the sleep is lower quality.
Listen to His Holiness… invest your energy into getting consistent, quality sleep. It is, after all, the best meditation.
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Editor: Catherine Monkman