sleep

Can’t Sleep? Try meditation

Sharon Salzberg, Huffington Post: Throughout my years as a meditation teacher, I’ve encountered many students who come to meditation from a place of acute anxiety. Meditation, and mindfulness practices in general, are scientifically proven antidotes to anxiety and stress, as they are about focusing the mind on what is rather than allowing the anxiety or stress itself to take over, and lead the mind into labyrinths of self-judgment, comparison, regret and other rumination.

Contrary to popular belief, meditation doesn’t always feel relaxing in real time. When I first came to meditation when I was 18, I was experiencing a lot …

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How mindfulness improves sleep

wildmind meditation newsAdam Hoffman, Greater Good Science Center: From the pressures of tight deadlines to anxiety about job security, the stresses of the workplace take their toll far beyond the office, infiltrating our relationships, undermining our thoughts— and often affecting our ability to sleep. In fact, a recent survey found that 85 percent of U.S. workers lose sleep due to work-related stress. And if we’re not sleeping well, it’s easier to get derailed at work and elsewhere.

However, new findings from a research team in the Netherlands suggest that even a small amount of mindfulness meditation can help calm our hyperactive minds and improve our sleep. …

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How meditation can help you sleep better

Esther Crain, Men’s Journal: Not being able to fall and stay asleep at night is frustrating, and there’s no shortage of remedies promising to score you the rest you crave, from sleep meds to eye masks and smartphone apps. But the real key to beating insomnia might be as simple as taking up a new trend in meditation. A recent study from JAMA Internal Medicine found that mindful meditation — the practice of being nonjudgmentally aware of the various thoughts streaming into your brain at any given time — successfully helped adult …

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Mindfulness meditation may help older adults sleep better

Rachael Rettner, Live Science: Meditating may help older adults sleep better, a new study suggests.

The study involved about 50 adults in Los Angeles ages 55 and older who had trouble sleeping, including difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, or who felt sleepy during the day. Participants were randomly assigned to complete either a mindfulness meditation program — in which people learn to better pay attention to what they are feeling physically and mentally from moment to moment — or a sleep education program that taught the …

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Could meditating backfire as a cure for insomnia?

When I find myself awake in the middle of the night, perhaps after a trip to the bathroom or a weird dream, I often practice some kind of meditation to quiet my over-active mind. I’ll usually pay attention to my breathing, or do a body scan, and most times this will help me calm down and nod off.

But could meditating in the middle of the night create its own problems? Someone asked me whether this practice could either lead to us developing the habit of falling asleep during meditation, or keep us awake because mindfulness is so associated with alert attention that we can’t fall asleep.

I don’t think the first is much of a danger; we’re not likely to end up training ourselves to fall asleep in meditation. What happens when we can’t sleep is that intrusive mental activity inhibits the normal physiological mechanism that causes sleep. By being more mindful of the body, we let go of that mental activity, stop inhibiting sleep, and nod off. But in normal meditation (unless you’re already very tired) the physiological mechanism leading to sleep isn’t active, and so you’re not likely to drop off.

Not only can the second problem happen, but it’s something I’ve experienced many times. Meditation isn’t just about relaxation, but involves the arising of counter-balancing “active” qualities like curiosity, interest, and physical arousal. While calmness and relaxation are more likely to predominate when we meditate in order to get to sleep, sometimes alertness will prevail, so that we find ourselves in a “perked up” state that isn’t conducive to nodding off. But if that happens, I think it’s just a signal that we need to take another approach.

I find that visualizing soothing but boring imagery works rather well. For example I’ll imagine rain pattering on the leaves of a tree, on a particularly gray and dismal day. This counteracts the thought patterns and the emotional arousal that prevent sleep from happening, but it makes for a dull experience, and so I don’t get excited about it. I sometimes suspect that I fall asleep just so that I can dream about something more interesting! This isn’t classic meditation, obviously, but it’s a good way of applying the principles of meditation in order to bring about a desired result — in this case a good night’s sleep.

One way that middle-of-the-night meditation has backfired on me has been when I’ve woken from an anxious dream, and taken my attention to the feeling of anxiety. Normally what I’d do is to give the anxiety some compassionate attention, and to sooth myself by being aware of the breathing down in the belly. But recently I’ve found that if I try being mindful in the middle of the night, my experience of the body changes radically. The body’s solidity and sense of form dissolves away, and I’m left with an experience of a translucent cloud of sensations hovering in space. The first couple of times this happened there was a “What the heck?” reaction that led to me remaining awake, seemingly for hours, just observing this phenomenon. But now that I’m used to this happening, I quite quickly get back to sleep again. Perhaps a general lesson is that if using meditation to overcome insomnia doesn’t work at first, keep going. It may be something that you need to persist with.

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Mindfulness-based meditation helps teenagers with cancer

Mindfulness-based meditation could lessen some symptoms associated with cancer in teens, according to the results of a clinical trial intervention led by researchers at the University of Montreal and its affiliated CHU Sainte-Justine children’s hospital.

Mindfulness-based meditation focuses on the present moment and the connection between the mind and body. Adolescents living with cancer face not only the physical symptoms of their condition, but also the anxiety and uncertainty related to the progression of the disease, the anticipation of physical and emotional pain related to illness and treatment, the significant changes implied in living with cancer, as well as the fear of recurrence after remission. Catherine Malboeuf-Hurtubise of the university’s Department of Psychology presented the findings today at the American Psychosomatic Society Meeting in San Francisco.

The researchers asked 13 adolescents with cancer to complete questionnaires covering mood (positive and negative emotions, anxiety and depression), sleep and quality of life. The group was divided in two: a first group of eight adolescents were offered eight mindfulness-based meditation sessions and the remaining five adolescents in the control group were put on a wait-list. The eight sessions were 90 minutes long and took place weekly. After the last meditation session, patients from both groups filled out the same questionnaires a second time. “We analyzed differences in mood, sleep and quality of life scores for each participant and then between each group to evaluate if mindfulness sessions had a greater impact than the simple passage of time. We found that teenagers that participated in the mindfulness group had lower scores in depression after our 8 sessions. Girls from the mindfulness group reported sleeping better. We also noticed that they developed mindfulness skills to a greater extent than boys during the sessions,” Malboeuf-Hurtubise said. “Our results suggest that mindfulness sessions could be helpful in improving mood and sleep in teenagers with cancer, as previous oncology research suggests with adults.”

Differences between both groups were not large enough for the researchers to impute observed benefits solely to the mindfulness component of the sessions. “The social support provided to the adolescents in the mindfulness group could possibly explain observed benefits on mood and sleep,” Malboeuf-Hurtubise said. “Nonetheless, mindfulness-based interventions for teenagers with cancer appear as a promising option to lighten psychological inconveniences of living with cancer.” The researchers intend to offer members of the control group an opportunity to undertake the meditation sessions.

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What are our screens doing to us?

Watch this video. And ask others to watch it.

Of course in a sense our screens are doing no more to us than presenting us with sensory input, or opportunities for sensory input. And so the question is more “what are we doing with our screens,” or even “what are we losing while we are attending to the input from our screens.”

In my case, one of the significant things I’m losing is the quality and quantity of my sleep. I stay up too late reading. I always (thanks to the Zite and Pocket apps) have plenty of thought-provoking articles queued up, ready to read. As a consequence I end up being chronically sleep-deprived. I’m an addict!

I recently tried an experiment in not using screens after 10 PM, allowing myself time to wind down before bed, and also plugging my iPad mini in to charge in the livingroom, rather than taking it to bed with me and having it be the first and last things I interacted with during the day. That was a great experiment. It really felt like I was facing my addiction, and giving myself better quality sleep, which in itself improved the quality of my concentration. And then I did some travelling and there was no longer a separate room in which I could charge the iPad overnight, and when I came hope I just forgot about my resolution.

I can meditate every day without fail. No problem. I can become vegan and stick to it without cravings for dairy. No problem. But getting to bed at a reasonable hour? That’s a problem.

So I’m going back to my resolution: no screens after ten and no iPad in bed. And now I know that when I travel I have to be careful not to blow it entirely. It’s work in progress, and I’ll let you know how I get on. You are my Technology Addicts Anonymous group, and I’m glad you’re there to bear witness to my struggles.

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The compassionate art of taking breaks

At the weekend I read a great article by Tony Schwartz in the New York Times. It was exactly what I needed at that moment to address the problem of being overly busy. The article was about the importance of taking breaks in order to maintain productivity, and it started like this:

Think for a moment about your typical workday. Do you wake up tired? Check your e-mail before you get out of bed? Skip breakfast or grab something on the run that’s not particularly nutritious? Rarely get away from your desk for lunch? Run from meeting to meeting with no time in between? Find it nearly impossible to keep up with the volume of e-mail you receive? Leave work later than you’d like, and still feel compelled to check e-mail in the evenings?

With the exception of the thing about breakfast — I always eat breakfast — this is my life. I’m a bit ashamed to admit it, but checking my email first thing in the morning is what I do. Often there are 30 — sometimes 50 — that have arrived overnight, and I’ve got into the habit of doing triage on my emails as soon as I wake up. I grab my iPad, and I’m off.

I have another bad iPad habit as well, which is of reading on it at night after I go to bed. Because of this I almost always go to sleep later than I should, and then the kids often wake me during the night, or wake up very early in the morning.

And during the day I work more or less continually, usually eating my lunch at my desk. If I’m lucky, my lunch break lasts 10 to 15 minutes. I do of course meditate every day, so at least that counts as a substantial break, but otherwise I’m busy throughout the work day. Sometimes — and you may recognize this in yourself — I get to the point when I just can’t take in one more word. I hit the wall. My brain grinds to a halt and I’m forced to back away from the computer screen. I more or less collapse back in my office chair and wait until my brain has untangled itself from the knot it’s got itself into.

It’s not very mindful or compassionate!

Because this article resonated with me so strongly, I took it very seriously. On Sunday, after my wife had headed out with the kids, I lay down and took a nap. I slept for an hour. And I decided I’d make changes to my work day, too.

Schwartz claims that the brain works on 90 minute cycles. These cycles were identified as operating at night back in the 1950s, and it’s become recognized (he says — I haven’t checked out the science) that these cycles operate throughout the day. That “wall” that I hit is presumably when I’ve pushed past the 90 minutes of one cycle and, failing to take a rest, am now running on empty.

So I’ve been more conscious the last couple of days of the need to take breaks. I’ve been keeping better track of the time, and making sure I program in breaks. I also try to be more mindful of tiredness, so that I’m taking breaks when I need them, and not when the clock says I should have them.

For my breaks I’ve been getting up and walking around, doing the dishes, making and drinking some coffee, going outdoors for a few minutes in order to get a change of scenery and air, and meditating. I plan to add exercising and stretching to my breaks as well.

I’ve still felt a sense of strain in the work day. I think I really go at it when I’m working. But I would have felt much worse had I not taken those breaks.

But all those emails are still going to be flooding my in-box, right? That’s true, but I suspect that I’m just clearer and more productive when I’m better rested, and can therefore deal with them more quickly, efficiently, and effectively. Some of the email I need to deal with is correspondence about meditation practice, and for that kind of conversation you really need to be in a creative space — and that just doesn’t happen when you’re exhausted.

Another change I’ve made is not taking my iPad into the bedroom. This takes away the temptation to read articles or browse social media, and not only do I get to sleep earlier, but I’m probably getting a better quality of sleep because the light from electronic devices is believed to upset our circadian rhythms.

So it’s early days, but I feel like I’m getting more of a handle on my activities, so that I can be more mindful and compassionate toward myself. And that’s going to help not just me, but everyone I’m in contact with.

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Mindfulness as an effective treatment for insomnia

Do you often lie in bed unable to fall asleep? Do you regularly wake up in the middle of the night or too early in the morning? If so, you are not alone. About one out of every 10 adults has chronic insomnia.

Insomnia causes daytime problems like feeling fatigued or being unable to concentrate. Insomnia is associated with accidents, low productivity and serious health problems. It is also an important risk factor for depression. The most common treatment for chronic insomnia is sleeping pills. People regularly take these pills for years, despite troublesome side effects, and without addressing the underlying problems that cause or perpetuate their insomnia.

A study by Cynthia Gross, PhD, indicates that mindfulness training may be an effective treatment for chronic insomnia, providing sleep benefits comparable to medication, but without the side effects.

Mindfulness is hypothesized to improve sleep by calming the body and stopping mind-racing. Approaches to improve sleep through mindfulness include establishing a mindful pre-sleep routine, not spending time awake in bed (e.g. getting up and doing yoga or something enjoyable if unable to sleep), and switching attention from wakefulness by focusing on the breath or practicing a meditation technique. In this way, mindfulness is hypothesized to facilitate disengagement from the concerns of the day, and enable sleep. Although studies by our group and others have frequently shown mindfulness training improves sleep quality, the impact of MBSR training on patients with insomnia had not been tested.

Gross conducted a small clinical trial to investigate MBSR’s potential as a treatment for chronic insomnia. The purpose of the study was to determine if mindfulness training would enable adults with chronic insomnia to obtain clinically meaningful improvements in sleep, comparable to the sleep benefits they might have obtained using an FDA-approved sedative.

Thirty adults with primary chronic insomnia were randomized into two groups: MBSR or pharmacotherapy. Mindfulness training was provided in the standard format of 8 weekly two-and-half hour classes plus a retreat. The pharmacotherapy group was prescribed 3mg of eszopiclone (LUNESTATM) nightly for 8 weeks, followed by 3 months of use as needed. A 10-minute sleep hygiene presentation (i.e. do not watch television in bed, keep the bedroom dark at night, etc… ) was given to all participants by staff at the start of study, and staff contacted everyone weekly so they could report any side effects.

Sleep was measured three ways. First, sleep patterns were objectively measured by actigraphy, a wristwatch-like device that measures movement. Second, participants kept daily entries in a log book called a sleep diary. Third, participants completed questionnaires containing widely used, validated sleep scales. Sleep measures were obtained before the interventions, and at two and five month follow-ups.

By the end of the 8-week program, MBSR participants significantly reduced the time it took them to fall asleep (-8.9 minutes), as measured by actigraphy. Based on sleep diaries, they fell asleep an average of 22 minutes sooner, and increased their total sleep time by about 34 minutes a night by 5 month follow-up. All standardized sleep scales showed large, statistically significant improvements from before MBSR to all follow-ups. No significant differences were found between the sleep outcomes of the MBSR and pharmacotherapy groups, although our sample size was not sufficient to establish that treatment effects were equal.

To evaluate clinical importance, rates of recovery from insomnia were examined. Before treatment, all participants met criteria for insomnia and poor sleep on the Insomnia Severity Index and the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index. By month five, half of the patients randomized to MBSR met stringent criteria for recovery from insomnia. Moreover, none reported adverse events and treatment satisfaction scores were high (averaged 8.8 on a 1 to 10 scale).

Although patients in the pharmacotherapy group obtained similar benefits to sleep outcomes, their treatment satisfactions scores were not high (average 6.1), most continued using sleeping pills to the end of trial, and several reported adverse events. Although sleep outcomes following MBSR compared favorably with conventional pharmacotherapy, the fact that only half of the patients in this study met criteria for recovery at follow-up suggests that there is still room for improvement in insomnia treatments.

Adapted from materials from The University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality & Healing.

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Mindful ways to get a good night’s sleep

Getting a good night’s sleep is vital to feeling energetic and making the most of our days. Some nights, even though we are very tired it is difficult to get to sleep because there is so much going on in our minds. When this happens, we feel stressed and that makes it even more difficult to get some rest.

Here is a list of techniques you may want to use to clear your mind before bed:

1. Write a list of what you need to do the next day. Having the list helps to let go of worrying that you will forget to do something.

2. Practice yoga. Practicing yoga takes concentration so it takes your mind off all the thinking that stops you from being able to go to sleep. Concentrating on the yoga asanas helps to quiet the mind and lying in savasana helps the body to relax.

3. Take a warm bath to relax muscles so that falling asleep occurs easily.

4. Read, but not in bed. Part of the reason we have trouble sleeping is because we work, check our cell phones, work on our computers and read in bed. In order to fall asleep easily, it is important to use bed for sleeping and sex and that is all. That way, when we go to bed, we associate bed with sleeping.

5. Listen to soothing music.

6. If you go to bed and cannot keep your mind from thinking too much,  get out of bed and do something (read, write a letter, fix a broken appliance) until you are very tired and then go back to bed.

7. If you are worried or concerned about something or someone, remember that worrying does not help the situation and think about all the times you worried and what you were worried about never happened.

8. Write down what has happened during the day that was troubling and what was positive – it helps to clear your thoughts about the day.

9. Write in a gratitude journal, a list of things you are thankful for.  Going to sleep in a positive frame of mind will bring sleep sooner and make dreams sweeter.

10. Visualize yourself on a beach, in the warm sun, listening to the waves of the ocean.

It is helpful to have a list of techniques that help to clear your mind before going to bed, so when you are in bed and cannot fall asleep, you know what to do rather than tossing and turning and feeling stressed because you cannot sleep.

I hope some of these techniques will work for you and you will sleep peacefully, have sweet dreams and wake up refreshed.

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