February 8, 2023

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How Sleep Meditation Can Calm Your Nighttime Anxiety

Most of us have experienced insomnia at some point. Tireless thoughts can create stress and frustration and waste our valuable rest time.

Are you ready to gently reset your habitual mindset around sleep so you can ease nighttime anxiety and recover from your busy day the way nature intended?

In this article we will gain a compassionate understanding of why your mind may have developed a reflex to think when it should rest. You can discover how to replace this with a relaxation reflex that allows you to take advantage of calming sleep meditations.

How Sleep Meditation Can Ease Your Nighttime Anxiety

It is clear that you are not reading this article because you enjoy endless nights of peaceful and light sleep. You may have used all the tips for a good night’s sleep, such as:

Have a regular sleep pattern Have a comfortable, dark and slightly cool bedroom Avoid caffeine, alcohol, sugar, exercise and blue light in the evening

Despite this, you have a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep, and you wake up exhausted. You can’t turn off the endless loop of busy thoughts that are causing your nighttime anxiety.

Sleep meditation can help your mind switch from the sympathetic nervous system, which is so important to your daily life, to the parasympathetic nervous system, which enables sleep. A supportive first step in this direction is the development of a daily mindfulness meditation practice.

Of course, there are medical conditions that lead to chronic insomnia. So seek professional help if your insomnia persists.

1. When your day is balanced

After a day with a super busy work schedule or big problems, you fall into bed exhausted.

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Her sympathetic nervous system was on all day. It is needed in the action packed world of your daily waking life. Helpful physiological changes include increases in adrenaline secretion and respiratory and heart rates, contraction of muscles, and dilation of the pupils.

Now it’s bedtime. Your parasympathetic nervous system takes over to balance all of that high alertness and activity by restoring your body to a state of rest and recovery. Your heart and breathing rates drop and your muscles relax.

2. What sleep disorders look like

When these two autonomic nervous systems become unbalanced, the following happens:

As soon as your head hits the pillow, your mind kicks in like a knee-jerk action with a barrage of relentless thinking. It may be:

Rehashing the experiences of the day Regret or anger about something that happened Listing what must happen tomorrow Creating possible future scenarios and how you will deal with them Panic or despair at world events Different forms of worry

Accompanying these stressful thoughts is a flood of stress hormones and chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol coursing through your body, adding to the feeling of stress.

3. Understand your nighttime anxiety

According to research, stress is one of the main causes of abnormal sleep patterns that trigger short-term and chronic insomnia.

Yes, as you suspected, your thoughts create anxiety and prevent you from recovering through sleep. Your mind has you connected to the sympathetic nervous system and ready for action; ready to fight or flee. You fight the tigers of your day, but all in your head and while lying flat on your back!

4. Why can’t I just turn it off?

At an earlier stage in your life, you may have experienced overwhelming emotions such as fear or pain. Without a role model to process or calm these down, your undeveloped nervous system may have slipped into fight, flight, freeze, or tickle responses.

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This will involve a heavy reliance on thinking, planning, brooding, internalizing and repeating situations to try to make sense of your world.

These thinking strategies were all attempts to control and manage your emotions instead of letting them flow through you. They were the child’s best attempts to relieve the overwhelm of an underdeveloped nervous system.

The Incidental Sleep Benefits of a Regular Mindfulness Meditation Practice

Now that you understand why your mind may be stuck in action mode, it’s time to find new ways to turn it off and activate the relaxation response that allows you to drift off to sleep. Here you will learn to replace the thinking reflex with a relaxation reflex.

1. Make the relaxation response automatic

In the 1970s, Dr. Herbert Benson coined the term “relaxation response,” a simple and apt description of the parasympathetic nervous system. He describes it as a deep physiological change in the body that is the opposite of the stress response.

He recommends practicing mindfulness during the day, ideally for 20 minutes, to create a reflex that more easily induces a sense of relaxation.

That way, it’s easier to evoke the relaxation response at night when you can’t sleep. Over time, this relaxation reflex will replace your thinking reflex as a defense against anxiety. The key to this lies in the practice of mindfulness meditation. Let’s see what’s happening here.

2. Mindfulness Meditation – The evidence is there

As any mindfulness meditation instructor will tell you, there are always people who cite a significant improvement in their sleep habits as one of the benefits of meditation.

Studies have shown that poor sleepers who do mindfulness programs have less insomnia, fatigue, and depression than those who undergo sleep training alone.

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You see, the principles you learn when you practice mindfulness meditation also apply to sleep. It allows the parasympathetic nervous system to activate, not strive, let go and perceive thoughts instead of being taken over by them.

In mindfulness meditation you connect with your body in the present moment. Normally, through your breath, you scan your body for and consciously release tension, and you notice thoughts as they arise without realizing it.

How Guided Sleep Meditation Can Calm Your Nighttime Anxiety

Even if you haven’t developed a new relaxation reflex through your daily practice of mindfulness meditation, you can reap the same benefits from a guided sleep meditation every night.

Studies on sleep meditation show improvements in sleep quality, improvement in rumination and emotion regulation, reduction of sleep problems in patients with fibromyalgia, and comparable effects compared to sleeping pills.

1. What is sleep meditation?

A guided sleep meditation reflects the natural dedication to the rest and recovery phase that you so desperately needed. You get a reward. This is what it looks like:

You lie down with headphones or earbuds on and listen to a guided meditation while a person’s warm and soothing tone guides you into a relaxed state. The background music has frequencies specifically chosen to slow your brain into the drowsiness of the alpha waves and then theta waves of sleep.

The guided sleep meditation will usually:

Add a visualization to put your mind in the surrendering, driving state. Acknowledge and notice what happens to the busy thinking mind. Replace that with something else. Bring your attention back to the here and now, usually through breath or body awareness without being taken over by thoughts

Just like mindfulness meditation, when random thoughts pop into your head at night, you have choices. You can jump onto each train of thought and follow it to its final destination, or you can simply remark, “Oh, there’s another thought that needs my attention” and watch it pass.

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2. How to choose a sleep meditation

Listen to one of the hundreds of free sleep meditations on apps or youtube. Find one where the accent, tone of voice, choice of music, and length of persona feel comforting to you.

A youtube search for “guided sleep meditations” provides a wide variety of options to try. Here is an example from hundreds of titles:

A spoken sleep meditation with water sounds. Fall asleep in 12 minutes. Let go of fear before you sleep.

Have fun trying something that appeals to you, but then just pick one and repeat it every night for at least a couple of weeks. This way, the relaxation reflex is activated as soon as it begins. With any luck, you won’t hear anything at all after the first few minutes.

Read more examples here: The 20 Best Guided Sleep Meditations to Help With Insomnia

Final Thoughts

A compassionate understanding of your nighttime anxiety can help you reset your mental habits and take full advantage of the many wonderful sleep meditations out there. Your habitual reflex of immediately resorting to the busy thinking mind can be replaced with a relaxation reflex that will help you rest and recover as nature intended.

Featured Photo Credit: Polina Kovaleva via pexels.com