Here’s a little secret for ya — setting yourself up for a good night’s sleep doesn’t start the moment you get into bed. In fact, it starts with a sleep schedule and a good sleep environment as well as your mindset and thought processes throughout the day.
If you’re thinking ‘uh-oh, they’re going to talk to me about meditation,’ you’re right we are but WAIT…we promise we’re not just going to tell you to sit still for 20 minutes every day with your eyes closed.
Instead we’re going to talk about how to meditate when you don’t have the time to, well, meditate.
Let's start at the beginning.
Why does everyone talk about meditation?
Well, in short, it’s because it works for lots of different things. Including sleep.
In scientific terms, meditation helps to lower the heart rate by kickstarting the parasympathetic nervous system, the bit responsible for keeping the body relaxed. It does this by encouraging us to slow down the breath, bring awareness to the body and slow down the mind. It works because when the parasympathetic nervous system is in full flow, the sympathetic nervous system, the part that keeps the body active, lays dormant.
In layperson’s terms it means that meditation helps to keep the mind and body calm, bringing with it a perfect state of balance.
Meditation and sleep
While the magic number behind a ‘good night’s sleep’ is said to be around seven to eight hours a night, the truth of the matter is that healthy sleep is more about quality than quantity. More often than not, sleep issues start with a busy mind and when do our minds get the busiest? That's right…bedtime.
Enter meditation. Such a good bed fellow for sleep because that good quality rest all starts with a settled mind.
Start with practicing the one-minute breath
Before we talk about really getting into a meditation practice, we thought we should start with something as simple as the one-minute breath. Why? Well, because there might be days when the thought of having to jam another thing onto a busy to-do list feels like too damn much and almost everyone can spare a minute.
The one-minute breath can be a real game-changer and bring balance to an otherwise hectic day. Plus, it’s meditation at its most simple. It looks like this:
- Breathe in for 5 seconds
- Hold your breath for 5 seconds
- Release for 5 seconds
- Hold for 5 seconds
- Continue for one minute
See? You do have time to meditate.
Bringing meditation into something you already do every day is a great way to fit it into your daily routine.
Do you drive to the office? If you do, spend a minute taking slow, mindful breaths before you start the engine or every time you stop at a red light take the opportunity to inhale for four counts, exhale for four counts until the light goes green.
You can also bring a meditative practice to waiting for the coffee machine to heat up or for the kettle to boil. Grab those small mindful moments when you’d usually be checking your phone to draw your attention to the mind and the breath, and the benefits will soon stack up as quickly as your new habit.
Don’t forget that most Smart watches also have a mindfulness timer or a breathing App on them, which makes taking a moment easy. If you’ve got one, just select the App, sit back and breathe along with the light pulsation on your wrist.
Making meditation a regular thing
Starting a more regular meditation practice can be daunting, as images of cross-legged yogis and Zen masters are often what springs to mind. The reality can be somewhat different because, wait for it, meditation can be done anywhere and at any time. You don’t even have to close your eyes.
So where to start in going deeper into meditation? Well, like most things in life…there’s an App for it. Headspace and Calm are two big ones, and have guided meditations starting at three minutes in length. May not sound like a lot but everyone has to start somewhere.
Start with three minutes on the bus, tube or train on the way to work and three minutes on the journey home, and build up from there. You can listen with your eyes open or closed (just looks like you’re having a snooze) or simply soften the gaze. Start with something short and sweet and see how you feel.
Both headspace and Calm offer sleep stories which, if you find you respond well to a guided meditation, you can listen to as you drift off to sleep.
Meditating for longer
While short, sharp meditation and mindfulness practices are a great way to get you started there’s no doubt that the longer you can settle the mind, the more benefit you’ll get.
Getting deeper into a meditation practice can be done in a few different ways — find a meditation teacher, start to work through courses online or go for the longer guided meditations within the plethora of available apps. IRL meditation groups also bring a different vibe and more encouragement to proceedings so see if there’s one in your local area.
And never forget why a meditation practice has ‘practice’ in the title — it’s a skill that needs to be learnt, and practiced. And so, when meditating, if your mind wanders (and it will), just bring it back, focus on the breath and, most importantly, don’t beat yourself up about it.
The more mindful minutes you can bring into your day, the more your meditation and mindfulness practice will organically grow. Giving you not only a peace of mind throughout your day but a more restful sleep when you climb between the sheets.
If that’s not a win-win then we don’t know what is.