Meditation as a Sleep Aid?

I’ve come to a place where sleeping through the night happens when it happens.  Some nights, I’m fortunate enough to sleep-through naturally, no aids. Other nights I choose from an arsenal of sleep aids—“Hmmm…,” I ask, “which one of you will assist me in drifting back to sleep tonight?”

Just to clarify, I’ve dealt with insomnia for more than 20 years. Trazadone, Ambien, hot milk, late night talk shows, white noise, and just plain tossing and turning are some of the things I’ve done to attempt to sleep. Some things work better than others so I’m alway skeptical about suggestions from others. My trial with meditation came from reading Thich Nhat Hanh and trying  his suggestion to meditate a little everyday.

So back to my arsenol of sleep aids. Adding the act of quieting my mind through meditation has helped immensely.  I simply focus on my breathing, as is the key in meditation. I say to myself, “breathing in, breathing out,” and of course focus my attention as I say these focal phrases on actually breathing in and then breathing out – and so far, it’s been surprisingly effective. Should a bout of insomnia attack, I am now able to get myself back to sleep about 2/3 of the time through meditation.

Imagining the air flowing into and out of your nostrils can also be helpful.  If I start to think about something else, I simply go back to, “breathing in, breathing out.” It can be helpful to take some very deep breaths at first, especially if you find yourself more wired than tired. Give it a try next time you can’t sleep. The more you practise, the better it works.

If you are recent to the world of insomnia its a good idea to take a look at ‘natural’ (as opposed to drug induced) ways to get back to sleep. I’ve included a link to Paul McKenna’s book: ” I Can Make You Sleep” because it gets a 4-plus star rating on Amazon from the customers who’ve tried it.  If the reviews don’t sound convincing there are plenty of other books on Amazon, something that sure to fit your style.

Insomnia: When you’ll do anything for a night’s sleep

zolpidem, an ambiem knockoff
I was having dinner with some friends a few months back and was shocked to learn how different people handle their drive to sleep. Others did not hesitate to take Ambien, Trazadone or even Benedryl should it look to be another night of tossing and turning. I have my own sleep strategies mind you, and have been through tough times- years in length – where lack of sleep infected my daily existence. I’ve also had years following that time period where thanks to a prescription sleep drug I slept like a baby.

Here is the definition of insomnia courtesy of the Mayo Clinic:Chronic insomnia is defined when you have problems falling asleep, maintaining sleep, or experience nonrestorative sleep that occurs on a regular or frequent basis, often for no apparent reason.”

How many people in the US suffer from this condition? There are about 60 million of us.

Why does it happen? Most people I know who have trouble sleeping are dealing with additional stress and anxiety in their life. Add some bad ‘sleep hygiene’ such as coffee late in the day, a big meal right before bed, using one’s bed for work and so on and the recipe for laying awake all night is complete. Then when you add in the ‘frequent basis’ part, you can see why everyone is amiable to a sleep medication. Sure, as a doctor once said me, no one ever died from lack of sleep but what she didn’t mention is that you can lose your mind.

With the help of Trazadone (daily) I slept great for five years. No one needed to tell me that I was reliant on this drug. And then one day, out of the blue I thought – time to get off of this stuff. The timing seemed right for this adventure. I was experiencing a prolonged natural high from the purchase of my first home, work was going well – in short there wasn’t anything at that moment to keep me awake at night. And, worst case scenario, I’d be out some sleep and return to the Trazadone.

Fortunately, with the help of a Chinese herbalist the challenge did work out though I had no idea of the emotional toll it would take. Twice each day for 2 weeks I brewed some smelly herbs in a large pot of boiling water and drank up. My herbalist said that I should avoid taking Trazadone, plus the herbs seemed to be working. Unfortunately there were some side effects to go through since Trazadone is a mild antidepressant. In the end I was able to get off the daily drug use and when insomnia rears its ugly head and threatens to stay awhile I combat it with an Ambien (apparently a very addictive sleep medication so I use it sparingly).

I know that stress and anxiety are the main cause of my insomnia. Recently, however, with all the research I’ve been doing on organic mattresses, I’ve started to wonder if my conventional, chemical laden mattress is playing any part in my inability to sleep through the night.