In our busy world, it’s common to hear people say they are tired or that they don’t get the kind of sleep they wished they did. Poor sleep is the cause of all kinds of productivity issues, health challenges, and ultimately burnout. When sleep challenges interfere with our lives and consistently occur for long periods of time, they can become a condition of insomnia.
While commonly thought of as an issue with falling asleep, insomnia comes in many different forms and experiences. One of the most common types of insomnia has to do with staying asleep, which is called sleep maintenance. About 15-20% of Americans suffer from this kind of insomnia.
Rather than relying on sleep medication (unless prescribed by your doctor), or testing out gimmick after gimmick from YouTube, you can clear the stress from your body that is at the source of sleep challenges. Vedic Meditation is a specific meditation technique that uses a mantra to transcend thought and allow the body to rest so deeply that it releases stress memories from the physiology.
THE CAUSE OF INSOMNIA
In the Vedic Worldview, the cause of insomnia is the stress memories stored in our cells. Stress memories are different from the emotion or sensation of stress, since they affect the mind and body long after the stressful stimuli have passed.
The brain creates stress memories as safety reminders during a stressful situation, like red flags to warn the nervous system that danger may be imminent. The problem is that since we experience stress so regularly and over mostly non-life-threatening situations, we tend to build up stress memories and triggers over benign life experiences. As we go through our days, our brains respond to changes of expectation with stress to help us cope more effectively. Our brains also respond to these hidden stress triggers with a stress response to try to prevent us from walking into a stressful situation.
Imagine all the years you’ve been alive accumulating stress and stress memories, all of which are stored in the body and are not fully released from the physiology when the emotions of stress pass. This level of stress accumulation keeps the body on high alert, waiting to respond to a life-threatening event that will (likely) never come.
STRESS RELEASE AND SLEEP
The body does release stress while we are resting or sleeping, but that isn’t the only job it has to do while we sleep each night. Processes of memory consolidation, digestion, and other daily rhythms happen while we’re sleeping, taking away from the body’s ability to efficiently release stress while we sleep. If the body is overwhelmed with stress and preoccupied with stress release while we’re sleeping, we may find we don’t get as deep of sleep or that we wake up throughout the night. The reason stress release may wake us up is the same reason we have thoughts in our meditation: stress release is a physical change in the body. There are signals moving, energy moving through the body to release the stress memory. In meditation, stress releases through thoughts and occasionally through involuntary movements.
This process of resting the body, releasing stress, experiencing mental or physical activity as thoughts or movements during stress release, and waking back up again shows that the body is too overloaded with stress to release to sustain deep rest.
MEDITATION FOR SLEEP
Vedic Meditation addresses this cycle of sleep-disturbing stress release by intentionally releasing large amounts of stress during the day. Unlike most forms of meditation, Vedic Meditation is designed to allow the body to rest in a deep hypo-metabolic state even when the brain produces thought after thought.
The best insomnia meditation will not be the kind that requires you to concentrate and ‘not think,’ since there cannot be active or forced concentration and rest at the same time in the body. Instead, Vedic Meditation uses a meaningless sound called a Bija Mantra, assigned to each meditator by their instructor. This mantra floats in and out of the mind alongside normal thoughts and slowly quiets the mind to transcend thought altogether.
Whether or not a Vedic Meditator experiences thought transcendence or quieted thoughts during their practice, their body will still respond to the mantra by slowing down breathing and resting the body even more deeply than sleep. While the body is resting and the mind is still conscious and awake, the body can process stress without interrupting the body’s restful state. Stress will leave as thoughts while the restful meditation continues.
Vedic Meditation is a twice-a-day practice for twenty minutes in each session, effectively allowing the body to process out the stresses and anxieties of the current day while starting to access and release old stress that has been stored in the cells for years or decades.
PREPARING FOR SLEEP
Vedic Meditators often experience improved sleep within the first week or month of starting their practice. As they release stress during the day, their body is able to rest more deeply at night without as much stress to process during sleep. Though there isn’t one universally best meditation to sleep that will work for everyone 100% of the time, Vedic Meditation will improve sleep quality when practiced consistently over months, years, and decades.
You may have tried a popular sleep meditation that has calming music or a soothing guided experience, but this form of meditation isn’t releasing stress from your cells. It can be effective to change your emotional state, help you relax, or signal to your brain that bedtime is near. But changing emotions and feeling more relaxed will not affect the deeply rooted stress building up in your system.
The way this stress release manifests for most people is that they will slowly stop feeling triggered by the same things that used to trigger them, like forgetting to be upset or forgetting to react negatively to a change in their day. The body and mind build more resilience to stress, and our brains have more computing power to be creative and solve problems. When our minds are fully preoccupied with preparing for a stressful event or maintaining high alert mode, we don’t have as much mental facility with other tasks.
SEEKING PROFESSIONAL CARE
There are times in life when our sleep is disrupted for a season and we need more support than only a meditation practice. Health challenges, a variable schedule, taking care of infants or young children, and/or stressful events in life can all contribute to lower sleep quality for a period of time.
Vedic Meditation can help you to make the most of the sleep you do get by removing the burden of stress release from sleep, so that when you are sleeping your body and mind can rest as deeply as possible. If you are concerned about your sleep, it’s important to seek professional help in addition to a life-supporting meditation practice.
Susan Chen is a former Wall Street research analyst and portfolio manager, so she knows about “the daily grind.” In 2014, Susan learned Vedic Meditation, and before long, she began to feel present and relaxed, and all the years of pushing and stressing lifted. In 2017, after two years of study and immersing herself in a 12-week training program in India with Thom Knoles, Susan was inducted as a Vedic Meditation teacher in the highest order. Today, Susan loves teaching people with big lives and watching their busyness shift from ‘a grind’ to an enjoyable, fulfilling adventure. For more, visit www.meditatewithsusan.com.