Meditation for insomnia comes in many different forms. Go with whatever resonates with you to calm your mind and sleep peacefully.
Meditation is the act of training your awareness and attention to achieve better emotional equilibrium and mental clarity. This heightened focus has been proven to decrease blood pressure, anxiety, and depression. And yes, meditation for insomnia helps to dramatically alleviate insomnia1. One study showed moderate improvement in sleep-related daytime impairment in older adults with depressive symptoms when they used meditation for insomnia2. Another meta-analysis showed a moderate improvement in overall sleep quality in over 3,000 participants3.
While meditation was first widely introduced to the western world through hippy culture, it has been around for just a bit longer in other parts of the world. And by a bit longer, I mean the hippies were about 10,000 years late to the meditation party.
Meditation is an ancient tradition that is believed to have started between the 6th BCE and 5th BCE century in Taoist China and Buddhist India4. There are also records from a few millenniums ago in Judaism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism. However, it didn’t reach the west until the 1700s and even then, only became mainstream in the 1960s and 1970s.
It was eventually taken seriously as a medical treatment to treat chronic conditions with the help of John Kabat-Zinn5. Now, meditation is increasingly accepted by the medical community to treat the whole person rather than just physical ailments6.
There are some common misconceptions around meditation. The most common of which is that you ‘fail’ if you don’t clear your mind.
As I’ve mentioned previously, we as humans have a storytelling mind and we can’t really stop or control our thoughts. However, we can start to make a conscious choice of how much attention we give them. By doing this, you find the ‘space’ between your thoughts. It’s a place of internal peace, even if it’s just for a few seconds at a time. And the more you practice meditation, the more time you will be able to spend time in that space of quiet awareness.
Because of its religious roots, a lot of folks also expect meditation to be a connection to their God. While you can choose to connect it to your religious beliefs, at its core, meditation is the practice of stillness – that’s it. You can do it from an agnostic or atheistic perspective, or you can make it separate from your religious beliefs.
There’s also a misconception that meditation should be an enlightening experience of seeing visions or revelling in pure and utter bliss. As the editors at DeepakChopra.com state:
Although we can have a variety of wonderful experiences when we meditate, including feelings of bliss and oneness, these aren’t the purpose of the practice. The real benefits of meditation are what happens in the other hours of the day when we’re going about our daily lives. When we emerge from our meditation session, we carry some of the stillness and silence of our practice with us, allowing us to be more creative, compassionate, centered, and loving to ourselves and everyone we encounter.
There are other common misconceptions, including the requirement that you have to be sitting, or that it should be practiced in absolute silence, or that it takes hours of your time.
While we often think meditation is sitting in a lotus pose on a mountain top at dawn, there are actually several types of meditations. You simply do the one that resonates with you. Some of these include7:
- Mindfulness meditation: engage in the present moment by being aware of your thoughts.
- Spiritual meditation: here, you seek a deeper connection to your God or spiritual beliefs. Other tools are often used in this type of meditation including crystals, essential oils, or an altar.
- Focused meditation: Focus on one thing that engages one of your five senses like watching a candle flame or listening to a certain sound, like binaural beats.
- Movement meditation: instead of sitting, you move through purposeful movement and breathing to experience your body as is. Yoga is a good example of this.
- Mantra meditation: you repeat a phrase to yourself over and over. You can do this out loud or in your head to focus your attention. The most common is the “Om” or “Aum” sound, though it can be anything else that is meaningful to you like “calm in, tension out” or a personal affirmation.
- Transcendental meditation: Founded by the Maharishi Foundation, transcendental meditation claims to be an effortless form of meditation that uses “alpha” brain waves. To find out the specifics, you need to register for their course.
- Progressive relaxation: as we discussed in week 1, this is where you focus on parts or sections of your body and first tense them then relax them, or just relax them once you think of each part.
- Loving-kindness meditation: Imagine yourself being completely at peace and feel nothing but love for your physical, mental, and emotional states. You are perfectly content just the way you are. Here, you pick at least three phrases for yourself such as “May I be happy”, “May I be calm”, “May I be peaceful”, etc.
- Visualization meditation: not to be confused with the concept of visualization where you picture success, visualisation meditation is when you imagine some place, someone, or a specific state of mind.
How Long Should You Meditate?
My therapist told me that the ideal time, which was determined scientifically was about 26 minutes (I think). But she said that you do what you can do. Aim for 10-12 minutes to start. But some days if you can only get 3 minutes, then be happy with that. The most important part is consistent practice. Ideally every day.
I will discuss mindfulness meditation in week 5, but have already touched on progressive muscle relaxation in week 1.
Here we will dive a little bit into the last one, visualisation meditation.
Bus Driver Meditation for Insomnia
This one is a personal favourite of mine.
To start, you take 10 deep breaths to calm your mind down. Next, imagine yourself as a bus driver. Your passengers are your thoughts and feelings.
You may find that some of these “passengers” are loud and angry. Others are tense and anxious, others despondent, sad, or contemplative. Others are perfectly content. Your goal here is to accept them as your passengers, not kick them off the bus.
As the bus driver in control, imagine yourself as being perfectly calm and neutral presence that wants to help the passengers. You “see” the one crying and approach it to start a conversation. Why are they so sad? Give them advice in loving kindness, like you would to a dear friend. Go to the next ‘passenger’ and give them the same gentle compassion as the last passenger. Once you’re done, you’ll notice the passengers are still there, but they are more quiet and content.
You’re the Sky/Ocean/Mountain
Think of the permanence of the sky, the ocean, and mountains. For the sky and the ocean, they have been there since the dawn of time and mountains for a few million years. Now imagine yourself as one of these magnificent features of nature.
Just as the sky is blue, the ocean has water, and mountains stand still, you are you. There is an authentic self there. And your thoughts and feelings are like clouds in the sky, waves in the ocean, or wind on the mountain. You notice your thoughts as such, and let them pass by without judgement. They are not part of you, they are just moving through or past you.
A Place You’ve Been – A Relaxing Meditation for Insomnia
Imagine the last time you were somewhere where you felt relaxed and at ease. Picture yourself there: the sights, the sounds, the feeling of the air. Try to bring yourself back to this place as much as you can with as many senses as you can.
📍 Quest #3
Try visualisation meditation, or any of the other types of meditations for insomnia listed above. If one resonates with you that I didn’t go into detail here, I encourage you to look further into it.