“Sleep’s what we need. It produces an emptiness in us into which sooner or later energies flow.”
– John Cage
Sleep is vital, but at least of half of people over 65 suffer from some kind of sleep disorder. One of the most common is sleep fragmentation – waking up multiple times during the night. This leads to a lack of deep, restorative sleep. Poor sleep and lack of sleep can lead to other health problems like depression and has even been linked to dementia.
Aging often disrupts your slow wave sleep (SWS), the deepest non-REM sleep. This leads to sleep fragmentation, meaning that most seniors don’t get as much deep sleep as they used to. One way to improve your sleep patterns and get better, deeper sleep is by meditating. Research shows that meditation can lead to more time in SWS. Aging also decreases melatonin production, but meditation has been shown to boost melatonin levels, too. Meditation can also help lower stress levels and improve your mood. Here are seven meditation exercises to help enhance your sleep quality and improve overall wellness.
Relax Your Mind with a Sleep Mantra
Create an affirmation to repeat to prime your mind for a good night’s sleep. Your sleep mantra can be something like, “I am relaxed and still,” or “I let the day go and welcome sleep.” Repeat your mantra 20 times before bed, focusing only on the words and letting other thoughts and worries about the day leave your mind.
Adjust Your Posture
Take a cue from mindfulness meditation and focus on your body, and nothing else. Take inventory of how your body is positioned in bed. Start at your scalp and work down to your toes, mentally checking for any discomfort of misalignment. Adjust your body or use pillows to support your legs, shoulder, hips, or any area that feels uncomfortable.
Focus on Your Breathing
Once you’re comfortable in bed, bring your attention to your solar plexus – the area just below your sternum. Then tune into the rhythm of your breath. Focus on your breath, and be aware of your stillness.
Neutralize Your Thoughts
As you fall asleep, calm your mind by thinking about something neutral. Try not to let your thoughts – especially negative ones – take over. Count your breaths, starting at 10 and moving backward. Or try counting backward by threes. Focus on each number, giving it your full attention.
Focus on Quiet Sounds
Tune into the sounds in your nighttime environment. Notice them, but don’t name them or judge them. Then let each sound go and try to locate an even quieter sound. See if you can hear your own breathing or even your heartbeat.
Meditation teaches us to be aware of our thoughts. As you lie in bed, try to notice the moment you move from wakefulness to sleep. It’s ok if you aren’t aware of it every time; the meditation is in the attempt at mindfulness.
Listen to a Recorded Meditation
Guided meditation is when you listen to another person who leads you through mediation. Have recorded, guided meditations ready at your bedside, on a CD player or on your phone. When you can’t sleep, try to relax by listening to one. Search the internet or your local bookstore for good recorded meditations.