The Best Meditation for Insomnia to Try Out This Year
In our busy Western 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. Only about 10-15% of Americans suffer from sleep-onset insomnia, which is the inability to fall asleep.
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. In this post, we’ll talk about Vedic Meditation and insomnia over these topics:
- The type of rest your brain craves, and how to achieve it in sleep and during the day
- Why your brain stirs awake if it is trying to process too much stress or information from your day
- How staying asleep is the most important and effective way to achieve real rest, and why apps and videos aren’t a sustainable solution
- The 5,000-year-old art of Vedic Meditation, and how it helps promote the optimal conditions for rest and great sleep
Stress prevents restful sleep
During our sleep, there is a physiological process of releasing stress that can stir you into wakefulness if you haven’t done relief work throughout the day. The body can’t process all the stress of your day (and the lingering stress from your past) during the night, so it wakes up and you experience acute or maintenance types of insomnia.
Through a Vedic Meditation practice, you teach your body and mind to go into deep rest twice a day during waking hours to better process daily stress and sleep soundly through the night.
Before we dive into the best meditation for insomnia, it helps to understand the types of insomnia.
Is sleep onset insomnia or sleep maintenance insomnia more common?
Both sleep onset insomnia and sleep maintenance insomnia are common types of insomnia, but their prevalence may vary depending on the population.
Sleep onset insomnia refers to difficulty falling asleep at the beginning of the night (lying awake at night for long periods), while sleep maintenance insomnia refers to difficulty staying asleep or waking up too early in the morning and having difficulty returning to sleep. In some cases, people may experience both types of insomnia.
According to a systematic review of studies on insomnia prevalence, sleep maintenance insomnia was found to be more common than sleep onset insomnia in the general population. The difference between the two types of insomnia was relatively small though. The review found that approximately 10-15% of the general population experience sleep onset insomnia, while 15-20% experience sleep maintenance insomnia.1
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. For example, if your ex-partner drove a red truck, you could experience a small stress response when you see a red truck on the highway.
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.
The best 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 qualified Vedic Meditation 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.
Can sleep be a meditation?
Occasionally when we’re tired, we will sit down intending to meditate and instead we’ll fall asleep. This is the body’s way of telling us we need more rest, and it’s perfectly ok. Meditation and sleep operate differently, however, and in the Vedic Worldview there is no ‘best sleeping meditation.’
In Vedic Meditation, we sit with our back supported and our neck and head free and unsupported. We want to remain conscious so that the body can efficiently release stress. Ironically, our ability to be awake during our meditations and release stress efficiently will result in getting deeper sleep when we finally go to bed.
When to meditate to release stress
Vedic Meditators practice for twenty minutes in the morning when they wake up, and again in the afternoon for twenty minutes before the evening’s activities begin. We see the most positive results and benefits in meditators who consistently follow this twice-daily meditation schedule, since it allows the body to release the stress of the day along with releasing stress from earlier in our lives.
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.
Listening to our body
One of the benefits of a consistent Vedic Meditation practice is that we begin to be more in tune with our personal needs and with our own well-being. We will begin to sense when something is off long before we have serious symptoms, and we can tell when our bodies are asking for more rest or a break from activity.
The reason for this increased sensitivity is in the experience of transcending thought. When our minds follow the Bija Mantra beyond thoughts and into the place of absolute stillness, we experience pure Being. In this place, our minds are saturated with total satisfaction and are connected to universal consciousness. This experience leaves an impression on our consciousness that grows with each meditation.
As this experience of stillness begins to inform our minds and bodies, the places we overtax ourselves become more obvious. We can easily tell when our bodies want healthier food, more sleep, more alone time, or less stimulation because we’re not just ‘trying to survive’ anymore. Coming from a place of relaxation, we’re less willing to settle for states and activities that leave us feeling depleted.
In the Vedic Worldview, we call this evolution or developing a greater and greater ‘fine level of feeling.’ Rather than referencing the outside world for our sense of happiness, stability, and well-being, we begin to reference our internal world more accurately.
Seeking professional care
There are times in life when our sleep is disrupted for a season and we need more support than only our Vedic 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.
Learn to Meditate
Schedule an Intro Talk with me to learn more about Vedic Meditation and sign up for the Learn to Meditate Course. You’ll start a journey with a simple, effortless, lifelong practice that will help you improve your sleep and may help to alleviate insomnia.
- Ohayon, M. M. (2002). Epidemiology of insomnia: what we know and what we still need to learn. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 6(2), 97-111.