Contemplative practice has many effects on the mind and body, including alterations of sleep. Today’s Research News “A Randomized Controlled Trial of Mindfulness Meditation for Chronic Insomnia.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4153063/pdf/aasm.37.9.1553.pdf
provides empirical evidence of the effectiveness of a mindfulness based therapy in treating insomnia.
But, how can mindfulness practice that occurs in the awake state carry over to affect the sleep state? It appears to work psychologically and also physically.
A common symptom of insomniacs is a waking psychophysiological arousal. That is the individual is in a perpetual state of heightened alertness with higher heart rate, blood pressure etc. This makes it difficult to relax to go to sleep. Mindfulness training is known to induce a state of reduced arousal. Hence, by reducing physiological arousal mindfulness training makes it easier to relax and go to sleep.
On the psychological side rumination about the past or anxiety regarding the future can interfere with sleep. Mindfulness training is known to reduce both. Worries about the past tend to subside when the individual becomes more oriented to the present moment. This is also the case for anxiety and fear about the future. So, mindfulness training tends to reduce these psychological inhibitors of sleep onset.
Finally, insomnia can lead to anxiety about sleep itself. This is stressful and can produce even more anxiety about being able to sleep. This can become a vicious cycle, where not being able to sleep induces anxiety and stress about going to sleep which in turn makes it harder to go to sleep which reinforces the anxiety and on and on. Mindfulness training appears to reduce the anxiety, breaking the cycle, making it easier to go to sleep which then further reduces the anxiety.
So, practice mindfulness even though it’s a snooze!