By Jennifer Waldburger MSW
I did not start my private practice 20 years ago with a specialty in sleep. Instead, I was helping people with everything from addiction and relationship issues to financial worries, illness, and their child’s behavior. What I came to realize though, was how many of my clients weren’t sleeping well in addition to whatever else was going on. I also saw that as much as poor sleep can be a symptom of other imbalances in life, it can also make whatever is hard about life feel even harder. As a longtime practitioner of mindfulness and meditation myself – and admittedly a wonderful sleeper, I began to weave these practices into my private sessions and classes. Lo and behold, my clients’ sleep improved greatly, and helping people to get better rest became a cornerstone of my practice.
Millions of people across the globe struggle with sleep, so if sleep is a problem for you, you’re definitely not alone. The Centers for Disease Control have gone so far as to call insufficient sleep a public health problem, linking it to everything from auto accidents to cancer. So why is poor sleep such an epidemic?
One huge sleep stealer that I see is technology. We are terrified of not being electronically connected at all times. Often we mistake being “connected” with our tech as a substitute for the kind of genuine human connection that sustains and nurtures us – but of course it isn’t. Not always knowing how to move through life’s difficulties can be another huge stumbling block to getting good sleep. We rush through our days making little time to process all that’s happening, so by the time our heads hit the pillow at night, all that’s unresolved comes bubbling up. Then we mentally churn all that’s already happened – or we worry about what might happen tomorrow or in the future. It’s no wonder it can feel hard to fall asleep with so much external and internal noise distracting us.
The good news is that taking steps to improve sleep is one of the fastest and most direct pathways to better physical and mental health, not to mention more energy and creativity – and even a better capacity for being in relationship both in our personal lives and in the workplace. This is where meditation comes in. Meditation can be thought of as a bridge between alert wakefulness and sleep – our brain waves slow down during meditation, and the brain waves measured in deep meditation are actually very similar to those measured in REM sleep. Many people find that meditation helps them relax into sleep more easily and get a better night’s rest.
Meditation helps to create an important and necessary space between the activity and stimulation of our day – which very much includes our gadgets and technology – and the brain and body’s need to power down and rest at night. In meditation, we can let go of our day, and our thoughts and worries, and begin to relax – taking slow, gradual steps toward sleep.
Meditation is the most effective practice I’ve come across to help people improve sleep. It’s incredibly empowering to learn the steps you can take to help your brain and body relax. I look forward to sharing the meditations in our Sleep Series with you to help you get the good quality, peaceful rest you need.