‘It was just a dream back then,’ said a friend when he spoke of the yester years.
“‘Just a dream?,” I thought. The importance of something is known only in its absence, it is said; likewise, dreams perhaps matter a lot to those who even struggle to have a good night’s sleep. As is food to those famished, sleep is to those who are deprived of it; who wait for dawn, tossing and turning, all through the night.
But there is good news for all such people: meditation provides the most needed comfort and relaxation; even more than what sound sleep can!
Dynamic world, changed lifestyle, irregular eating habits, anxiety, depletion, depression, chronic illnesses – whatever it be, it has an impact on our holistic life. The four most important sources of energy that keep us up and moving through the day are food, sleep, breath and a calm, happy state of mind.
Despite years of research and advances in medicine, it has been evident that natural healing happens only through what we do for one-thirds of our life – sleeping! It underlines the importance of good rest. Ayurveda states that the main function of sleep is to enhance the ojas or energy that acts as the primary coordinator between our mind and body and provides for a healthy and fulfilling life.
((Such is the power of the human mind. The memories and impressions that are stored in it, need to be rewired in such a way that it doesn’t bother us in the present. Focus sharpens the mind, while relaxation expands it. Meditation is that element, which puts us in touch with that deep peace, free of all past impressions.
Both sleep and meditation refresh us, but meditation can free us from past impressions too!
-Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar))
How much sleep is too much?
There is no one answer to the amount of sleep that a person needs.
While it is said that an average adult needs about 7-8 hours of sleep to rejuvenate oneself for the next day, the quality and duration of sleep depends on the constitution of one’s body. When the body is high on tamas, it asks for more hours of rest; rajas causes increase in activity, lack of sleep and makes one tired; But, when sattva reigns, fatigue would almost be nil and the body would be in a well awakened state, refreshed for most part of the day.
However, sleep cycles vary depending on one’s age and health condition.
For example, new-borns sleep for about 17-18 hours with 9 hours a day in REM sleep, while an average adult spends less than 2 hours in REM, a stage when the brain activity is high. The deeper the sleep, the more peaceful is the state of mind.
Chronic illnesses, anxieties or sleep disorders as insomnia (a hyper arousal of brain activity) have a huge impact on the body’s metabolic rates, optimal health and wellbeing and hence needs to be addressed with utmost importance.
Effects of sleep deprivation on the body
- Mood changes
Sleep deprivation can make one moody and emotional and if chronic, it may lead to anxiety or depression.
- Weakened immunity
Too little sleep can weaken the body's defence mechanisms against germs that cause common cold, flu etc.
- Affects thinking and concentration
Concentration, memory, creativity and problem solving may get affected when the brain cells get tired due to lack of sleep.
- Risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiac problems
Lack of sleep affects the body's release of insulin, a blood sugar-lowering hormone. People who don't get enough sleep are under risk of being diabetic. Insufficient sleep can also lead to a rise in blood pressure, and may cause heart diseases.
- Weight gain
When deprived of sleep, the chemicals that signal to your brain may be subject to imbalance and eventually cause weight gain.
Each of these effects can be alleviated through our ancient yogic practices.
Charaka Samhitha, a Sanskrit text on Ayurveda (Indian traditional medicine) underscores the importance of proper sleep
Consciousness & sleep
The state of our consciousness also has a deep impact on our holistic health.
Studies assert that there is conscious experience in sleep only when we dream. A little bit of practice can help alter the states of our consciousness as needed between jagruti (waking state), swapna (dreaming state) and sushupti (deep sleep state, devoid of thoughts). Meditation helps tap into it and brings a significant difference to our lifestyle, also improving productivity and cognitive performance.
“Nature compels you to go into silence unconsciously and that is sleep. This gives you energy. When you choose to be silent consciously, that is meditation. It gives you more energy and can help open doors to subtler dimensions.”
Meditation for sound sleep: Some interesting techniques
The golden rule for meditation is to be in the present moment. And in that present moment, you tell yourself that you want nothing; you do not want to do anything for those few minutes; and you are a ‘nobody’. That brings you in touch with a deep profound silence, which is the most essential for relaxation.
#1 Breath awareness
A good way to begin is with simple awareness of our breath. Our mind that is as busy as a bee through the day, settles with a few rounds of pranayama or conscious rhythmic breathing. Take time to gently observe the flow of breath, as you inhale and exhale. Observe the effect on your mind and emotions. Learn to let go and be in the space that you create with the breath.
It has a powerful effect on all bodily functions. It relaxes the mind, releases tension and slows down the thought process, giving a pacifying and harmonizing effect, inducing sleep.
Some effective techniques of pranayama includeand . The highlight calms and rejuvenates every cell of our body.
#2 Guided meditations
Guided meditations are an easy solution. There is a wide range available, covering a range of topics. No matter what subject grabs your interest, meditations can expand your horizon and relieve your nervous system. It helps connect you to the core of your being, where there is nothing but a profound deep silence.
Meditation with Gurudev
#3 Yoga nidra- body scan meditation
(yogic sleep) can help bridge the gap between the wakeful mind and sleep. This is a simple process where you gently take your attention to various parts of the body and bring relaxation in a systematic way using the breath. This process is very nourishing and calming and can be practiced for a good night’s sleep.
#4 Mantra meditation
Rhythmic chants or mantra meditation is another effective way for peaceful sleep. Our body is 72 percent water and the vibrations that it carries has an impact on our mind and wellbeing. It is important we ensure positive vibrations are reflected on it through a positive state of mind, positive words and expressions. Vedic mantras and chants carry powerful vibrations and have the potential to alter our states of consciousness.
Gently invoking these mantras calms the system and helps us meditate effortlessly.
The best way to prevent sleep deprivation is to make sure you get adequate sleep, a healthy lifestyle; reduced gadget/ screen time and follow the practices suggested here.
Read here about The best direction to sleep
Learn how to meditate effortlessly in The Art of Living's Sahaj Samadhi Dhyan program.