Sleepylicious: Meditation and insomnia

Baby trying not to wake up

I went to bed last night at 9 p.m., before it was even completely dark here. Thanks to a particularly intense bout of insomnia, however, I figure I only got about three hours of actual sleep. This should have been a problem since Tuesdays are my day to wake up at 3 a.m., assist at the shala, and then practice (and then head straight to work).

But a strange thing happened when I woke up, and continued throughout the work day — I felt fine, and wasn’t dragging the way I normally would with that amount of sleep. (I get 5-6 hours most days, and 7-8 hours one day a week. I’ve learned that anything less than five doesn’t feel very good.) I’m sure the morning Mysore practice did wonders for my energy level, but I’m also wondering if practicing a specific meditation technique while in bed had also helped. A couple evenings ago I happened to see a tweet about a new blog post by Shinzen Young on insomnia:

Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep is a very common complaint. Mindfulness can help but one must first radically revision the nature of the problem.

People tend to get into a negative feedback loop with insomnia: Not getting to sleep leads to worry, leads to further difficulty sleeping, leads to more worry, leads to…. What to do? One possibility is to start thinking about the night in a different way. This is a conceptual reframing, a profoundly different paradigm regarding the issue of sleep.

The normal paradigm is:
“I have to get a good night’s sleep or I’ll be a mess tomorrow”.

The new paradigm is
“If I get a good night’s rest, I’ll be fine tomorrow”.

Amazingly, it’s possible to get a good night’s rest without necessarily sleeping much or at all. Two things are required:

(1) that the body get rest by lying very still and corpse-like.
(2) that the consciousness get rest by engaging in a systematic focusing technique.

He offers concrete recommendations in the rest of the blog post. I hope I don’t have much opportunity to practice the recommendations — I’ve spent years of my life fighting with insomnia — but I am grateful to have something other than reading or drinking warm almond milk to try the next time I can’t sleep.

(Photo credit: Via Lars Plougmann’s Flickr photostream)

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2 thoughts on “Sleepylicious: Meditation and insomnia

  1. Thank you for this post, I feel like I could have written it. I am an ashtangi that realized that I just don’t require as much sleep as most people. I get bouts of insomnia (including last night before I had to teach mysore), but as long as I lay on my back, try not to move much–never put on computer or tv–and focus on my breath for most of the time (there are moments when I do feel short anxiety freakouts about not sleeping), I feel completely fine the next day. Even if this continues for several days (which it often does), my yoga practice, and ability to truly rest my body and mind without going into REM, keeps me productive and sane during the day. I’m glad to know there’s other people out there like me!

    • I can’t tell you how many times in just the past month alone I’ve thought of your comment to this post, as I was hurrying to bed knowing I would be getting slightly less than six hours of sleep… :-) Hope all is going well for you!

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