Insomnia for me was never about anxiety, but more of a challenge for my mind to quit wandering and wondering long enough to lapse into a blissful sleep. Once I fell asleep, I could stay asleep, but most nights, I found myself staring at the ceiling wondering what I would have for breakfast, where I'd start tomorrow's run, and what great inventions were a direct result of NASA. Yes, sometimes I even wondered about NASA when all I really wanted was to sleep.
A doctor recommended meditation, and having nothing to lose and everything to gain, I started to try it. I experimented with meditation and found myself enjoying the process, even on the days that I felt like I had failed. Spoiler alert: you can't fail at meditation. Even days you feel less clear-headed than others, you still reap the advantages. For me, the most prominent advantage was deep, restful, and immediate sleep.
As my practice became more consistent and I became more comfortable with the idea of not obeying every thought or question I suffered while I tried to sleep, I was falling asleep more quickly and staying asleep longer. Even the process of falling asleep was more pleasant. Instead of staying awake and judging myself for not being able to fall asleep, I enjoyed the relaxing process of actively not engaging with my thoughts. If you've had trouble falling or staying asleep, you literally have nothing to lose by trying meditation.
Meditation is free, and you can do it alone, anytime, and anywhere you need a few minutes of peace or sleep. If you're new to meditation, there are really only three rules you need to know to make it help you fall and stay asleep:
- Know that you're going to have thoughts. Your mind is intentionally designed to always be thinking. When you find that you're having a thought, don't get discouraged and quit. Instead, just acknowledge the thought and watch it float away. The point of meditation is to acknowledge your thoughts, and then let them go, instead of letting a thought take you on a wild goose chase that ends at NASA.
- Be consistent. Like exercise or a healthy diet, you don't become calmer and more adept at sleeping by meditating once. Every day that you meditate, your brain becomes a little more acclimated to the idea, and your body will begin to recognize that dark, quiet time as time to fall asleep. Making meditation part of your nightly bedtime routine will strengthen your practice, and you'll find the process getting easier and faster each night.
- Keep trying. There will still be nights and even weeks where your mind wants to wonder about work or the future. Instead of becoming frustrated, though, a consistent meditation practice will allow you to keep trying to reach back into your reserves and find the peace of acknowledging and letting go of thoughts that keep circling, preventing good sleep.