The problem: the modern day sleep crisis
It’s getting harder and harder to have a good night’s rest in the 21st century. A hundred years ago, we averaged nine hours sleep a night. Now we’re down to seven and a half hours and falling.
Meanwhile, our world is getting busier and more demanding with each passing decade, so the demand side of the equation is vastly outweighing the supply side of sleep nourishment.
The simple conclusion is, we are all sleep deprived.
I’ve struggled with sleep my whole life to varying degrees, and I can say wholeheartedly that in the last year (since I started meditating) I have never slept better.
Sharon Kenyon, London
Why are we struggling to sleep?
Modern day-to-day life exposes our nervous systems to a vast amount of stimulation. From incessantly staring at TVs and computer screens and smartphones all day to the artificial light at night. From fast-paced movies and hectic work environments to the whirl of the social calendar and the caffeine and energy drink fixes that help get us through the day.
All these things fuel our nervous systems with an unnatural level of excitement, which can be hard to shake off. From an evolutionary standpoint, we just haven’t adapted to modern life. Our nervous systems are still struggling to cope with all this energy and information.
This in itself tends to trigger a chronic level of background stress in us all. And if we exacerbate the issue with additional burdens and agitators, then the result will often be a poor night’s sleep.
When we lay down at night, the brain detects our horizontal status, goes into rest and repair mode and desperately attempts to unload some of the overstimulation which we’ve been experiencing. The excess stimulation is vented via electrical activity in the brain, causing our neurons to get excited.
The by-product of this process is that we get the all too familiar whirring mind and we either can’t sleep from the get-go, or we wake up at 2 am with an uncomfortable level of thinking racing through the noodle! Either way, we end up with a sleep deficit.
At the same time, high levels of stress-induced activation of the amygdala mean we have lots of anxiety-inducing neurotransmitters flooding our system, particularly between the hours of 2 am, and 6 am, meaning we have those fretful early mornings where we can’t sleep and can’t escape the nervous tension we sometimes feel.
A good night’s sleep is so important.
There are four different sleep cycles that we experience, each varying in depth, length and time of occurrence:
REM. ‘Rapid eye movement’ (REM) sleep first occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep and recurs about every 90 minutes, getting longer later in the night.
Stage 1. This is a stage of sleep that usually occurs between sleep and wakefulness and sometimes occurs between periods of deeper sleep and periods of REM.
Stage 2. In this stage, theta activity is observed, and sleepers become gradually harder to awaken. The alpha waves of the previous stage are interrupted by abrupt activity.
Stage 3. This stage is called slow-wave sleep or deep sleep. Slow-wave sleep is thought to be the most restful form of sleep, the phase which most relieves subjective feelings of sleepiness and restores the body.
Each of these different sleep stages consolidates various bits of information. To be a fully functional human being, it’s essential that we experience all four.
For instance, lots of stage two sleep helps us consolidate motor tasks; REM sleep consolidates emotional information; and lots of slow wave and REM sleep allows us to retain perceptual information more efficiently.
The slow wave, deep phase of the sleep cycle is also essential for rebooting all our bodily systems, which is why a poor sleep quality can have a knock-on effect on immune function, digestive function, our weight, the quality of skin, our memory and our judgement.
The brain is also incredibly energy intensive. While only representing 3% of our body mass, the brain uses approximately 25% of our daily energy supplies. The energy restoration process occurs during the deep, slow-wave phase, which is why a poor night’s rest leaves us feeling foggy and drained.
Sleep is also understood to have a role in cooling brain temperature after a hard day’s computational demands, and for detoxifying brain tissues.
In addition, during sound sleep, we turn off the production of the stress steroid hormones known as glucocorticoids. This is one of the reasons why not getting enough sleep can make us more susceptible to feeling stressed. We end up with an excess of steroid hormones floating around our system. Growth hormone and sex hormone production also diminish when we lose sleep.
Put simply; without decent sleep, we can’t hope to function at our optimum capacity.
Sleep meditation: How does Vedic meditation help?
Vedic meditation can break the cycle of poor sleep patterning by working deep at the level of the nervous system, cleaning out all of the noise, stimulation and daily stresses.
Our neurons are no longer over-excited, and consequently, when we lay our head down, it is carefree and ready to descend into a relaxing night of slumber.
Vedic meditation improves sleep in a number of ways.
This meditation technique lengthens our deep sleep cycles, increases our sleep efficiency and increases total sleep time in those of us who aren’t getting enough sleep.
As a result, once our sleep deficit has been paid off and our sleep rhythms restored, meditators can start reducing the time needed for full restful sleep and enjoy more of the day.
One of the reasons why Vedic meditation is so effective is because it is what’s known as the slow wave segment of the sleep cycle where energy is restored. If you’ve been very deprived of sleep, this is the type of sleep that will be most readily induced when you do finally nod off.
Unfortunately, the body takes considerable time getting there via shallow sleep stages one and two. These are automatically programmed to run as part of the sleep cycle.
However, Vedic meditation will get you to an even deeper state than this in just a matter of minutes, allowing you to reboot and recharge in a very short amount of time. After our morning meditation, we feel whole again and ready for the demands of the day, even if we have only had two or three hours rest.
And as time goes on, Vedic meditation will change the way you sleep for the better.
Vedic meditators develop different and more beneficial brain-wave activity during sleep, improving sleep quality and ensuring that they require a shorter recovery time from any sleep deprivation that may come from living a full life.
Will was first inspired to try meditation because, like many people, he suffered from chronic insomnia.
“It was leaving me so tired and frustrated. I had tried everything under the sun to try and alleviate it, but nothing seemed to work. When a friend told me about Vedic meditation, I thought I had nothing to lose. Within days I was sleeping more soundly. It was wonderful to feel that even when I had a poor night’s rest, I could simply wipe the slate clean with a twenty-minute refresher when the sun was up. I found it so liberating.” Will Williams.
Sleep & meditation: What's the proof?
Research has found increased energy, decreased fatigue and improved sleep to be just some of the positive side effects of practising Vedic Meditation.
Statistically, Vedic meditation has been shown to result in a 42% reduction of sleep disorders. So far, our record is much closer to 100%. In addition to regular forms of insomnia, we have also had a number of successes with sleep apnoea, narcolepsy and night terrors.
Vedic meditation leads to a significantly improved quality of sleep. Studies also show that it results in reduced incidence of insomnia, with an average decrease of 42%.
The practice of Vedic meditation also leads to the release of prolactin, allowing you to feel refreshed and energised every time you come out of meditation.