Our resident blogger and friend The Sleep Guru shares her advice on what the key ingredients are to a good nights' sleep.
Working in the field of sleep disturbance, there are a lot of differing opinions as to how to solve sleep problems.
I only recommend those methods I have used myself. I meditate daily, observe Ayurvedic principles, eat clean and healthy food and practise yoga; I know these things work, and I’m passionate about spreading that word as far and wide as possible. One of my passions, of course, is meditation.
In the 1960s, the Beatles went to India and met Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and soon became disciples. The world started paying attention to the benefits of meditation as their photos started being published with this famous yogi. Meditation became widely popular around that time, and this prompted a lot of research into whether it was actually of any use, or just hippie stuff. Dr Herbert Benson, a famous American cardiologist, published a book called The Relaxation Response in 1975. In it, he presents all sorts of research proving that meditation made a marked difference to people’s brains.
From 1975 right up to today, there have been numerous studies proving that meditation helps with relaxation. More recently, studies have shown that meditation can actually change the structure of the brain. The hippocampus is the part of the brain responsible for learning, for self-awareness and compassion, and is connected to the parasympathetic nervous system.
The amygdala, on the other hand, plays a primary role in our emotional reactions. Its function is to mobilise our “fight-or-flight” response, our sympathetic nervous system. A 2012 study at Massachusetts General Hospital found that after just 8 weeks of regular meditation, the actual brain matter of the hippocampus became more dense, and the amygdala actually shrank. The study found that these were long-lasting effects that were not reversed after the 8 week trial. The study showed that participants had all made permanent changes to the biology of their brains, making them less reactive and stressed.
We all know that these days, the fight-or-flight response is not limited to those times when we meet a tiger in the street; we can get worked up over our jobs, our families, the news, death, divorce and a million other things. This study proves that meditation can help us to lower our stress levels.
The vast majority of sleep issues are caused by stress, and meditation, in particular has all sorts of proof showing that it works in creating the peace and tranquillity in the mind and body needed for deep profound sleep.
I’m always saying that sleep is a matter of balance - because it’s something I truly believe. When we are balanced, our lives move with flow, without effort. This includes sleep.