Why Breath Meditation For Sleep, & Yoga For Sleep, Works.
Sleep Expert Matthew Walker Review:
Every animal species needs sleep.
Get your REM sleep for creativity, problem solving, and more. (REM sleep is dreaming sleep). But more importantly maybe, you’ll otherwise have a dirty brain! I’ll also cover the best yoga for sleep, and pranayama for sleep. In fact, pranayama can also be seen as breath meditation for sleep, or many other benefits you may want. As you may know, pranayama is also a type of very effective guided meditation for sleep, and much more.
A few years ago, I (Chris Lalor) went on a nighttime scuba dive. I was shocked to see a shark sleeping on a rock ledge. (I didn’t hang around!)
Mathew Walker, the renowned sleep scientist, explains why, in his fascinating book “Why We Sleep: The New Science Of Sleep And Dreams”. He says that every “animal” species studied to date engages in sleep.
Walker’s book is a fascinating read. Afterwards, you will be much less inclined to take sleep for granted, or skip it. So here is my review of his book, including what it means for finding the best yoga for sleep, or the best pranayama for sleep.
Not all species experience all stages of sleep. Nevertheless, it seems every species, including humans, experience NREM sleep. It’s the non-dreaming stage of sleep.
Only some species experience REM sleep. (It’s dreaming sleep). During REM sleep, the brain paralyses the body, and makes it limp. Many species, like aquatic mammals (such as whales), for example, that need to surface to breath, don’t engage in REM (dreaming) sleep.
Humans need both types of sleep
It turns out that in order for us humans to lead a long, healthy, and productive life, we need to engage in both NREM and REM sleep.
NREM sleep is essential. Mathew Walker explains that it helps “transfer and make safe newly learned information into long-term storage sites of the brain”. In short, sleep aids memory.
REM sleep, on the other hand, fuels creativity. Keith Richards, from the Rolling Stones, knew that his sleep was hugely creative.
As a result, he slept with his guitar and recording tape close by. He often woke with a new riff in his mind. He immediately recorded it, and then went back to sleep.
REM sleep is also that part of sleep that lets us solve seemingly intractable problems.
In other words, after a good nights sleep, and one that has sufficient REM sleep, you have much more chance that a solution can be found to whatever problem you have.
How much sleep do you need?
The many negative impacts of poor sleep make it critical to do all you can to improve sleep quality – watch video.
Professor Walker says the research shows we need seven and a half hours, to eight hours, of sleep each and every night.
The amount of sleep we need each night is non-negotiable. We cannot party a few nights of the week, stay up late working, or watching movies, or reading books on our tablets, and hope to make it up at the weekend.
So your need for sleep is also non-storable.
We need to sleep in a time frame that delivers both NREM and REM sleep.
The tragedy is that so many of us fail to get this amount of sleep. So many of us fail to realise just how important sleep is in terms of immune system health, and in terms of protecting us against a whole range of serious health conditions.
Sleeps nourishes your brain
During the night, sleep nourishes the brain in different ways, and at different times. In other words, different periods of your sleep do different things.
Mathew Walker describes the complex and amazingly ordered series of stages that the brain undertakes each night we go to sleep.
For instance, there are a number of stages, such as light NREM sleep, deep NREM sleep, and REM sleep.
Loosing out on any one of these types of sleep will cause brain impairment and impact your physical and mental health.
In addition, for instance, if you don’t have enough REM (dreaming) sleep, then creativity is impacted. Learning this helped me understand why the immense creativity of so many rock stars dried up after years of nocturnal, party life.
NREM sleep, for memory
NREM sleep is the time when we receive the most help in terms of superior memory retention.
Studies have shown that early in the night is the time when sleep is rich in deep NREM sleep (or so-called Stage 1). This is the time when you receive the most help in terms of superior memory retention.
Then memory skill refreshment takes place again in the last 2 hours of an 8-hour sleep. (It’s so-called Light NREM stage 2). Walker notes that in our modern world many of us cut short these last 2 hours.
As a consequence, many of us are missing out on a time that can significantly enhance motor skill memory, restore energy, and help with muscle fatigue.
REM sleep, or dream sleep, for creativity
REM sleep inspires creativity and promotes problem solving.
Walker says that the time of the night when REM rich sleep takes place “has led to some of the greatest feasts of transformative thinking in the history of the human race“.
The old saying that “I’ll sleep on it”, has plenty of substance!
It is during this dreaming state where the brain is responsible for bursts of creativity. During REM sleep there is a very strong activation of those parts of the brain that control visual motor, emotional, and autobiographical memory.
Those part of the brain that control rational thought (prefrontal right and left prefrontal cortex), become deactivated.
During REM sleep the brain is also engaged in intelligence gathering. In turn, that inspires creativity and promotes problem solving.
Use yoga for sleep to soothe your emotional edge
As well as what I’ve outlined above, REM sleep acts like a soothing balm to dilute the emotional edge of our daily life.
According to Mathew Walker, when we enter REM dream sleep each night, its the only time that the key stress hormone (noradrenaline) is completely shut off.
Walker suggests that REM (Dream) sleep is designed to act as a soothing balm to lesson with the emotional edge of our daily lives.
REM sleep gives us time to heal emotional wounds.
You can already start to see why you and others can be angry or upset people when you are short of sleep.
So, using pranayama for sleep, which is a type of guided meditation for sleep, could save or enhance many careers. Below, I’ll discuss more about why Walker’s research show how it works. The same goes for yoga for sleep.
How many grumpy or difficult people do you know who are very talented, but immensely short of good sleep!
Do you remember the incident when Prime Minister Kevin Rudd “lost it” with a poor Flight Attendant who served him a meal that was not hot enough?
Given Mr Rudd’s prolific work habits, his nickname for Kevin 24/7. Maybe he would have been better served by getting more sleep. Maybe the same goes for many.
Emotional rollercoaster as a result of inadequate sleep
Inadequate sleep causes the brain to revert to a primitive pattern of uncontrolled reactivity.
Mathew Walker details the results of a number of studies where participants were deprived of adequate sleep.
The participants experienced mood swings, bursts of irritability, feelings of negativity, and bouts of depression. Maybe even worse, they were more likely to engage in aggressive and bullying behaviour.
In addition, studies have also shown how improving sleep quality has helped parts of the population dealing with psychiatric conditions.
Your Glymphatic System cleans your dirty brain!
You may recall the role that sleep plays in helping the optimum functioning of your immune system.
Lymphatic drainage and detoxification takes place when you go to sleep at night, between 10-2pm.
The brain also goes through a nightly cleaning system, called Glymphatic System. This takes place during deep NREM sleep.
A 10-to-twenty-fold effluent expulsion takes place during deep NREM sleep. So when we wake in the morning our brains can, as Walker says, “function effectively thanks to this deep cleaning”.
In short, without enough sleep, you will suffer from a “dirty brain”, with insufficient lymph drainage, or detoxification.
Recently, I spent time visiting Darwin’s main hospital and ICU. In noisy hospitals and ICUs like that, there are are many bright lights, buzzers, and other noise. I couldn’t help but think about how there’s much easy improvement that could be done to make them even better places to recover.
For example, Professor Walker is a strong advocate of cutting all unnecessary light in your bedroom. As a result, I’ve made my own bedroom so dark that I can’t see my hand in front of my face.
Sleep loss leads to a shorter life
Walker’s research has even worrying findings.
He says sleep loss impacts the proper functioning of every system in our body. These include your cardiovascular, metabolic, immune, and reproductive systems.
Walker sums up his findings of the impact of sleep deprivation, by concluding that sleep deprivation will lead to a shorter life. So his book is sobering reading.
He pays special attention to what he calls the common culprit. He means an overstimulated sympathetic nervous system.
Those of you who already know about yoga, and it’s impact on your nervous system, may be especially pricking up your ears, so to speak.
Overactive sympathetic nervous systems
When thinking about the best yoga for sleep, pranayama for sleep (or breath meditation for sleep), Flametree yoga students have heard me regularly talk your parasympathetic nervous system.
In this regard, Professor Walker discusses the relationship between sleep deprivation and an overactive sympathetic nervous system.
It turns out that getting adequate good quality sleep lets us switch off the sympathetic nervous system. So that’s what you should consider when looking for the best yoga for sleep, pranayama for sleep, (or breath meditation for sleep). In other words, good quality yoga, will work at this level.
Therefore, you need yoga, such as good quality restorative yoga, that helps you access your parasympathetic nervous system.
In addition, sleep helps us reboot our nervous systems. Among other things, it stops the chronic increase in cortisol (the stress hormone). I’ve already talked about how cortisol reduction is a key factor in weight loss.
It also has a calming effect on your heart, and on blood pressure.
So sleep deprivation has a major impact on your metabolism. For instance, it impacts diabetes, weight gain, and a worsening gut microbiome.
Therefore, these are just some of the factors that Mathew Walker considers, via his immense research, that can be addressed through improving the quality and quantity of sleep.
I use yoga, & Breath Meditation For Sleep, every day
Reading Walker’s research has changed my own yoga and breach meditation practices. I’ve been using mindfulness meditation (pranayama) for years. So have quite a few younger and older adults who come to my classes in such breathing exercises.
Together, it has all helped me get into the present moment, get more deep sleep, more restful sleep, decrease my heart rate, and more. In fact, I find it impacts every body part, including having a faster relaxation response.
After a busy day though, or even if I read disturbing bedtime stories, I can still easily experience sleep disturbance and sleep problems. So as well as breath meditation techniques, I focus on good sleep hygiene.
By paying attention to such sleep issues, I do now usually get the sort of healthy sleep that Walker describes.
Pranayama for sleep has become my guided meditation for sleep. As a result, I don’t need yoga nidra, sleep music, cognitive behavioral therapy, insight timer, white noise, body scan meditation, tai chi, or the many other things you may have heard about.
Before I sleep however, even though I don’t use gratitude meditation, I do like to remind myself of three things I’m grateful for.
Maybe I am especially fortunate in that I don’t have any sleep disorders, high blood pressure, chronic insomnia, or other medical conditions.
From the time I started yoga, I’ve found that there practices give me huge benefits, especially mental clarity. In my opinion, they are a natural sleep aid.
Types of meditations for yogic sleep
My “honest guys” opinion, and personal research, is that a regular breath meditation practice, and the better sleep as a result, is likely to even help with a wide range of medical condition situations. Walker’s research indicates the same.
In this regard, I’ve not found that positive affirmations are needed. A mindfulness practice, in the specific way you can experience in our Flametree classes, is likely to make a huge difference for you.
The deep breaths we do in practices like viloma pranayama, for me, is the best guided sleep meditation I have ever found.
In this regard, I also don’t find a need for background music, sleep stories, or other forms of meditation.
However, as I already mentioned, I have a specific bedtime routine. I also occasionally do middle of the night yoga postures. Try our classes for ten free meditations on your breath, and see what you think.
Best yoga & meditation for sleep
As a practice, yoga makes you more mindful, and more aware of how all our actions impact every part of our lives.
When we stay up late, it affects our health. In addition, when we wake too early in the morning, it affects our health.
Furthermore, when we read our electronic devises close to bedtime it affects the quality of our sleep.
A yoga practice helps us switch off the sympathetic nervous system. It controls so-called “fight or flight”. In the process, it deals with the over-stimulated sympathetic nervous system that Walker describes.
Furthermore, yoga switches on the parasympathetic nervous system. It’s the so-called “rest and digest” part of your nervous system.
Therefore, a practice of both asana and pranayama for sleep (or so-called breath meditation for sleep), can help us wind down and get calmer, via getting better sleep.
There are also many simple supported poses that can be done each night to help chill you out. Some are shown on this page, as well as in our other blog posts and Facebook Posts. These can even be done during the night, if we wake up with our mind racing, or feeling anxious.
Ideally, do both yoga and pranayama. Although the latter may sound daunting, many types of it are just another simple guided meditation for sleep.
You don`t need to spend a long time at these poses. Choose to do 3 or 4 poses, and stay 5 to 8 minutes in each.
In other posts on sleep, we have outlined how to do these simple restorative poses. In particular, check out the Legs Up The Wall pose, or variations of Bridge Pose (with blocks or bolsters).
Try these classes for a special impact on your sleep.