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In search of some shut eye? Give meditation a try


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by Diana Lang

One of my students called me the other day from Paris, requesting that I send a copy of my meditation CD to her as quickly as possible. She asked if I would send it overnight for her 7-year-old son. It was an emergency, she told me. They had forgotten it at home in Los Angeles, and her son just doesn't go to sleep without it.

I mailed it out, smiling to myself. What a great honor, I thought, that this little guy uses my meditation to help him fall asleep. He is tapping into one of my primary intentions when I originally designed the compilation: for the listener to feel calm and safe. I know, from 30 years of teaching meditation, that in order to meditate, we need to get the body and mind calmed down so we can move into deeper places in ourselves. Quiet the mind and the rest will follow--including sleep.
 
We are all running around pretty ragged these days, managing families and work. Our minds become overtaxed and overwrought with anxieties over our children, our finances, and various other issues. Many of us are living in such a state of nervous anxiety--sometimes even chronically--that when we finally lie down after a long day, we still can't let go of our mental restlessness. We end up staring up at the ceiling, hoping desperately to fall asleep. Even the worry that we can't fall asleep just creates another anxiety, and the whole cycle of consternation is reignited again.

Studies led by Herbert Benson, MD (author of "The Relaxation Response") at Harvard Medical School, show that relaxation techniques like deep breathing and meditation help to relieve the effects of chronic sleep-onset insomnia. We can take advantage of this in our lives right now by practicing deep breathing and by creating an inner stillness that is conducive to sleep.

Ironically, as life moves faster and faster, there is a higher likelihood of insomnia. You'd think because we are doing more, we'd be more tired at the end of the day. But, it's not physical labor we are mostly engaged in. We're not farming and working with our bodies as much as we are sitting in front of computers or in traffic. Life has become more of a mental exertion than a physical one, so that means we need new tools to deal with this agitated and amplified mental whirling. We can find ourselves wondering after staring at a computer screen all day: how do we turn it off?

If we are worn out during the day from not sleeping at night, we are going to find ourselves feeling weak and not putting our best foot forward. A kind of sleep-deprivation mode sets in. This can weaken our immune systems, making us more susceptible to colds and the like. In this state, our minds are not as focused or alert on things we need to be "up" for. We can find ourselves constantly trying to keep up, catch up, and move up the rungs of a ladder that seem to climb upward to infinity.

The whole trick is to slow down. Somehow, someway, right in the middle of everything, take a deep breath. This will give you much-needed perspective. It will open your heart again and reconnect you with what is truly meaningful to you. And meditation can become like a lullaby, reminding you that everything is okay and that you can relax.

By meditating, you can learn to go into deeper states of relaxation and even inspiration. You can create a state of relaxation that will help your body heal, or simply fall asleep. However you choose to use meditation, remember, it is a simple, drug-free and inexpensive alternative to insomnia.

Editor's note: Diana Lang's column appears on Mondays. For more information on Lang, the relaxation expert at StrategiesforNurseManagers.com, please visit her Web site at www.dianalang.com.