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Meditation for insomnia

A person who is relaxed is more likely to get a good night's sleep. Some people with sleep problems try meditation for their insomnia.

The meditative technique, called the "relaxation response", was pioneered in the US by Harvard doctor, Herbert Benson, in the 1970s. The technique is accepted by doctors and therapists around the world as a valuable addition to therapy for symptom relief in conditions ranging from cancer to AIDS.

When our bodies are exposed to a sudden stress or threat, we respond with a characteristic “fight or flight” response. This is sometimes called an adrenaline rush. Because the hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline are released from the adrenal glands, this results in an increase in blood pressure and pulse rate, faster breathing and increased blood flow to the muscles.

The relaxation response is a technique designed to elicit the opposite bodily reaction from the “fight or flight” response, namely a state of deep relaxation in which our breathing, pulse rate, blood pressure and metabolism are decreased. Training our bodies on a daily basis to achieve this state of relaxation can lead to enhanced mood, lower blood pressure and reduction of lifestyle stress.

The relaxation response technique consists of the silent repetition of a word, sound or phrase while sitting quietly with your eyes closed for 10 to 20 minutes. This should be done in a quiet place free of distractions. Sitting is preferred to lying down in order to avoid falling asleep. Relax your muscles starting with the feet and progressing up to your face. Breathe through your nose in a free and natural way.

You can choose any word or phrase you like. You can use a sound such as “om”, a word such as “one” or “peace”, or a word with special meaning to you. Intruding worries or thoughts should be ignored or dismissed to the best of your ability by focusing on the repetition. It is OK to open your eyes to look at a clock while you are practising, but do not set an alarm. When you have finished, remain seated, first with your eyes closed and then with your eyes open, and gradually allow your thoughts to return to everyday reality.

The technique requires some practise and may be difficult at first, but over time almost anyone can learn to achieve the desired state of relaxation. In his book, The Relaxation Response, Dr Benson recommends practising the technique once or twice a day. He recommends not practising the relaxation response within two hours after eating a meal because the digestive process may interfere with the technique.

The relaxation response can also be elicited through other meditative and relaxation techniques. No matter how the relaxation state is achieved, the physical and emotional consequences of stress can be reduced through regular practise.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on June 21, 2017

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