1. What Is Meditation
Meditation is a practice in which an individual uses a technique – such as mindfulness , or focusing the mind on a particular object, thought, or activity – to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state.
Mindfulness meditation, as a mainstream meditation type, has a long history in multiple religious traditions and acquires huge popularity worldwide. People use meditation to help fall into sleep because they believe it can reduce pain sensitivity and stress so as to create an advantageous mood condition for sleep. And there is something behind this. A 2014 research thoroughly studied the relationship between meditation and pain reduction, and previous related studies. Although the result showed that the neural mechanisms responsible for the effects of meditation have yet to be elucidated in detail, it can be confirmed that meditation reduces pain-related neural activity in the certain parts of brain, like the thalamus, a small sensory structure in the brain. Another experiment compared the pain sensitivity to individually adjusted thermal stimuli of 13 experienced Zen meditators and 13 volunteers and found that meditators required significantly higher temperatures to elicit moderate pain, indicating that Zen meditators may have lower pain sensitivity and even experience analgesic effects during mindful states.
2. The Benefits of Meditation
As meditation can help reduce stress and other psychological problem, it can further improve meditators’ sleep. Sleep-relative meditation usually involves soothing and calming sounds or music, singing bowl sound and gentle voice of a real person, which can be found in expertised apps. Some studies https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30575050/ have shown a positive link between mindfulness meditation and sleep improvement.
In addition to treat some sleep disorders related to mental health, meditation can also help relax your body, release tension and place you in a peaceful state in which you are more likely to fall asleep.
Contributes to mental health:
Some forms of meditation can contribute to mental health by reducing certain negative feelings like stress, anxiety or depression.
A study made a systematic review and meta-analysis about the psychological effects of meditation programs and concluded that “meditation programs can result in small to moderate reductions of multiple negative dimensions of psychological stress”. And more time spent on meditating and more training with an expert can lead to better outcomes. In another experiment involving near 1300 adult subjects, researchers assessed the anxiety level of the subjects based on the standards including the effects of initial anxiety level, age, duration of practice, regularity of practice, research quality, author affiliation, and type of control group on effect sizes, and confirmed that meditation can significantly help individuals reduce anxiety, especially those with high anxiety.
But what if your mental problem comes from your day-to-day work? Is the only solution to stop working immediately? No, meditation can also help! A study recruited 238 healthy employees and divided them into 2 groups, one doing meditation via smartphone app once a day and the other one not. Compared to the latter group, the former one had considerable improvement in depression, job strain and well-being after 8 weeks of trial. And these positive effects were reported to sustain at the 16-week follow-up assessment.
Some form of meditation, like focused-attention meditation, helps increase the strength and endurance of your attention and keeps you focus more. That can meet urgent need of workers and learners in such a high-speed and impatient society.
Studies on this perspective is sufficient indeed. For instance, in a 2018 study, researchers recruited 26 meditators who had an average of 2.9 years of meditation experience and a control group comprising 26 individuals without any prior experience of meditation, and had them perform a 30-min meditation and a rest condition with data collected pre- and post-intervention. The result indicated that meditators show better attentional control.
And the thing is not limited to that. If you are experiencing depression, anxiety, attention deficit, and post-traumatic stress disorder because of abnormal activity in the default mode network(a network of neurons), meditation may reverse some of these abnormalities and benefit meditators with functional and structural changes in their brain.
Helps reduce pain:
Your sensitivity to pain is closely related to your mind state. The more stressful you are, the more sensitive you will be.
Apart from the studies mentioned above, there are more for those with chronic pain. A meta-analysis of mindfulness meditation for chronic pain reviewed 38 studies and concluded that mindfulness meditation does play a role in improving pain and depression symptoms and life quality.
When exerting the same causes of pain on meditators and non-meditators, we found that meditators tend to have a greater ability to cope with pain and even experience a reduced sensation of pain.