High stress levels are known disruptors of sleep, as racing thoughts can lead to difficulties falling and staying asleep. Stress can also lead to an increase in heart rate during sleep, as shown by a recent study observing medical interns exposed to the prolonged stress of their job.
The five pillars of mind-body wellness point to stress-reduction as the foundation for sound health, and for good reason. Prolonged stress-induced increases in heart rate are associated with increased blood pressure, which has negative implications for both heart and general health. When heart rate does not have a chance to decline during sleep, the negative health effects of inadequate sleep are compounded by this direct stress on the cardiovascular system.
There are many ways to manage stress, and meditation happens to be one of the most accessible, and potent, methods. A form of meditation called Heartfulness was shown to be highly effective in improving sleep in patients being treated for chronic insomnia. Heartfulness is a type of meditation focusing on compassion, and as Dr. Gupta says, “compassion is a very strong positive feeling. Constantly bringing our minds back to compassion can create a buffer to stop us from reacting to the stress of the day, thereby helping us to fall asleep at night.” The Heartfulness organization offers a free app, making it easier than ever to begin a meditation practice and improve your sleep and heart health.