June 15, 2021

Mindfulness exercises improve sleep and health

A good night’s rest provides mental and physical benefits. Take advantage of 3 free meditations designed to help you fall asleep and stay asleep.

Pranav Shah, MD, a psychiatrist for Kaiser Permanente in Southern California, didn’t always value a good night’s sleep.

“I used to be someone who thought sleep was overrated and that I could get away with sleeping 5 to 6 hours,” he said. “But 14 years ago, I hit a point of near burnout.”

That experience led Dr. Shah to seek a more balanced lifestyle. He developed a passion for educating people about wellness — especially mindfulness and meditation. For the past 10 years, Dr. Shah has actively promoted mindfulness, which involves learning how to be fully present and engaged in the moment, and aware of your thoughts and feelings without distraction or judgment.

“When people practice mindfulness and make it a part of their daily lives, it makes them more resilient and more emotionally intelligent,” Dr. Shah said. “It gives them the ability to go through stressful periods and navigate emotional ups and downs without becoming overwhelmed.”

Guided meditations for better sleep

Dr. Shah’s newfound appreciation for mindfulness naturally led him to look for ways to get more — and better — sleep.

“Sleep affects all aspects of our functioning: emotional, cognitive, and physical,” he explained. “If you get 7 to 8 hours of sleep, you’ll notice a huge difference in how you feel, how much energy you have, and how much better you can focus throughout the day.”

Getting enough sleep is very important to health. Lack of sleep is linked to numerous health conditions, including depression, heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.

Dr. Shah regularly uses sleep meditations and breathing techniques to improve the quality of his sleep, and you can do the same with 3 guided meditations for better sleep by Calm. These meditations help you practice proven techniques — progressive muscle relaxation, body scan, rhythmic and diaphragmatic breathing — recommended by Kaiser Permanente clinicians to help you fall asleep or get back to sleep if your sleep is interrupted.

The Calm app offers many ways to help you sleep better, and Kaiser Permanente adult members can use it at no cost by downloading the premium version through their kp.org account. One Kaiser Permanente member who uses the app said it makes self-care easier: “I find the daily meditation a good way to start the day, and use the sleep tools at night.”

Create a healthy sleep routine

Dr. Shah also recommends daily practices to help you prepare for a good night’s sleep.

  • Create a regular sleep routine. Having a consistent time that you go to bed and wake up every day is a very effective way to help your body and your mind make the shift from wakefulness to being ready to sleep.
  • Find relaxing evening activities. Rather than watching TV in the last hour or 2 before bedtime, try reading a book, listening to music, or taking a warm bath or shower.
  • Avoid eating 3 to 4 hours before bed. Snacking in the evening can interfere with sleep and cause heartburn. If you’re hungry, Dr. Shah suggests sticking to simple liquids such as warm milk, which are easier to digest and don’t stay in the stomach as long as solid foods.

Dr. Shah acknowledges it can be difficult to shift lifelong habits.

“I’m a night owl and I like to stay up at night and watch movies or read or talk, so some of these changes have been a struggle for me,” he said. “But I’ve become more and more focused on the role of lifestyle in helping to prevent diseases and maintain our health. The fundamental building blocks of a healthy life are movement, a healthy diet, good relationships, and, of course, sleep.”

Learn more about how to get better sleep.