I’ve written before about my struggles to get a good night sleep. Like most people, I have times where I can’t fall or stay asleep.
I’ve tried lots of things: giving up caffeine (that was hard!), giving up alcohol (even harder), getting up at 5:30 a.m. to work out (brutally, insanely hard).
My latest trick has been easy, fun and unbelievably effective: I’ve been using a brain-sensing device called Muse to meditate for 12 minutes a night right before I go to sleep.
Mediating is when you turn off your thoughts — stop worrying about the future, or fretting about the past — and concentrate on the real world around you, such as how your breath feels as it enters and exits your body.
While, there are lots of documented health benefits to reducing stress through meditation, Muse isn’t making claims as insomnia-curing device. I started using it for this by accident. I tried it before bed one day, and was so relaxed, I fell right to sleep. For the past three weeks of using it, I’ve slept great.
Read on for how I made Muse work for me …
Muse is a device that measures electroencephalogram (EEG) brain waves. It can't 'read your thoughts' but it can detect the electrical activity in your brain through sensors.
You put the device on your head and it listens for brainwaves. It can detect five types of brainwaves: Delta waves of deep sleep. Theta waves during drowsiness, light sleep, and visualisation. Alpha waves during wakeful relaxation. Beta waves during alert activity, problem-solving. Gamma waves during higher mental activity like consolidating information.
Muse must have good contact with the skin to work. It took me five minutes or so to set it up, and you have to set up it every time you use it.
The secret to Muse is that before each meditation session you 'calibrate' it with your brainwaves that day by doing a simple exercise thinking about objects in a list.
When your mind is calm enough, you hear birds. Muse measures how often you get distracted by thoughts, how often you get calm again, and how many birds you hear, and then gives you points and badges.
I always thought I was awful at mediating. I couldn't calm my mind for more than a few seconds without daydreaming. Muse showed me that I'm actually pretty good at it. On this day, my mind was 96% calm! Now I know what that kind of calm feels like and how to do it. As you can see, I still had a slight rumble of thoughts in the background but they didn't distract me much from focusing on my breath.
On other days, meditating wasn't so easy. On this day, my mind kept getting distracted. I was only 35% calm.
The reason Muse works is that the app gives you live feedback while using it. So if the birds stop and the 'weather' gets louder, you know you are distracted. You can choose from different sounds like a rainforest, desert, city park. But they are big files (40 Mb), so I only downloaded two.
I made this 1 minute video to show what it's like to use Muse. My mind was active. I was mediating at 5 seconds and birds started tweeting at 10 seconds. I got distracted at 25 seconds and the weather got loud. At 35 seconds, my mind was calm and focused again.
This is the chart of that 1 minute session: The green part indicates birds. After just a few weeks of practicing with this device, I can calm my mind and quiet my thoughts on command.
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