Do you have trouble sleeping? Do you find yourself tossing and turning to fall asleep at night? Or waking up in the middle of the night, unable to get back to sleep? If you find you’re not getting enough sleep, you’re not alone. According to the CDC, the average American gets about 6.8 hours of sleep a night, with only 59% of Americans getting the recommended seven or more hours of sleep a night and about 40% get less.
While there can be various causes for sleep issues, many people find that meditative prayers like the Rosary or the Divine Mercy Chaplet can help them fall asleep faster. Recently on The Drew Mariani Show™, Drew shared that his go-to tool when he has trouble sleeping is the Rosary.
“If I start saying the Rosary, it is a battle to get through the first decade and I’m back out again,” he said. “I don’t know whether it is the repetitiveness of the prayer I try to meditate on while I’m praying. And I often ask the Lord to help me, I ask Our Lady to rock me to sleep. But I pray the Rosary and I am out.”
But is there actually a connection between prayer and better sleep? Dr. Andrew Newberg, Director of Research at the Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University and Hospital, stopped by The Drew Mariani Show to share why the science shows that prayer could help you sleep better.
While sleep troubles can have physical, mental, and emotional causes, Dr. Newberg noted that the research shows we should not rule out the spiritual when it comes to better sleep.
“It’s probably multi-factorial, as everything that has to do with sleep is,” he said. “A lot of times people are just worrying about things, dealing with things. And a lot of the research has shown that those people who are more religious tend to have lower levels of anxiety and depression. Both of those kinds of symptoms are associated with poor sleep.”
So while religious belief is not a cure for anxiety or depression, it appears to relieve some of the symptoms and the elements that can exacerbate them. Dr. Newberg said, “If you can feel comforted by your religious beliefs, then that can help to make you feel better, reduce your anxiety, and help a person fall asleep a little bit easier. So that’s one factor.”
But Dr. Newberg pointed out that it is not simply religious belief, but sometimes the actual practice of prayer that can help you sleep better. He explained the science behind why certain meditative prayers (such as the Rosary) can be good sleep aids.
“On a more direct level, a lot of practices like prayer, or various meditation types of practices … there is this kind of slow rhythmicity to it. And that actually helps to stimulate what is called the parasympathetic nervous system,” Dr. Newberg explained. “And that basically helps our body to relax. It slows our heart rate down, reduces our blood pressure, it gets us relaxed and helps to rejuvenate our energy.”
Dr. Newberg explained that our body responds to stress and stimuli by becoming more alert, aware, and awake. Which is great if you’re about to give a speech or meet a deadline. Not so great if you’re trying to fall asleep. What happens to many people is that at bedtime they run through all the stresses and anxieties of life, and their body responds by being ready to meet tomorrow’s challenges when it should be resting and rejuvenating.
What certain meditative prayers do is actually help your body switch from the sympathetic nervous system (it’s arousal system) to the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps the body relax.
“If the calming side is supposed to be on when you’re trying to go to sleep, and the arousing side comes into play because you’re anxious or you’re thinking about things, then doing a practice that helps to bring back that calming system of the body and the brain is something that actually can be very beneficial,” Dr. Newberg said. “And people have found that a variety of different meditative-prayer types of practices can help to get people to calm back down, allow them to ultimately fall back to sleep.”
“So it certainly makes a lot of sense that people can engage their religious or spiritual beliefs and/or practices in a way that can help them to improve their overall sleep, to help them get to sleep, or to stay asleep.”
Listen to the full conversation below: