03/26/2011 11:56 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The One-Moment Insomnia Cure

According to the National Sleep Foundation, 41 percent of Americans report having sleep problems every night or almost every night. Meditation, of course, can help, but not as you might imagine.

Yes, it's true, through regular meditation practice, you might become so profoundly peaceful that you will never again have trouble sleeping. Or you might become so radiant and light-filled that you won't need much sleep at all. But although that might be an exciting goal for some people, it's surely not very helpful if you are having trouble falling asleep right now.

I learned a lot about this one night... at about four in the morning. I was lying in bed, wide awake, not having slept, getting more and more agitated by the minute. The possibility of having a good night's sleep -- or even just enough sleep -- was long gone. By this point, it was just a matter of grabbing what little sleep I could.

The more distress I experienced about still being awake, however, the further I was from falling asleep. And the more I worried about what would happen the next day, and how I would cope with having had so little sleep, the more distressed I became.

My mind, as if with a mind of its own, sought out all of my "issues" and amplified them. It went something like this: "If only I were a better person, I would be able to fall asleep. If only I had meditated more in my life, I would be able to fall asleep. If only I were better at meditating, I would be able to fall asleep."

Thus, I thought, if I really had faith in meditation, I would get out of bed, go upstairs to my meditation cushion and sit there upright, facing my altar, meditating for my usual strict 30 minutes. Then maybe I would be able to fall asleep.

But I was so tired, the house was cold and the thought of meditating for any length of time was just overwhelming. And the idea of spending 30 minutes of my little remaining time left that night seemed, well, ridiculous.

Instead, I made a promise to the universe that I would go on a long meditation retreat very soon ... if only the gods would let me fall asleep right then and there.

And then, suddenly, I saw what I was doing. By deferring meditation to another time and place (a retreat in the future or just my meditation cushion upstairs), my mind was launching another great journey -- far, far away from the present. What I actually needed was to meditate right where I was -- in bed, lying down, right in the middle of my distress. In other words, the formal structure that I had associated with meditation -- sitting bolt upright on my cushion for 30 minutes each morning, or going on a long retreat once or twice a year -- had become an obstacle to, well, just meditating.

So I decided to meditate right there, curled up in bed. It took some considerable determination for me to slow down my racing thoughts enough to bring my mind to my breathing. But I decided to do it for just a moment. And I kept trying, again and again, one moment at a time. Sure, my mind bounced up and down like a rubber ball -- touching my breath, bouncing back up into the air and coming back down again. But gradually, one bounce at a time, I calmed down. I made peace with myself. And eventually, I was quiet enough to fall asleep.

Meditation is not, of course, designed to make you fall asleep. But if it is bedtime and you are tired, it can help you fall asleep by unhooking you from whatever mental loop or whatever stress is preventing you from falling asleep naturally.

What I learned on that night is how the mind can defer anything, even peacefulness, and how this deferring creates even more stress. I learned that the goal is not just to meditate more, or to meditate better, but to grab a moment to meditate wherever I am, no matter what is happening, no matter how strange the circumstances. I learned that the length of the meditation may not matter as much as the attempt to do it right now, if only for a moment.

So the next time you find yourself stressed out, or caught in an insomniac loop, just try doing a moment of meditation, right where you are. Don't worry if your form isn't perfect. Do it on your back, on your front, on your side or snuggling a pillow. Do it while you are cuddling your partner, or your teddy bear. Just do it. And if it doesn't calm you down in this moment, try again in this moment.

Find out more at One-Moment Meditation.