We've all experienced this scenario: After an exhausting but productive day, all we want is a good night's sleep so we can get up tomorrow and get even more stuff accomplished. But the moment our heads hit the pillow, our minds start racing with thoughts, making it nearly impossible to drift off to sleep.
We've all been there. But there's a simple solution that may help you relax and drift off to sleep. Meditation for sleep is a proven technique you can use to catch those elusive and essential z's.
Let's dive into the science behind meditation for sleep: why (and how) it works, the many benefits of meditation, and what you can do to get started right away. We'll also explore three proven meditation techniques to get you drifting off into a peaceful slumber.
Why quality sleep is essential to our health
Quality sleep is the unsung hero of our well-being. Too often, we get caught up in the ebb and flow of our weeks and overlook the importance of getting a good night's sleep.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that only 33% of Americans get enough sleep, and the American Sleep Association reported troubling statistics on the dangers of sleep deprivation:
- Living with a sleep disorder: 50-70 million adults
- Unintentionally experience excessive daytime sleepiness: 37.9% of people surveyed
- Nodding off while driving at least once per month: 4.7% of survey participants
It's not just about getting a certain number of hours of sleep. If you sleep for eight hours but toss and turn all night, you'll experience some of the same issues of not getting enough sleep.
Good sleep quality plays a key role in how we maintain our health and overall happiness. Sleep affects our mental focus, physical health, and emotional health.
1. Mental focus
When we're well-rested, our minds work better. We think more clearly, make better decisions, and find it easier to learn new things. Getting a good night's sleep is like hitting the reset button for our brains, giving us the clean slate we need to tackle the day's challenges.
2. Physical health
During sleep, our bodies work hard to repair and rejuvenate themselves. Our muscles become stronger, tissues heal, and our immune systems get a boost. Without quality sleep, our bodies don't perform at their best. This can make us more susceptible to illness and injury.
3. Emotional health
A lack of sleep can leave us feeling moody and irritable. If you live with depression or anxiety, insufficient sleep makes these conditions more troublesome. Quality sleep helps to balance our emotions and keeps us feeling grounded.
Can meditation help with sleep?
Meditation is used by people all over the world to increase calmness and mindfulness, and sleep meditations can train our minds to be more mentally relaxed and drift off to sleep naturally. Equally important, meditation can help us calm the "monkey mind" that often kicks into overdrive just when we're about to drift off to sleep.
Monkey mind is a Buddhist term that means restless and unsettled. More than 2,000 years ago, Buddha said our minds are full of drunken monkeys who constantly screech, fight, chatter, and distract, constantly creating mental chaos.
Whether you have racing thoughts occasionally or experience monkey mind every night, meditation can help you drift off to sleep more easily and get better quality sleep.
Here are the ways meditation helps prepare both mind and body for sleep.
- Increases serotonin levels (the precursor of melatonin, the chemical that regulates sleep)
- Reduces heart rate
- Encourages slower breathing
- Lowers blood pressure
- Activates the parts of the brain that control sleep cycles
Because meditation reduces stress and controls anxiety, it can be the first step towards establishing your healthy bedtime routine.
Should you meditate before bed?
For centuries, meditation has been used to help people become calmer, mindful, and relaxed. Just as meditation relaxes the body, it also calms the mind. When you meditate before sleep, you'll have a relaxed mind and be more likely to experience high-quality sleep.
If racing thoughts and mind chatter keep you from going to sleep or staying asleep, meditation before sleep may help you drift peacefully into the brainwave state associated with sleep.
The first thing to do for all types of sleep meditation is to create a relaxing bedroom environment. For good sleep hygiene, a bedroom needs to be comfortable, quiet, and dimly lit. This environment will set the stage for peaceful meditation and encourage restful sleep.
Consider hanging light-blocking curtains on your windows and placing a sound machine or fan on your bedside table to block out external noises. Having clean, comfortable bed linens will help you relax, too.
Mindfulness meditation for sleep
Studies have shown that mindfulness meditation can be used to treat chronic insomnia. Additionally, a JAMA Internal Medicine study showed that mindfulness meditation helps with moderate sleep issues. With mindfulness meditation, your goal is to focus on the present. Mindfulness meditation is done by increasing your awareness of your breathing, consciousness, and body.
The key to successful mindfulness meditation is to observe a thought or emotion, then allow it to pass by without placing judgment on the thought or on yourself.
Follow these steps for effective mindfulness meditation for sleep:
- Set a timer: During meditation, it can be tempting to constantly check your phone for the time or to see how long you've been meditating. Eliminate this distraction by setting a timer for 10-20 minutes. Use an alarm sound that is gentle, not jarring.
- Lie down and get comfortable: Lying on your back, rest your arms by your sides. Settle into a position that feels relaxed and sustainable for the duration of your meditation.
- Start taking deep breaths: Close your eyes and begin to take slow, deep breaths, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth.
- Focus on the present moment: Consistently bring your attention back to the present moment by becoming aware of your breath, body, and surroundings. Observe all sensations without judgment.
- Observe your thoughts: When thoughts arise, acknowledge them respectfully without judgment and allow them to pass. Don't get caught up in the thoughts. Instead, bring your focus back to your bodily sensations and your breath.
- Use an anchor: If your mind starts to wander, gently redirect your attention to your breath, or use a simple phrase such as "in" and "out" as you inhale and exhale. This will help anchor your mind when you're meditating.
- Gently end your meditation: When your timer goes off, take a few deep breaths and open your eyes slowly. Then, you can turn off your bedside lamp or read for a few minutes before drifting off to sleep.
Body scan meditation for sleep
Body scan meditation involves systematically focusing on the various parts of the body, beginning with your feet and moving upwards to the head. You can do this meditation on your own or with a guided meditation. Follow these steps to do your own body scan meditation:
- Get comfortable: Dim your bedroom lights and lie down on your bed. Place your arms in a comfortable position at your sides, then close your eyes and start taking deep breaths.
- Begin at your feet: Bring your attention to your feet and observe the sensations. Do you feel warmth, tingling, or pressure? Breathe in and imagine a wave of relaxation moving through your feet.
- Relax and release: As you breathe out through your mouth, release any discomfort or tension you feel in your feet. Visualize the tension leaving your body with each breath.
- Slowly move up your body: Shift your focus gradually up your body, moving from your feet to your ankles. Then, continue working up the legs, through the calves, knees, and thighs. At each body part, observe the sensations you feel. Continue breathing in relaxation and exhaling tension.
- Include both sides of your body: As you move up your body, be sure you're giving equal attention to both sides of your body, ensuring a balanced and thorough body scan.
- Stay present: When your mind wanders, gently bring your attention back to the body part you're working on.
- Reach your head: After working up the rest of your body, you'll reach your head. Focus on your facial muscles, scalp, and the sensations within your head. Continue breathing in relaxation and exhaling tension.
- Full-body awareness: After scanning your entire body, take a moment to become aware of your body as a whole. Feel the sense of calm and relaxation that has spread throughout your body.
- Transition into sleep: Allow the relaxation to deeply and gradually let yourself drift off to sleep.
Guided meditation for sleep
Guided meditation or deep breathing sleep meditation involves using a pre-recorded audio or video with a narrator who guides you through your meditation session. Guided meditations combine visualization, mindfulness, and relaxation techniques to ease you into a state of deep rest.
Follow these steps for doing guided meditation for sleep:
- Choose a guided meditation: Find a meditation that resonates with you. From meditation apps, YouTube channels, and podcasts, there are a lot of good meditations out there. Be sure to choose a guided meditation that is specifically tailored for sleep, and find one with your desired duration.
- Set up the audio: Use headphones or a speaker to play your meditation. Adjust the volume so that it's at a comfortable level for you.
- Get into a relaxed position: Lie down in your bed or lean back on pillows to make yourself comfortable. You need to be able to sustain your position for your entire meditation.
- Start the guided meditation: Press play and allow the narrator to lead you. A good meditation guide will lead you through meditation by using breathing exercises, visualization, and body scans.
- Follow the narrator's instructions: As you listen, follow the instructions provided by your narrator, and be open and receptive to their guidance so that you can fully engage with the process.
- Stay present and focused: Your mind will wander some, and this is normal. When you feel your mind start to wander, gently bring your focus back to the narrator's voice.
- Embrace relaxation: As you progress through the guided meditation, let your mind and body relax. Release tension or worries so that you are fully immersed in the experience.
- Transition into sleep: Many guided sleep meditations are designed to help you drift off to sleep as the session comes to an end. If you're sleepy, allow yourself to fall asleep naturally during or after the meditation.
How to meditate in bed
Meditating in bed is a great way to unwind and set yourself up for a restful night. Best of all, you can drift off to sleep when you're finished with your meditation. Follow these steps to get started:
- Find a comfortable position: Sit up with your back supported by the headboard or pillows, or lie down on your back. Choose a position that feels comfortable and natural for you.
- Set a timer: Starting with 10-20 minutes is ideal for meditation for sleep.
- Relax your body: Begin by closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths. Release the tension in your muscles, starting at your feet and working your way up to the top of your head.
- Focus on the breath: Turn your attention to your breath, noticing the sensation of the air entering and leaving your nostrils. Don't try to force your breath. Allow it to flow naturally.
- Count your breaths: If you need help maintaining focus, you can count the inhales and exhales up to ten. When you reach ten, start again at number one. When your mind wanders, gently bring your focus back to the breath and restart the count.
- Observe your thoughts: When thoughts arise, acknowledge them without judgment and allow them to pass. Picture them as clouds floating by in the sky. It's not your goal to eliminate thoughts, but rather, to keep them from consuming your attention.
- Transition slowly: When your timer goes off, take a few moments to stretch and bring your awareness back to your bedroom.
Other benefits of meditation
Countless medical studies outline the many benefits of meditation. While meditation can help you relax and fall asleep, you may also experience these benefits when you develop a regular meditation practice:
Sleep your way to your health goals
Quality sleep keeps our minds sharp, our bodies healthy, and our emotions in check. When you invest in a good night's sleep, you're making an investment in your overall well-being.
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