Does meditation help with sleep?
Difficulty sleeping, whether it is only once in a while or chronic, like insomnia, is something many people struggle with. But relief is possible. Research strongly suggests that meditation helps improve sleep quality and overall mood.
Having difficulty sleeping or staying asleep is not a unique situation. Research from the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research found that 30 to 40 percent of adults have symptoms of insomnia in any given year. What’s more, 10 to 15 percent of adults say they have chronic or persisting insomnia.
The two main culprits behind the struggle for quality sleep are stress and worry. Anxious or repressed thoughts that often get suppressed during the day can arise in the night, making it hard to get sleep. But guided sleep meditation can help.
In a study from the Journal of American Medical Association, middle-aged and older adults who were having difficulty sleeping found relief after six weeks of practicing guided meditation. The participants were divided into two groups. The first group received guided sleep meditation and other exercises designed to help them focus on moment-by-moment experiences and thoughts. The second group took a sleep hygiene educational course instead. Both groups met for two hours once a week for six weeks. The group that was taught meditation (which included focusing on sensations in their bodies and breathing techniques) had a better outcome than the control group. They felt less depressed, they slept better, and they felt more rested during the day.
And while only a few small studies have been done, meditation as a sleep-aid tool is recommended by other experts. Several institutions, including the National Sleep Foundation and Harvard’s Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine, suggest using meditation to improve insomnia.
Benefits of meditation before sleep
The benefits of practicing sleep meditation are many. From its ability to improve sleep to its safe, gentle approach, meditation is a great tool to add to your sleep hygiene toolbox.
Since lack of sleep has such a strong impact on overall health and wellbeing, getting back to good-quality sleep is important. Meditation in general improves and increases the relaxation response.
Meditation in general improves and increases the relaxation response. This response, in turn, helps improve depression, daytime fatigue, memory, attention, blood pressure, and even learning.
Coined by Harvard’s Dr. Benson in the 1970s, the relaxation response moves the body away from an anxious, fight-or-flight mode to a calm, relaxed state. This response, in turn, helps improve the many issues sleep deprivation brings. Depression, daytime fatigue, memory, attention, blood pressure, and even learning all improve when the body is in a relaxed, calm state. Better mental and physical health is just one of the many advantages that meditation can bring. Other benefits include:
- Sleeping better — By shifting your focus away from your thoughts to your body with breathing and visualization exercises, meditation puts you in a prime space to sleep well.
- Fewer worried thoughts — A lot of people who can’t sleep are stuck on a hamster wheel of worried thoughts, their minds endlessly turning. Sleep meditation can help stop the cycle, both at night and during the day.
- Putting you in the present moment — There is a reason Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now has been such a popular book. Living in the now can be powerful. It helps keep away depression, which tends to be past-oriented, and anxiety, which tends to be future-oriented. Meditation helps bring you into a state of mindfulness, which is also living in the current moment.
- Daytime benefits — Experience more energy, less stress, and lowered blood pressure.
- Safe and gentle — Unlike sleeping pills, there are no risks associated with guided sleep meditation. It isn’t jarring or intense and can be practiced by most people of any age.
- Inexpensive and easy — No complicated guidelines or expectations to follow or memorize, and no costly program to purchase. Meditation is simple and free.
- Can be used with other therapies — Meditation can be part of an overall sleep-improvement plan, including therapies such as acupuncture and cognitive behavioral therapy.
How to meditate before sleep
There are several ways to practice meditation for sleep, and many examples of guided meditation for sleep are available for free, both online and through meditation apps. Choose one that you enjoy and get ready to begin.
In a typical sleep meditation, you’ll listen to a voice that leads you through the session. Begin by lying down and making sure you are completely comfortable. Using either a small bedside speaker or headphones, follow along as the recorded voice guides your steps. Directing your attention away from your thoughts, you might begin with a full-body scan. Your attention and your breath are focused on different body parts, starting at your feet or the top of your head. You may be asked to notice different sensations, such as tightness, tension, or discomfort, then send your breath there, relaxing completely. The guided meditation will continue as you move up or down your body, scanning each part and releasing tension.
If worrisome thoughts appear, visualization can also be used to imagine them as clouds or leaves floating by. The idea is to leave them be without focusing too much on them.
Sleep meditation may also include breathing exercises, visualization, or techniques for reducing worrisome thoughts. For example, one simple and popular breathing technique is to count from one to four and then back to one, in time with your breath. Visualization involves imagining a tranquil scene, helping you move into a hypnotic-like state that brings a deep sense of relaxation. If worrisome thoughts appear, visualization can also be used to imagine them as clouds or leaves floating by. The idea is to leave them be without focusing too much on them.
How long should you meditate before sleep?
You don’t need to spend hours meditating to reap its benefits. Sessions as short as 20 minutes can still provide stress-busting relief.
Dr. Benson of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine agrees that 20 minutes is the right length of time needed to experience better sleep. So you don’t need to spend a long time meditating to reap its rewards.
When it comes to getting a good night’s sleep, meditation should be one part of an overall picture of healthy sleep hygiene. Healthy lifestyle habits and nighttime behaviors can all play a role in the quality of your sleep.
Getting a better night’s sleep is completely possible, especially when you combine meditation with an overall plan to improve sleep habits.
Experts agree that certain lifestyle habits, such as drinking enough water, eating whole foods, and exercising daily, can play a significant role in how well you sleep. And while diet, exercise, and water all matter, so too does your behavior at night. Blue-light devices, such as cell phones or computers, should be limited in the last hour or two before going to bed. Creating the right bedtime environment matters too. Keep your bedroom reserved for only sleep and sex, and keep the room cool and dark. Follow a nighttime ritual that involves a few basic steps, such as brushing your teeth and reading. Complete them in the same order and at the same time each night. Doing so can send a signal to your body that sleep is coming.
Getting a better night’s sleep is completely possible, especially when you combine meditation with an overall plan to improve sleep habits. If you find you’re experiencing insomnia or depression, though, don’t hesitate to talk with your doctor. Together, you can create a plan for better sleep and, with it, a better quality of life.