Do you fear the nighttime because you can’t seem to get to sleep or stay asleep?
If you struggle with sleep, you may find yourself staying up late, watching television or looking at your phone in bed, and feeling generally anxious for morning to arrive.
These are common characteristics in those who don’t sleep well. In fact, some people go for years avoiding sleep in these ways.
Eventually, everyone gets to sleep — even if it’s only for a few hours a night. The problem is that poor sleep habits (and the inevitably small amount of sleep that many people live off of on a regular basis) can have ramifications in your waking life. Inadequate sleep can cause a range of health issues, both physical and mental. Even if you lead an otherwise healthy lifestyle — eating well and exercising on a regular basis — if you don’t get enough quality sleep, your life and wellbeing will suffer.
So, what can people do to help themselves sleep better? As it turns out, there’s a clear answer, and it’s not a pill, an expensive mattress, or a type of a new-fangled therapy.
It’s the tried and true, ever-beneficial practice of meditation.
Can Meditation Help With Poor Sleep?
A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association split a group of people into two sections — one that was taught a simple method of sleep meditation and another that was taught a basic mindfulness meditation practice. In the end, the group who showed the most improvement in their sleeping habits was the one who learned how to meditate. This group also improved in the realms of daytime fatigue and depression symptoms.
This is just one example of the ways in which meditation can benefit those who struggle with quality sleep. Meditation is an excellent remedy for poor sleep, no matter what your particular challenges are. Whether you’ve been diagnosed with insomnia or simply have occasional trouble getting to or staying asleep, learning and practicing meditation can help.
How Does Meditation Help You Sleep?
Here are four specific ways that meditation practice can help you sleep better.
It calms the mind.
One of the ways that deep sleep meditation prepares you for a long night of deep sleep is by calming the mind, which is often excessively active from the day. In Buddhism, a highly active mind is called a “monkey mind.” The idea is that the mind behaves like a monkey who incessantly jumps from branch to branch, never staying in one calm place.
During the day while you’re at work or school, monkey mind can be an inevitable part of managing the many areas of your life. Still, it can produce a large amount of anxiety that can become pent up over time. The fight or flight response can also contribute to this pent-up anxiety.
The fight or flight response is a natural response to serious threats to your safety and well-being (such as tensing up and/or running if you were to encounter a bear in the woods). But when it occurs in reaction to minor stressors, such as social encounters on the weekends or work-related tasks, this means you’re becoming over-anxious.
In order to calm the monkey mind and the fight or flight response, meditation helps practitioners focus on just one thing at a time — a skill that’s highly useful in all areas of life. The science backs up this claim. A recent study in the Journal, Behaviour Research and Therapy found that focused attention was increased with the application of a simple meditation practice. In addition, negative intrusive thoughts were reduced, and acceptance and attention were increased.
One of the best ways to use meditation to calm the mind is with a guided meditation for sleep. Specifically, a guided meditation for sleep can be carried out with help from a meditation instructor. Whether in a class or at home with an individual meditation coach, you can be led in a calming meditation for sleep that is individualized to your unique needs.
You might also ask your yoga or meditation instructor about yoga nidra, which is a practice meant to induce total relaxation and calming, putting you on the very edge of sleep (and in some cases, lulling you completely to sleep).
It calms the body.
One of the main reasons that meditation helps sleep is that it accelerates the same physiological effects that occur in the early stages of sleep. In other words, when you are in a meditation class, if you feel like taking a nap afterwards, that’s not surprising! Both practices facilitate sleep. Therefore, if you want to sleep better, meditation is the perfect practice to do before bedtime.
More specifically, Anahana meditation teachings can literally calm your physical nerves and the beating of your heart. In fact, recent studies have found that blood pressure is reduced during and after meditation practice.
You’ll also specifically notice that physical tension is released in the body during sleep meditation. One of the ways to accelerate this release in tension is to do a body scan. This involves starting at the top of the head or the ends of the toes and working your way along a conscious scan of your entire body, looking for areas that have tension and mindfully noting the position and status of each body part.
In one version of the body scan, each body part is intentionally tightened and tensed for a moment, only to be immediately relaxed and released. Even if you don’t combine this type of body scan with calming meditation for sleep, it can be an extremely useful stress management technique.
It helps you focus.
Disturbing thoughts, difficult emotions, and persistent worries often keep people from getting to sleep and staying asleep. Those who meditate regularly, on the other hand, are able to focus better and do not get distracted by troubling thoughts as easily. In an extensive longitudinal study, released in Springer’s Journal of Cognitive Enhancement, it was found that a consistent meditation practice can lead to significant improvements in sustained attention and focus.
This is due, in large part, to meditation’s focus on mindfulness.
Mindfulness practice ensures that practitioners put their focus on the present moment — not the past or the future. This is good because, whether you realize it or not, you are likely continually focusing on the past and the future. Whether you’re worrying about what’s going to happen tomorrow at school or work or dwelling on that silly thing you said at the party last weekend, these ruminations are probably one of the largest sources of your worries and daily stressors and anxieties.
But mindfulness practice — inherent in any meditation routine — puts the emphasis on the here and now, therein omitting any opportunities to dwell and ruminate on pesky and useless anxieties that would normally keep you up at night.
It increases melatonin.
If you’ve ever taken melatonin to help you fall asleep, you know that it actually works. That’s because melatonin is actually a naturally-produced hormone that occurs in the brain right before sleep.
You don’t have to take a pill of melatonin, though. You can help your body produce more of it simply by meditating. A recent study conducted by Australian scientists concluded that meditation practice will actually instigate melatonin production: “Experienced meditators practising either TM-Sidhi or another internationally well-known form of yoga showed significantly higher plasma melatonin levels in the period immediately following meditation compared with the same period at the same time on a control night.”
Try Meditation for Better Sleep Tonight
Want to sleep better as soon as tonight? Here’s a short meditation practice to try this evening, right before you head to bed.
Step 1: Set the scene.
While this isn't necessarily a step associated with meditation, it's one that can be useful to facilitate better sleep on a regular basis.
To set the scene for a good night’s sleep, start by dimming the lights in your bedroom. Make sure that all screens and technology are turned off, but set your alarm beforehand, if necessary. Put on your pajamas (making sure they’re comfortable for the duration of the night). Ensure you have clean sheets on your bed.
At this point, you might consider spraying a calming room scent in the air or dabbing a few drops of essential oils on your pillow. Scents such as chamomile and lavender are good for promoting sleep. If you like to sleep with background noise, start a stream of white noise or water or wind sounds at a low level.
Now, climb into bed.
Step 2: Position yourself for meditation and a good night’s sleep.
To meditate in bed, lay on your back with your head on your pillow and your hands at your sides. Position your body, neck, and head in a neutral, relaxed position. You shouldn't feel any tension or stress in your body.
To ensure this, do a quick body scan, starting at the very top of your head and working your way all the way down your body to the tips of your toes. Make any adjustments that are necessary, including moving the covers so that they are over your body in the same way that you would normally sleep with them.
Step 3: Take three deep breaths.
Start by taking three deep breaths. Remember that these breaths should come from the base of your lungs. Start by inhaling and bringing in a full breath of air, feeling your stomach rise as you do so. Count slowly to five during your inhale.
For a short moment, hold the breath in your lungs before exhaling to a count of five as well. Repeat this two more times.
Step 4: Begin your meditation visualization.
For a beginner meditation, we’ll do a short visualization.
Gently close your eyes. Breathe slowly, but normally — again, remembering to take the air from the very bottom of your lungs instead of breathing shallowly with your shoulders.
Imagine that you are lying on the soft grass in a cozy clearing in a wood. All around you, fresh trees rustle in the light wind. Wildflowers grow near your feet and all around you. You hear the song of birds and the distant trickling of a mountain stream. The temperature is perfect. You are in the shade, but you can feel the warmth of the sun and the cool texture of a woodsy-scented breeze.
Step 5: Speak a mantra in your mind.
Now, take control of your breath once more. There's no need to continue a long, drawn-out deep breathing routine. Rather, you are going to be concentrating on the in-breath and the out-breath and repeating a mantra with each inhale and exhale. You should move slowly in your breathing, but not too slowly. It should feel comfortable and relaxed.
Keep your cozy spot in the wood in mind. You are still there.
Now, while you take your next in-breath, say these words in your mind: “Breathing in peace and calm.”
As you breathe out, say these words in your mind: “Breathing out stress and tension.
Repeat this mantra as you continue deep breathing at your own pace and visualizing your spot in the woods.
Ideally, you will drift off to sleep while doing this meditation. If you do not drift off to sleep while practicing this meditation the first time, however, remember that that's okay. Stick with it. By doing this meditation at night before bed for several nights, you will teach your body and mind to relax and focus on calming physical and mental sensations — all of which are necessary to facilitate deeper, better, faster sleep.
Frequently Asked Questions About Meditation and Sleep
How do I meditate to sleep?
Many people who practice meditation find that they feel like falling asleep by the end of their meditation session anyway, so this makes it a great practice to induce sleep.
To meditate yourself to sleep, start with the outlined meditation practice listed above. You might also speak to your meditation instructor about using meditation specifically to improve your sleep. Even a short 25-minute session can make all the difference.
Additionally, practicing yoga nidra, which puts your consciousness right on the precipice of sleep, is another good option.
Will meditation help me sleep?
Yes! Meditation is an excellent way to help yourself get to sleep and stay asleep. That’s because it calms the mind and helps you focus on the present moment, instead of promoting rumination the future or the past. Meditation provided by our in-home meditation coaches also promotes the production of melatonin, a hormone that is produced right before sleep and that is linked with sleep in general.
Is it bad to meditate at night?
No. Meditation in the evening or right before you fall asleep at night is perfectly fine. In fact, if you struggle with falling asleep or staying asleep, meditation can be particularly useful and beneficial.
At the same time, if you are using meditation during the day, you don't want to always fall asleep at the end of each session. In this way, it's important to carry on with your daily practice of meditation, continuing to exit each session with a smooth transition into your regular daily tasks.
How long should I meditate before bed?
If you are attempting to fall asleep by the end of your meditation session before bed, you simply need to meditate for as long as it takes to fall asleep. In general, this will be anywhere from five to 15 minutes. For some people, it may be longer.
Additionally, at the very beginning of your meditation practice, keep in mind that you may find it takes longer to fall asleep. This is okay. Keep trying and continuing on with your nightly meditation practice in bed. After a while, you will condition your mind and body to induce sleep by the end of your meditation session.
Learn How to Meditate for Better Sleep With an Anahana Meditation Coach
Most people don’t get enough sleep, but some unlucky individuals struggle profoundly each and every night. Whatever your unique challenges with sleep, learning a meditation practice and participating in it regularly can help immensely.
At Anahana, we have highly-skilled and experienced meditation instructors ready and willing to help you battle your sleep challenges head-on. Go about your meditation practice in whatever way works best for you. We offer in-home meditation, live stream meditation, and on-demand courses uniquely catered to you. There’s even special instruction available for pregnant women and new moms, seniors, and athletes.
Tell us how we can help you sleep better. Speak with an Anahana Wellness Advisor and get connected with your own personal meditation coach today.
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Written by Clint Johnson
Clint teaches Yoga, Pilates, breathe, and mediation to students and teachers all over the world. Prior to joining the wellness world, CJ as his friends call him, started his career as a MBS derivative trader and portfolio manager on Wall St. Clint is the founder of Anahana, and holds an MBA from INSEAD.