Sleep is critical to maintaining health and well-being, but it can be tough to get the recommended 7-9 hours per night. In fact, according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), about one-third of adults experience insomnia symptoms.
There are lots of tactics and lifestyle changes that can help you sleep better. One of those is meditation.
How it works
It’s easiest to fall asleep when your mind and body are relaxed. Recent studies show that meditation can help you get there.
A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine investigated a group of adults who had difficulty falling asleep. Half of this group was taught mindfulness meditation and other meditative exercises that were meant to keep them focused on the present moment. The other half went through a sleep education course.
After comparing the 2 groups over the course of 6 sessions, those who were in the group that focused on mindfulness meditation showed fewer symptoms of fatigue and cases of insomnia. By focusing on their breath and the present moment, those practicing mindfulness meditation were able to slow down their thoughts, improving their sleep quality.
Meditation also affects you physically. It can:
- decrease heart rate
- lower blood pressure
- enhance rapid eye movement (REM) sleep states
- increase melatonin and serotonin
- encourage slower breathing
All of these things can help encourage sleep.
If you decide to try meditation before you go to bed, there are several different methods to choose from:
- mindfulness meditation
- focused meditation
- guided meditation
- affirmation meditation
Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on your body and surroundings, such as how your breath moves through your body or the way your bed feels.
How to do mindfulness meditation
- Find a comfortable place, such as your bed. Lie down and close your eyes.
- Take several deep breaths, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth. Focus on the fullness of your lungs and the expansion of your chest. Let go of any other thoughts.
- Become aware of any points of physical contact, whether that be your body against the bed or your head against a pillow. Notice how your body feels.
- Bring your attention to the movement of your breath within your body. Focus on the rhythm of your breath.
- If you ever feel distracted, gently return your focus to the movement of your breath through your body.
Focused meditation involves concentrating on 1 thing, such as a sound, sight, taste, or smell. You can also focus on a sensation, like your breathing.
How to do focused meditation
- Find a quiet place where there will be likely no interruptions. Sit upright in a comfortable position.
- Choose something to focus on, like a smell, sound, taste, or sight.
- If you find your mind wandering, gently bring it back to the thing you’re focusing on.
You can do this for as long as you like, or as long as it feels comfortable to you. If you’re just starting out with focused meditation, try doing it for just 5 minutes. You can work your way up to longer after that, if you’d like to.
Guided meditation involves another person walking you through your meditation. The instructor might have you to focus on things such as gradually relaxing each part of the body.
They may also lead you through guided imagery. Guided imagery is a stress management technique where you picture a person, place, or time that makes you feel relaxed and at peace. As you picture that thing, you use all of your senses. For example, if you’re picturing yourself on a beach, you may imagine the sounds of the waves crashing, the feeling of sand underneath your feet, or the smell of salt in the air.
Guided meditations range in topic and length. They can be done in person with a coach or class, but if you’re doing a guided meditation before bed, you may want to try doing it through a recording. You can find recordings at your local bookstore or library. You can also check out YouTube or try an app like Headspace, Calm, or Smiling Mind.
Affirmation meditation requires complete focus on one positive affirmation. The goal is to anchor this thought in your subconscious as you fall asleep. A 2016 study found that positive affirmations not only help us fall asleep, they may also improve our mental well-being.
You can think of your own affirmation that feels personal to you, or you can try something like:
- “My body is calm”
- “I am at peace”
- “My mind is at ease”
Alternatives to meditation before bed
While meditation can help you relax before bed or be useful to combat occasional sleeplessness, it may not work for everyone. Fortunately, there are many other remedies to relax your mind before bedtime.
Try to maintain a consistent sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. This also means avoiding the occasional nap during the day.
Before bedtime, avoid any large meals. Eating something heavy before bedtime can lead to indigestion or an upset stomach.
Avoid alcohol before bed
While alcohol can make you feel relaxed or drowsy at first, once it starts to wear off it can negatively affect sleep.
Essential oils such as lavender or sandalwood have been found to reduce sleep disturbance and help those who may experience anxiety at bedtime.
Consult a doctor
If home remedies and lifestyle changes don’t seem to help, you may need to take a trip to your doctor. They can make sure there’s nothing else going on that’s keeping you up.
Meditation can help relax your mind and body. When done before bed, it may help you fall asleep.
While meditation may be helpful, remember that there are also other efforts you can make to improve your sleep. This includes following a regular sleep schedule that guarantees 7-9 hours per night, keeping your bedroom quiet, dark and cool, avoiding caffeine and turning off any electronics.