Background information on sleep meditation
While sleep might seem easy enough to master, for many people, sleep remains a challenge. When stress, anxiety, and physical pain are combined with sleep issues, it can profoundly affect sleep quality and sleep hygiene. Poor sleep has been linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, so it is in everyone’s best interest to establish good sleep habits that promote healthy rest. Researchers have proved meditation to be an effective way to improve sleep quality. If you suffer from sleepless nights or insomnia, the following tips may help you create a better bedtime routine that promotes relaxation and better sleep.
Meditation before bedtime
Stress is one of the leading causes of sleep problems for many people. You can’t meditate all your stress away, but you can improve sleep by becoming aware and accepting of feelings and thoughts causing you anxiety. The more present and mindful we are, the easier it is to let go of negative emotions rather than ruminate about them before bedtime.
Meditation triggers a relaxation response in the body that releases serotonin and melatonin. So if sleep has been eluding you, meditation may provide the relief needed to help you sleep better at night.
Meditation for sleep health
It’s not just meditation within your chosen religion or spiritual practice that will help improve sleep quality; there are specific sleep meditation exercises designed to promote sleep.
Meditation for sleep is a simple process that requires you to focus on your breathing and being present in the moment, with sleep as the goal. Breathing exercises are commonly used within sleep meditation because they induce relaxation that helps prepare the body for sleep by slowing the heart rate and lowering blood pressure. Meditation exercises typically involve sitting upright, closing your eyes, and paying attention to each inhalation and exhalation.
When it comes to sleep meditation, many different techniques can be used depending on personal preference, available time, and whether the goal is focused on stress reduction or sleep induction. The most important thing about sleep mediation is consistency; doing it every day will help you achieve better sleep.
Does Meditation Help with Sleep?
More and more sleep scientists are turning to the ancient practice of meditation as a means of helping people sleep better. Meditation is an increasingly hot topic, but what do we know about its health benefits? Some sleep experts believe that meditative practices can help sleep in a variety of ways.
Meditation has been studied for decades, mainly as a stress-reduction tool. Harvard medical school professor Jon Kabat-Zinn popularized a branch called mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) in 1979. MBSR meditation focuses on present moment awareness rather than worrying or obsessing about past regrets or future anxieties. This kind of mindfulness training is thought to have beneficial effects on the brain, sleep included.
But sleep isn’t just about the brain—the body also regulates it, and sleep scientists have increasingly been looking at rest from a whole-systems perspective when investigating meditation. For example, sleep is closely tied to our internal biological clocks, which are in turn governed by both external light exposure and hormone secretions that rise and fall with day and night cycles.
Meditation may help us sleep better partly because it has been shown to improve sleep quality, regulate sleep timing, reduce sleep apnea symptoms, decrease pain sensitivity, normalize blood pressure, relieve anxiety & depression symptoms, increase perceived stress resilience, and even boost immune function.
Meditation Methods That May Help You Sleep Better
Different people have different sleep needs— sleep duration and sleep quality. Sleep meditation may help sleep in some ways but not others.
There are more than a hundred known types of meditation, ranging from visualization exercises to mantra recitations to walking meditations. Research has looked into many of these styles and found evidence that they can help us sleep better. Here is a look at five of the most common sleep-related meditation techniques:
1) Guided Imagery Meditation: This involves relaxing and imagining a place or situation that brings you peace, joy, or relaxation (e.g., walking on the beach). A study on guided imagery as an alternative sleep intervention for children with sleep problems showed improved sleep time and efficiency for this population.
2) Progressive Relaxation: One study found sleep quality and efficiency increased in women with sleep disturbances after practising progressive relaxation twice a day for 20 minutes over two weeks.
3) Mantra Meditation: Repeating a word or phrase silently to yourself while meditating has been shown to promote sleep duration and sleep efficiency.
4) Yoga Nidra: This involves lying down flat on your back with your arms at your side, eyes closed but awake, and focusing on breathing. It’s considered a deep-relaxation practice that can be used early in the night before bedtime to transition from an active mind state to slow and calm. A small 2010 study showed sleep quality improved after subjects engaged in yoga Nidra meditation twice a day for two weeks.
5) Loving Kindness Meditation: This is a form of compassion meditation, focusing on developing feelings of goodwill toward yourself and others. A study using loving-kindness sleep meditation showed improved sleep quality after just one session.
Here’s my take on these sleep meditations:
Meditation can be calming, which aids in sleep preparation, but the specific time to practice it for sleep benefits depends mainly on when you sleep. It can also help with sleep maintenance of insomnia, especially if the main issue is racing/distracting thoughts at night (e.g., “I have too much to do tomorrow”).
While meditating before bed was shown to improve sleep quality and sleep duration, practising meditations during the day can be more effective for sleep timing and sleep apnea.
Sleep meditation is better than sleep medication.
Benefits of Sleep Meditation
Lowers stress and anxiety
Meditation has long been shown to lower stress and anxiety levels. Now researchers are beginning to understand how it may reduce the mental ravages of stress.
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that meditation helped people let go of negative feelings associated with stressful photos. Participants were asked to look at neutral, mildly pleasant, or very unpleasant photos before meditating for 10 minutes. After the meditation session, researchers showed them the duplicate images while scanning their brains with an MRI machine.
The results showed that participants reported less intense emotional responses after meditation regardless of whether they had meditated on a positive, negative, or neutral photo. This was supported by a drop in brain activity related to emotional processing in areas responsible for emotion and attention.
“We were able to demonstrate that the regulation of emotion after an emotional challenge involves neural processes that are modulated by a previous meditation,” says study author and neuroscientist Richard Davidson. They published his findings in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience.
“These results suggest one mechanism for how mindfulness meditation may improve physical health. If you can take [a] pause [in your reaction to stress], it gives you a few moments to decide what you want to do, rather than acting impulsively. We know there is some time lag before things sink in—you have a little bit of cognitive space.”
Meditation relaxes the body
According to new Johns Hopkins research, meditation may be a sleep aid for insomniacs and people who sleep poorly.
The study monitored sleep continuously for several nights in 17 people diagnosed with insomnia and 11 without sleep problems. People who meditated fell asleep on average 12 minutes faster than those who did not use the technique and had significantly longer total sleep time, both of which are considered beneficial by sleep experts. The findings suggest that meditation induces sleepiness but does not put the body to sleep per se.
Meditation has been used for thousands of years as a practice to calm or focus the mind. Since then, it has slowly trickled into mainstream culture as a practice inspired by Eastern religions and practices like mindfulness and yoga, which have risen in popularity in the West.
These sleep habits have been adopted by Western sleep experts, who have incorporated meditation into sleep intervention programs for conditions like insomnia and sleep apnea.
One explanation for why sleep may be better with meditation is that it evokes a relaxation response, which happens when the body releases hormones from glands such as the hypothalamus. These hormones decrease heart rate, relax muscles and create a more peaceful state. In one small study published last year, researchers looked at ten people who receive sleep therapy to treat sleep apnea, a condition marked by pauses in breathing during sleep that has been linked to cardiovascular disease and cognitive impairment.
The participants were told to stop their nightly breathing masks on four nights of the study and instead meditate. Eight of the 10 showed significant improvements in sleep and sleepiness, and four were able to stop using their breathing mask for good, compared with none in a comparison group who continued sleep therapy alone.
Sleep meditation balances the nervous system
The autonomic nervous system controls the physiologic response to stress, the involuntary part of our nervous system that controls heart rate, blood pressure, and digestion. There are two branches to the autonomic nervous system: sympathetic and parasympathetic. In sleep meditation, relaxing activities such as sleep yoga or sleep hypnosis can help balance these systems, so you respond more appropriately during a stressful situation.
However, if sleep problems have been going on for years, they may not go away after just one–or even a few–sessions of sleep meditation. Studies show sleep meditation works best with a professional sleep instructor who gives personalized recommendations for your specific condition.
May reduce your depression
Lack of sleep also leads to a host of other ailments such as depression and stress. Meditation can help with these ailments and sleep problems by targeting stressors that cause insomnia or poor sleep quality. Meditation helps people sleep better overall by helping calm their mind before sleeping and improving overall health too.
The combination of meditation and sleep has been shown to boost moods over time as well. Sleep meditation can help you sleep better by concentrating on sleeping and going to sleep, and running a sleep meditation every night before bed may improve sleep quality over time.
If your insomnia is causing stress, sleep meditation can be used as a coping mechanism for anxiety. Studies show that sleep deprivation negatively affects moods and coping with daily life stresses, such as work or money issues. The most common type of sleep meditation includes focusing on breathing exercises. By focusing on these techniques regularly, your mind will become more accustomed to turning off at night so you can better fall asleep quickly.