If you experience trouble sleeping, you might have wondered if meditation is a natural sleep solution you should try. We explore how meditation can affect sleep and describe ways to maximize the benefits of meditation before bed.
Does Meditation Help With Sleep?
An analysis of 18 research studies suggests meditating, or dedicating a specific time to focusing in a non-judgmental way on the present moment, can help people sleep better. These studies involved a variety of people, with individual studies focusing on people with conditions such as insomnia, obesity, fibromyalgia, high stress, and cancer.
Six sessions of a two-hour mindfulness meditation course improved sleep quality in older adults. Also, a study of people with chronic insomnia found that engaging in a guided meditation focused on the heart improved sleep so much that nearly 88% of participants who were taking sleep medication at the start of the study were able to reduce or discontinue it. Another study of older adults found meditation improved sleep as well as overall mood and stress, with benefits still showing six months later.
It may also be helpful to combine meditation with other insomnia treatments. Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) is considered the gold standard treatment for insomnia, and one study found that combining meditation with CBT-I helped reduce nighttime awakenings compared to CBT-I alone.
How Does Meditation for Sleep Work?
Researchers are not completely certain why meditation improves sleep, but there could be many reasons. Meditation can reduce stress, and it might be particularly helpful when a person has trouble falling asleep because of worry. Meditation and mindfulness training help people notice their thoughts without becoming caught up in them, which can allow them to detach from their thoughts enough to fall asleep.
Meditation has been studied for its effects on improving pain associated with fibromyalgia, back pain, migraine, rheumatoid arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, osteoarthritis, and other disorders. Since pain often disrupts sleep, relieving pain may improve sleep. Sleeping well can further relieve pain, which could then lead to even better sleep over time.
Meditation might also improve sleep directly, even in people not experiencing heightened stress or pain. Whether you are facing worries or not, meditation can induce a relaxation response that might help prepare for sleep. People who meditate also experience changes in brain activity, which carry over into sleep.
How to Meditate
There are multiple ways to meditate. Some types of meditation are more appropriate to do in the hours before bed, while others could work better while lying in bed.
How to Meditate Before Bed
Sitting and moving meditations are best to do during the day or before bed. First, make sure you are in comfortable clothes and have a quiet space free from distractions. Moving meditations include gentle yoga or Tai Chi, activities in which you move slowly while maintaining awareness of your body and the present moment.
If you are unfamiliar with these movements, you can take a class, watch a video, or read a book to learn simple postures and movement techniques. Moving too vigorously before bed can disrupt sleep, so be careful to avoid turning moving meditation into a workout session.
Sitting meditation involves sitting calmly with intentional focus. Choose a position that feels comfortable to you, whether cross-legged on the floor or upright in a chair. You may choose to focus on a specific meditative phrase, sometimes called a mantra, during this time.
For example, spiritual meditation practices might involve a spiritual phrase, while secular meditation might use a positive emotional phrase, like “I am joyful”. Alternatively, you may focus on your breathing, or on specific imagery, such as a light shining in your heart.
How to Meditate In Bed
Meditation techniques you can use once you are in bed include progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, deep breathing, and body scan meditation.
Progressive muscle relaxation meditation involves paying attention to your body, tensing and relaxing each muscle one by one, from head to toe. This technique has been found to improve sleep quality in multiple groups of people.
A related technique, body scan, may also help you fall asleep faster. Body scan revolves around focusing attention on different areas of the body and taking note of physical sensations in a positive way.
Deep, slow breathing is another technique used to bring about a state of relaxation for sleep. Some researchers recommend trying to match your breathing patterns to your heart rate to reduce stress. This means taking regular breaths at a rate of 0.1 Hertz, or one breath every 10 seconds.
Guided imagery asks participants to conjure up images of natural scenery or other relaxing vistas. Research conducted on people in stressful or painful situations has found that guided imagery can help people sleep.
You can engage in these night meditation techniques on your own, or by listening to a recording. Multiple meditation apps are available to download to your phone, and research shows using these apps may help reduce stress. Guided meditation may be appealing if you are new to meditation or feel uncomfortable meditating silently on your own.
Tips for Maximizing the Benefits of Meditation for Sleep
Meditation for sleep works best when you are practicing good sleep hygiene, so other factors are not as likely to disrupt your sleep. Try these tips:
- Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day
- Only use your bed for sleep and sex
- Follow the same routine every night before sleep
- Keep your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet
- Exercise regularly
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine in the hours before sleep
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