If you find it difficult falling asleep at night, you’re not alone. About 35 to 50 percent of adults worldwide regularly experience insomnia symptoms.
For a lot of people, sleeping difficulty is related to stress. That’s because stress can cause anxiety and tension, making it hard to fall asleep. In some cases, stress can simply worsen existing sleep issues.
Meditation can help you sleep better. As a relaxation technique, it can quiet the mind and body while enhancing inner peace. When done before bedtime, meditation may help reduce insomnia and sleep troubles by promoting overall calmness.
Read on to learn about the different types of meditation for insomnia and how to meditate for improved sleep. We’ll also look at the benefits and possible risks.
How can meditation help with sleeping?
When you meditate, a variety of physiological changes occur. These changes initiate sleep by influencing specific processes in your body.
For example, in a 2015 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers analyzed how mindfulness meditation affected 49 adults with moderate sleep issues. The participants were randomly assigned 6 weeks of meditation or sleep hygiene education. At the end of the study, the meditation group experienced fewer insomnia symptoms and less daytime fatigue.
According to the researchers, meditation likely helps in several ways. Sleep problems often stem from stress and worry, but meditation improves your relaxation response. It also improves control of the autonomic nervous system, which reduces how easily you’re awakened.
Meditation may also:
- increase melatonin (the sleep hormone)
- increase serotonin (precursor of melatonin)
- reduce heart rate
- decrease blood pressure
- activate parts of the brain that control sleep
Your body experiences similar changes in the early stages of sleep. As a result, meditation can promote sleep by initiating these changes.
How to meditate
Meditation is a simple practice that can be done anywhere, anytime. You don’t need special tools or equipment. In fact, the only thing you need is a few minutes.
However, establishing a meditation routine takes practice. By making time for meditation, you’ll be more likely to enjoy its benefits.
Here are the basic steps of meditation:
- Find a quiet area. Sit or lie down, depending on what feels most comfortable. Lying down is preferable at bedtime.
- Close your eyes and breathe slowly. Inhale and exhale deeply. Focus on your breathing.
- If a thought pops up, let it go and refocus on your breathing.
As you try meditation for sleep, be patient with yourself. A meditation practice is just that — a practice. Start by meditating for 3 to 5 minutes before bed. Over time, slowly increase the time to 15 to 20 minutes. It’ll take time to learn how to quiet your mind.
Let’s look at specific meditation techniques that tend to work well for sleep and how to do each one.
Mindfulness meditation entails focusing on the present. It’s done by increasing your awareness of your consciousness, breathing, and body.
If you meet a thought or emotion, simply observe it, then let it pass without judging yourself.
How to do mindfulness meditation
- Remove all distractions from your room, including your phone. Lie down in a comfortable position.
- Focus on your breathing. Inhale for 10 counts, then hold your breath for 10 counts. Exhale for 10 counts. Repeat five times.
- Inhale and tense your body. Pause, relax, and exhale. Repeat five times.
- Notice your breath and body. If a body part feels tight, consciously relax it.
- When a thought comes up, slowly return your focus to just your breathing.
Guided meditation is when another person leads you through each step of meditation. They may instruct you to breathe or relax your body in a certain way. Or, they might have you visualize images or sounds. This technique is also known as guided imagery.
At bedtime, try listening to a recording of a guided meditation. Here’s where you can find recordings:
- meditation podcasts
- meditation apps
- online streaming services, like Spotify
- your local library
Though the exact steps may vary from source to source, the following step-by-step instructions provide a general overview of how to do guided meditation.
How to do guided meditation
- Pick a recording. Dim the light of your phone or device you’re using to listen to the guided meditation.
- Start the recording. Lie down in bed and breathe deeply and slowly.
- Focus on the person’s voice. If your mind wanders, slowly return your attention to the recording.
Body scan meditation
In body scan meditation, you focus on each part of your body. The goal is to increase awareness of your physical sensations, including tension and pain. The act of focusing promotes relaxation, which can help you sleep.
Body scan meditation: How to do It
- Take out all distractions from your room, including your phone. Lie down in a comfortable position.
- Shut your eyes and breathe slowly. Notice the weight of your body on the bed.
- Focus on your face. Soften your jaw, eyes, and facial muscles.
- Move to your neck and shoulders. Relax them.
- Continue down your body, moving to your arms and fingers. Continue to your stomach, back, hips, legs, and feet. Notice how each part feels.
- If your mind wanders, slowly shift your focus back to your body. If you like, you can repeat in the opposite direction, from your feet to your head.
Some Other benefits of meditation
Better sleep is just one benefit of meditation. When done regularly, meditation can also:
- improve your mood
- relieve stress
- reduce anxiety
- increase focus
- improve cognition
- reduce tobacco cravings
- improve your pain response
- control high blood pressure
- improve heart health
- reduce inflammation
What Are the Risks?
Basically, meditation is a low-risk practice. It’s agreeably considered safe for most people.
But if you have a history of mental illness, meditation may worsen or trigger unwanted side effects. This may include:
- increased anxiety
- intense mood changes
These side effects are rare. However, if you’re concerned about the possibility of these side effects, it’s best to talk to your doctor before trying meditation.
Sleep can be scarce and difficult for so many people. Stress and an overactive mind can often be a blockage in the way of getting good quality sleep. Research has demonstrated that meditation can calm the mind and help promote better and quality sleep.
And do recall, while meditation for insomnia can improve your sleep, it doesn’t replace good sleep hygienic practices. This includes following a regular sleep schedule, putting off electronics, keeping your bedroom cool, quiet, and dark, and avoiding caffeine and heavy meals before bed.