Meditation for Sleep: How to Start a Nightly Mindfulness Practice

With roots in ancient India, meditation plays an important spiritual role in many of the world’s religions. Meditation has also been adopted by modern wellness practitioners to instill more mindfulness into daily life and improve overall well-being.

Since meditation has the power to calm the mind and reduce stress, it inhibits sleep disorders and promotes more restful nights and more energized days. Mindfulness exercises, body awareness, and breathwork are just a few ways that meditation can help you fall and stay asleep. If the stressors of daily life are keeping you up at night and you’re aching for help, follow these expert tips on using meditation for sleep.

The Healing Benefits of Guided Meditation

Adopting a meditation practice is one of the best things you can do for your mind and body. The main goal of meditation is to help you focus on the present moment through breath and body awareness. Anchoring your mind on physical sensations, such as your chest rising and falling to the tune of your breath, helps you release your worries about the past and the present. As a result, you’re less likely to ruminate on stress-inducing thoughts and lie awake at night.

This is important because many of us are constantly focused either on the past or the future. We’re constantly worried about what went wrong yesterday and how we can put our best foot forward tomorrow. This can be problematic because it takes away from our current life experience — the ability to stop and smell the roses. In other words, meditation is the art of letting go of the past and embracing what is.

Meditation for Mental Health

Meditation for Sleep: woman standing on water looking at sunset

Meditation has been proven to have a beneficial effect on mental health challenges, including anxiety. One study revealed that, in addition to helping symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder, mindfulness-based stress reduction can improve stress reactivity and coping.

Additional studies suggest that along with reducing a person’s present stress and anxiety, meditation can help the person cope better with stress in the future. These findings suggest that meditation is important not only for healing stress now, but for creating a more resilient future.

Physical Benefits of Meditation

The benefits of meditation aren’t limited to the mental and spiritual realm. Numerous studies and personal accounts have shown that a consistent meditation practice can heal physical ailments, lower heart rate, and make a person’s body more resilient against future stressors.

According to a study led by John J. Durocher, assistant professor of physiology at Michigan Technological University, meditation can boost physical health. “Participants also had reduced mechanical stress on their arteries an hour after the session. This could help to reduce stress on organs like the brain and kidneys and help prevent conditions such as high blood pressure,” Durocher adds.

This makes meditation an important practice for people of any age, but it’s especially important for older adults who are more prone to brain and kidney diseases. Likewise, meditation has a positive effect on the immune system. Another study on meditation and immunity showed that meditation helps reduce inflammation, improve wound healing, and lengthen telomeres (an effect which is believed to delay aging and age-related diseases).

Most importantly, mindfulness meditation was shown to support the immune system and ease the ongoing impact of daily stress. The study’s authors predicted that these benefits would result in healthier aging.

Getting Started With Sleep Meditation

women meditating on the floor facing window

Since meditation has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, it only makes sense that it can also support better sleep. Anyone who struggles to get enough sleep — including people with sleep disorders and those who rely on sleep aids — can benefit from adopting meditation for sleep. Here are a few of the most common meditations designed to promote good sleep and elevate your quality of sleep.

Guided Yoga Nidra or Yogic Sleep

If you’re someone whose mind wanders before bed, yoga nidra is a beneficial sleep meditation practice. Contrary to the name, yoga nidra isn’t very similar to a moving yoga practice. Rather, it’s more like an extended savasana — the final yoga pose in most classes that involves lying flat on your back.

As one of the original relaxation techniques, yoga nidra involves focusing on each body part. Typically, yoga nidra will guide the practitioner to tense and release each body part until they’ve completed a full body scan.

Yoga nidra combines mental awareness with physical relaxation to create a full-body experience that’s appropriate for everyone. Yoga nidra can also help reduce mental stress and deepen self-understanding, says Allison Ray Jeraci at Yoga International.

“Yoga nidra offers a space to explore what you need in the moment, as well as an opportunity to work on releasing long-held emotions,” Ray adds.

Guided Loving Kindness Meditation

Loving-kindness meditation is another mindfulness exercise that can promote deep sleep. Professor and meditation teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn explains that loving-kindness meditation is a radical act of self-love that helps a person develop compassion for themselves in a world where we’re constantly focused on getting somewhere else.

This practice also helps us identify deep-rooted emotions and self-judgements that tend to bubble up and interfere with our daily successes in life. “At such times, formal loving-kindness practice can function to soften one’s relationship to such overwhelmingly afflictive mind states, so that we can avoid succumbing completely to their energies,” according to Kabat-Zinn.

Loving-kindness meditation can improve sleep by helping you address any anger, judgement, or resentment that might be keeping you awake at night. It also helps you accept these feelings as normal so you can embrace the restful sleep that you deserve.

Meditation and Breathing Exercises

Meditation for Sleep: woman sitting on rock facing the ocean

Breathwork is another important element to consider when starting meditation for sleep. The 4-7-8 breathing method is a relaxing breath designed to halt anxiety and promote restful sleep.

To start this meditation, find a comfortable seat and place your tongue at the top of your mouth. This meditation can also be practiced in bed while lying down. Once you find a position, exhale until the lungs are empty of all air. Breathe in for four seconds, hold for seven seconds, and exhale through the mouth for eight seconds. You can repeat this up to four times.

While many people report that this helps them fall asleep, feeling slightly lightheaded is a common side effect of breathwork — especially if you’re new to the practice — so start slow and easy. Such breathwork can be incorporated into guided meditations to get you into a calm state of mind before you get started.

Make the Most of Guided Meditation

Setting yourself up for a relaxed, calming meditation session is important for getting the most out of it. First and foremost, ensure that you have a comfortable space to relax in. You might decide to put on relaxing music or use an app like Headspace. If you have other people in the house, consider listening through your headphones so as to not be distracted or distract others.

Next, do whatever you can to minimize sleep disturbances. This in part requires that you take responsibility for good sleep habits like avoiding technology before bed and keeping the room cool and clean. Whether it’s loading up with extra blankets or propping a pillow under your knees, find a comfortable position in a calming space to promote a positive experience.

Using Meditation for Sleep

If you’re struggling with sleep and you need help getting more shuteye, look no further than meditation. Millions of people around the world have relied on this ancient practice to reduce stress, alleviate anxiety, reduce blood pressure, and promote immunity in the body.

These benefits also make sleep meditation a healthy practice, as it can help a person sleep better for longer while boosting their overall sleep hygiene. Whether you’re struggling to feel rested or you simply want more consistency each night, there’s no reason not to try meditation for sleep.

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