Meditation Can Help You Sleep
For optimal physical and mental health, people need to get seven to nine hours of sleep each night. But that's easier said than done.
The hustle and bustle of everyday life often leaves us feeling stressed. If we hit the sheets before we've had a chance to relax, our minds can race and keep us awake.
The key to a good night's sleep is to relax before bed. And there's perhaps no better way to relax your mind and body than to meditate.
What Is Meditation?
Put simply, meditation is a form of mental exercise. Many different types of meditation are practiced today:
- Zen meditation.
- Transcendental meditation.
- Mindfulness meditation.
- Spiritual meditation.
- Focused meditation.
- Movement meditation.
- Chanting or mantra meditation.
Each type of meditation has unique goals and practices. For example, spiritual meditation involves connecting with a higher being, regardless of your religion, and is intended to strengthen one's spiritual awareness. In contrast, mindfulness meditation involves being present in the moment and witnessing your thoughts, feelings or body sensations without passing judgment.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, different forms of meditation have four things in common:
- A quiet space with few distractions.
- A specific posture, ideally one that's comfortable
- Focused attention on internal or external stimuli.
- An open, detached and non-judgmental mindset.
Why You Should Meditate Before Sleep
Half of U.S. adults have trouble sleeping, finds the 2017 National Health Interview Survey. Of these, 35% struggle to fall asleep, while 38% find it hard to stay asleep. That's a lot of people in dire need of an effective sleep remedy.
Unlike other evidence-based treatments for sleep disorders, meditation is widely available. Guided meditation apps, such as Headspace, Calm and Balance, can be accessed from your smart phone any time of day or night. Plus, many apps have free subscription plans, making meditation a cost-effective solution for all.
Importantly, meditation is also backed by empirical research. One meta-analysis by the National Institutes of Health found that mindfulness meditation enhances sleep quality. These benefits were comparable to other evidence-based treatments, such as medication. They also remained in effect 12 months later, suggesting mindfulness meditation has a long-term impact on sleep quality.
How Meditation Helps You Sleep
Fifty-five percent of U.S. adults experience stress throughout their daily activities, according to Gallup's 2019 Global Emotions Report. Such stress, which can be triggered by anything from a missed work deadline to conflict with your spouse, activates your fight-or-flight response.
Your fight-or-flight response prepares you for action by sending blood, oxygen and nutrients to your vital organs. It's effective in helping you deal with perceived threats, but — by definition —prevents your mind and body from getting the rest it needs.
That's where your rest-and-digest response comes in. When triggered, it slows your breathing and decreases your heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension. In other words, it helps you relax.
Meditation triggers your rest-and-digest response, countering your fight-or-flight response. By helping you relax after a stressful day, it prepares your mind and body to fall and stay asleep.
Meditation Tips for Your Evening Routine
Learning a new skill doesn't have to be intimidating. Follow these guidelines to kickoff your meditation practice on the right foot:
- Find a comfortable spot away from distractions. When you're in the zone, your mind and body are more likely to relax. Limiting distractions will help you get there. So, find a place where you can sit comfortably in silence.
- Listen to guided meditation. Meditation apps provide teachers who guide you through each meditation, step by step. They're especially helpful for beginners, as they help direct your attention away from distractions.
- Start small with five-minute meditations. Even short meditations can make a significant difference in your ability to fall and stay asleep. To avoid overwhelming yourself, start by meditating for five minutes a day.
- Release thoughts, feelings or body sensations. It's natural for the mind to wander, so don't be too hard on yourself. Instead, witness then let go of any thoughts, feelings or body sensations that arise during your meditation.
- Meditate daily at the same time. Your goal is to cultivate a regular meditation habit, so be sure to practice each day. Doing so at the same time can help you form a consistent sleep schedule.