Because stress is such a common impedance to getting good sleep, you can see why sleep meditation can be helpful for so many people
Supplements | By Dr. Josh Axe, DC, DNM, CNS | Mar 1, 2022
Because stress is such a common impedance to getting good sleep, you can see why sleep meditation can be helpful for so many people — considering that surveys have found that stress affects 77 percent of people enough to impact their physical health.
Various types of meditations exist, all with their own approaches and goals. However, most types have in common the intention of moving your awareness to the present moment (aka practicing “mindfulness“) and dealing with stressful thoughts more productively.
A number of studies have found that meditating can be helpful for those dealing with symptoms of insomnia, anxiety, chronic pain, jet lag and depression.
What type of meditation is good for sleep? Let’s look below at how meditation for sleep works, plus how to do it in order to get the best results.
How Sleep Meditation Works Research suggests that meditating at night can support healthy sleep patterns because it can help you feel more relaxed and calm before bed.
According to the Sleep Foundation, “Meditation can be helpful for managing anxiety, stress, and difficulty sleeping…it likely promotes sleep by reducing pain sensitivity and stress, both of which can disturb sleep.”
When you practice meditation for sleep, you actually cause changes in brain activity in certain parts of your brain —including your thalamus and amygdala, which play a role in your perception of fear and discomfort. For example, research suggests that meditation can reduce depression symptoms and sensations of pain plus worrying/ruminating, which are things that can keep people up tossing and turning at night when they can’t sleep.
Benefits Below are some of the benefits associated with sleep meditation:
1. Can Help Decrease Anxiety and Worrying As Headspace explains it, “Sleep meditations help create the inner conditions needed for a truly restful night. Because when we settle the mind, we rest the body — and that restfulness is what makes it easier to wind down and drift off.”
Whether you choose to follow a guided meditation or to sit in silence by yourself, your meditation of choice will likely have soothing, calming effects on your nervous system, helping decrease a number of anxiety symptoms that are linked to insomnia. Several studies have found that mindfulness meditation helps some adults with insomnia experience improvements in total wake time, sleep onset latency, sleep quality and sleep efficiency.
In addition to focusing on your breath while meditating, you can try incorporating visualization, relaxing sounds or music, which can all contribute to a peaceful environment that makes it easier to unwind. Some guided sleep meditations include several of these features to help you focus on the present, let go of ruminating, and to practice more gratitude and positivity, which combat stress.
2. Helps Lower Pain and Discomfort Because it can help decrease pain, muscle tension and possibly even inflammation tied to high stress levels, sleep meditation makes a beneficial addition to your nightly routine if you deal with ongoing pain. You may find it easier to cope with discomfort that keeps you up if you focus on acceptance and relaxation.
3. May Help Manage Jet Lag While there haven’t been many studies focused on this topic, some find that meditations for sleep can help people adjust to changes in their sleep schedules, such as due to jet lag or other obligations that alter their schedules (such as shift work or having children). This is likely due to its ability to reduce worrying, fatigue and feelings of overwhelm — and by helping with concentration.
Who Should Use It? If you deal with any of the following situations or symptoms, you can probably benefit from giving sleep meditation a try:
Insomnia (inability to fall or stay asleep easily)
Pain that keeps you up
Daytime fatigue and lack of focus
You’re an older adult who can’t seem to sleep through the night
Your sleep schedule is frequently changing, such as due to shift work
You’re a stressed parent who can’t sleep well due to being woken up by children or anxious or about your child’s sleep
How to Do It There’s more than one way to do sleep meditation. For example, it’s possible to silently meditate while sitting, to do a moving meditation (which can consist of walking or yoga), to listen to music while laying in bed meditating or to follow a guided sleep meditation on an app.
Here’s how to do a basic meditation for sleep:
For the best results, try meditating within about one hour of going to sleep. You might want to do it just before heading to bed, once in bed or as part of your “wind down” nightly routine.
First get in a comfortable position, whether sitting or laying down. Bring your attention to your breath as you work on taking steady breaths, counting to four while inhaling and then again counting to four while breathing out. (This “four by four breathing” is also called boxbreathing.) Some find it most calming to breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth.
When your mind begins wandering, try to bring it back to your breath. Notice the things you drift off in thought about, but try not to get carried away by the stories you start telling yourself.
Pay attention to the sensations in your body, and “breathe into” any space that feels tense, heavy or tight. Then imagine your muscles softening and your body feeling calm and peaceful.
You might also want to incorporate journaling into your meditation practice by writing down your thoughts after you meditate. Journaling is also a good way to “dump” all your worries out so you feel lighter.
How long should you meditate? Is 20 minutes of meditation really equal to four hours of sleep? While this hasn’t necessarily been proven, it’s possible that a brief meditation can help someone feel substantially more awake even if they’re lacking sleep. This is mostly due to meditation’s ability to decrease stress and distraction and aid in mental clarity and calmness. Research suggests that engaging in mindfulness practices for 10 to 30 minutes a day can help many adults improve their sleep, so 20 minutes is a good amount to aim for each day.
How can I fall asleep fast, in just seconds? The box breathing exercise described above is one of the fastest ways to help you fall asleep. Other tips for dozing off fast include:
Relaxing the muscles in your face, especially around your eyes and mouth.
Lifting and then relaxing your shoulders, chest and neck while you picture yourself melting.
Doing a body scan meditation to let go of tension.
Imagining a relaxing scene, such as a beach with waves crashing.
Repeating a calm word or phrase over and over.
What is the best sleep meditation app? If you would prefer guided sleep meditations, consider trying one of many available meditation apps, free Youtube videos, or playlists on platforms such as Apple or Spotify. Some apps and platforms require subscriptions, so decide how often you plan to do them and how many different types you want access to. Some of the most popular sleep meditation apps include:
Slumber — focuses mostly on sleep meditations, nature sounds and soothing music.
Headspace — offers dozens of meditations tailored to those dealing with issues like insomnia, stress, anxiety, lack of focus and depression.
Calm — offers different types of calming stories, including some narrated by celebrities, as well as guided breathing exercises that can be used to manage anxiety.
Buddhify — features meditations with many different goals in mind, such as rest, focus, sleep and relaxation.
Insight Timer — a website and app that features stories and guided meditations to help you feel calmer.
Risks and Other Tips There’s very little risk involved in trying a guided sleep meditation if you struggle to get sufficient sleep. However, this approach might not work well enough for some people with severe anxiety or sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea and narcolepsy. Some people may also deal with insomnia due to taking certain medications or because of serious pain or indigestion, which meditation might not be able to decrease. Meditation does seem to help with sleep, but that said, meditating shouldn’t replace a good night’s sleep. The real goal is to create a healthy sleep environment and to get enough sleep on as many nights as possible, which is usually seven to nine hours per night for most adults. If you’re struggling to sleep, try these tips and habits in addition to sleep meditations:
Stick to a regular sleep schedule, meaning go to sleep and wake up at roughly the same time each day to regulate your circadian rhythm.
Make your room calming and conducive to sleep, such as by keeping it cool, dark, quiet, neat and comfortable.
Establish a bedtime routine that helps you relax. Stay off of electronic devices about two hours before going to sleep, and instead try things like reading, journaling, taking a shower or stretching.
The purpose of doing sleep meditation is to help you feel more relaxed, calm and comfortable before bed so you can doze off more easily and avoid waking up often.
Benefits of doing sleep meditation can include decreasing insomnia, anxiety, pain and issues like jet lag.
There are lots of ways to practice meditations to help you sleep, such as by listening to guided audio, videos or using an app. Try pairing sleep meditation with calming activities like yoga, journaling, music, deep breathing and visualization.