Sleepless in Seattle? New York City? Oklahoma City? We hear you.
Insomnia or trouble getting enough sleep is a common affliction that is only growing more common every year. With the increase of technology making it harder to draw boundaries — as well as society’s obsession with multitasking — it’s no wonder our brains are forgetting how to wind down.
In a recent study performed in the United Kingdom over a 15-year period, worry and overthinking were listed as the number one reason for insomnia.
If we are our own worst enemy — and cyclical thoughts and anxieties are the leading cause of sleeplessness — then surely we must also be our own solution? The answer is yes, we do in fact hold the key to a peaceful night’s sleep, a key that can be accessed simply by training our minds through meditation for sleep, also referred to as sleep meditation.
How Meditation Can Help You Relax and Fall Asleep
You’ve likely heard about meditation before, but do you know what it actually entails? Meditation is a widely practiced technique where an individual focuses the mind on a specific thought or activity, oftentimes on breathing in and out. By building up mindfulness and awareness, meditation helps to clear the mind and calm your emotions, as well as any racing thoughts that capture your attention.
From calming anxiety to increasing productivity, meditation can be used for a wide array of our daily problems. But meditation for sleep seems like the most obvious benefit of all, given the relaxing nature of the practice itself. Think about it: when you calm your mind, focus on your breathing and succumb to the art meditation, this relaxing practice will lead you to sleep in no time.
It has been proven that doing meditation or mindfulness practices before bed can help you relax, drastically reduce insomnia and increase quality of sleep. According to Dr. Herbert Benson, Director Emeritus of the Harvard-affiliated Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine, by focusing the mind on the space between our thoughts, we disarm stress responses and trigger what Benson coined “The Relaxation Response” (TRR).
Aside from sleep, the Relaxation Response can also improve everything from energy and libido to immunity and digestion. Triggering TRR through mindfulness meditation, when done regularly at any time of day, can improve sleep quality at night.
Newcomers to meditation may struggle with quieting their mind and lulling themselves to sleep. Thankfully, there are tons of guided meditation apps and videos you can access, many of which are free. You can simply look up “guided meditation for sleep” or “sleep meditation” on YouTube or scroll through the assortment of guided meditation apps available on your smartphone.
On the other hand, if you want to utilize some sleep meditation practices and reach a state of deep sleep on your own, here are three easy and effective meditation methods to help you tackle insomnia and finally catch some Zs.
3 Methods of Sleep Meditation
1. Mindfulness Meditation
Typical mindfulness meditation practices involve simply focusing on the breath or a mantra (a word or sound) to keep the mind from wandering. Mindfulness meditation trains the brain to stay in the present moment rather than the past or the future, thus breaking the loop of worry that is keeping us up at night and helping us fall asleep.
- Sit with a straight back, or lie comfortably in bed.
- Focus on an aspect of your breathing, such as the sensations of air flowing into your nostrils and out of your mouth, or your belly rising and falling as you inhale and exhale.
- Once you’ve narrowed your concentration in this way, begin to widen your focus. Become aware of sounds, sensations, and your ideas.
- Embrace and consider each thought or sensation without judging it good or bad. If your mind starts to race, return your focus to your breathing. Then expand your awareness again when you feel centered.
2. Yoga Nidra
Another useful type of meditation, especially for sleep, is yoga nidra. The practice of yoga nidra requires focusing on one body part at a time sequentially, until the whole body has been addressed.
By bringing awareness into the body, this breathing exercise refocuses the mind into the physical, avoiding future fears and past anxieties. By relaxing your mind and focusing on your breath, this form of meditation will quickly lead you to a state of deep sleep.
- Lie down and relax.
- Breathe deeply. Observe your inhales and exhales.
- Start with your hand or foot. Moving progressively around the body, name and become aware of each singular body part. For example, each finger, the front of the hand, the back of the hand, the wrist, forearm, elbow, etc.
- Once you’ve completed the entire body, focus on your feeling of wholeness, and repeat if necessary.
3. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Lastly, Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) brings you even further into the body by asking you to tense up different muscle groups one at a time. Similar to yoga nidra, PMR is a meditation technique that takes you on a tour of the body. But rather than simply asking you to bring awareness to your right hand, right elbow, right upper arm, etc, you’re asked to squeeze or tense each one before releasing. The practice goes one step further than yoga nidra to bring you into your body and recognize the physical sensations of release.
- Lie down.
- Breathe deeply. Observe your inhales and exhales as you meditate.
- Starting with the top of your head or your feet and moving progressively away, tense or contract each muscle group one at a time. Hold the contraction for at least five seconds, and then relax that muscle group for up to 30 seconds. It can help to inhale before tightening and exhale during the relaxation.
- Deliberately focus on the difference you feel between tension and relaxation.
Additional Tools to Help You With Sleep Meditation
- Insight Timer App, Headspace, and other guided meditation apps
- Guided meditation videos or audios to assist in meditation (such as those by meditation teachers like Jason Stephenson)
- A good sleep mask to block even small lights that can interfere with sleep hormones
- Calm, relaxing music, such as nature sounds, Sleep Music, Binaural Beats, or other forms of background music
- Lavender oil to calm and encourage a feeling of sanctuary
- Breathable pajamas in organic fabrics to prevent night sweats
- 100% cotton sheets to regulate body temperature and improve sleep hygiene
- A quality CBD oil specifically designed for sleep can encourage deeper relaxation
If reading all of this data hasn’t already put you in the mood to sleep, hopefully some of these tips will do the trick. Sleep is arguably one of the most important factors in productivity and leading a healthier, happier life. So to give your annual goals and overall mood a leg up, get out there, incorporate meditation and mindfulness into your nightly routine and…drift away into a good night of sleep.
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