Meditation for Sleep
Meditation for Sleep
Whether you have trouble falling asleep, wake up throughout the night, or just feel tired in the morning, meditation for sleep can help relax your mind and body at bedtime and improve your overall quality of sleep.
Just like nutrition and exercise, sleep is critical to your mental, physical, and emotional well-being. Long- and short-term sleep deprivation has been linked to low energy, decreased focus, and irritability as well as more serious health conditions including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity (1).
Sleep meditations incorporate a variety of relaxation techniques designed to help you let go of stressful thoughts, release tension from your body, and focus on your breathing. These techniques—combined with a consistent bedtime routine and healthy lifestyle choices—can help you prepare for and get a better night’s rest as well as function better throughout the day. Consistent meditation practice has been linked to better mental focus and improved energy (2).
THE SLEEP DEPRIVATION EPIDEMIC
If you struggle to get a good night’s sleep or if your sleep has gotten worse during the COVID-19 pandemic, you are not alone:
- One in three adults do not get enough sleep, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- 50-70 million US adults have a sleep disorder with up to 20% of the population suffering from insomnia, according to the American Sleep Foundation (3).
- More than 37% of the Greek population reported sleep problems after just three weeks of lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic, a 15% increase as compared to the national average.
- Women and people in urban areas were the most affected (4).
Sleep deprivation does more than just leave you feeling tired the next day. In fact, the cumulative long-term effects of sleep deprivation can lead to an increased risk of hypertension, diabetes, depression, heart attack, and stroke (5). The short-term effects can be just as devastating, including increases in accidents and injuries at work and a decrease in overall performance.
Sleep loss also has an adverse effect on mood and behavior, including increases in mental distress, depressive symptoms, anxiety, and alcohol consumption. As such, quality of life and family well-being are also negatively affected when you do not get enough sleep at night (5).
According to the book Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem, the “management and treatment of sleep loss are rarely addressed by clinicians, despite the large toll on society.” (6)
Your sleep schedule and bedtime routine play a very important part in your overall health and well-being and should be considered just as important as your diet, annual doctor’s exam, or your mental health. When you take the time to prioritize sleep, you may see a significant improvement in other areas of your life.
Whether you have chronic sleep issues or just occasionally experience poor sleep, it can be helpful to determine exactly what is keeping you up at night so that you can address the root cause of your sleep issues and develop a healthy bedtime routine.
The quality of your sleep is determined by the lifestyle decisions that you make throughout the day, not just before bed. Sleep quality can be complicated as there are multiple factors that determine the quality of your sleep. It may take some time to pinpoint which factors are affecting you, but good quality sleep is worth the effort.
Here are a few common issues that may be affecting your ability to get high-quality Zzzzzzs:
Anxious Thoughts: If you find yourself ruminating over past events, worrying about the future, or just feel overwhelmed with your to-do list at night, anxious thoughts may be contributing to your sleep issues and preventing you from falling asleep. Try a grounding sleep meditation to bring your thoughts back to the present moment and help calm your mind.
Lack of exercise: If you find yourself wide awake when you should be going to sleep, a lack of exercise could be to blame. Studies have shown that at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise can lead to a difference in sleep quality that same night (7). Exercising too close to your bedtime, however, may have the opposite effect and leave you feeling wide awake.
Eating too late: A full belly can make it hard for your body to wind down at night while acidic meals can cause heartburn and acid reflux. Try to eat at least two hours before you go to sleep in order to ensure you get the best quality shut-eye.
Light and noise pollution: Too much light and noise can prevent us from falling asleep or wake us up in the middle of the night. Although these issues may be more prevalent in urban areas, anything from headlights to barking dogs could cause a disturbance. Try blackout curtains, a sleep mask, or earplugs for better quality sleep.
Too Much Bluelight: Turn off your devices—phones, televisions, etc.—at least one hour before bed in order to avoid the negative effects of blue light, which blocks the release of melatonin, the hormone that makes you feel sleepy.
Inconsistent bedtime routine: According to Dr. Shelby Harris, our bodies crave routine, including consistent bedtimes and wake up times. Experiment to figure out what works best for you and follow your routine seven days a week.
Room temperature is off: Research shows that the ideal room temperature for sleep is between 15-19 degrees Celsius or 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit (8). Feeling too hot or too cold may be what’s keeping you up at night.
Too much caffeine: Caffeine affects all of us differently, but having too much of it in the afternoon can keep you awake at night. If you’re sensitive to caffeine, try to avoid coffee, tea, and chocolate after lunch and especially before bed.
Social jet lag: If you’re in the habit of staying out late and sleeping in on the weekends, social jet lag may be to blame for some of your sleep issues. Sticking to a consistent sleep schedule even on the weekends is key to preventing this issue.
If you’ve been having trouble sleeping for an extended period of time, it is more than likely that there are multiple factors causing your sleepless nights.
In order to develop the best bedtime routine, it can be helpful to take an experimental approach. Using the tips above, start by designing a routine that you think will work best for you. Try it out for a few weeks and record your results, being sure to record your sleep quality each night.
Next, slowly change different aspects of your routine to see if and how your sleep quality changes. Keep making adjustments until you’ve perfected your bedtime routine to meet your specific needs.
THE BENEFITS OF SLEEP MEDITATION
While you have most likely experienced the repercussions of a bad night’s sleep (low energy, grogginess, irritability, etc.), you may not be aware of all of the benefits that a consistent sleep meditation practice has to offer.
A recent study published by JAMA Internal Medicine showed that middle-aged adults who had trouble sleeping and completed a mindfulness awareness program experienced less insomnia and fatigue after six weeks of daily 20-minute sleep meditations (9).
- Reduce stress: Studies have shown that meditation can decrease your stress levels by redirecting your thoughts from worries about the past and future and keeping your mind in the present moment (10). This can be especially helpful when a busy mind is preventing you from falling asleep at night.
- Improve attention and focus: A study conducted by Italian neuroscientist Giuseppe Pagnoni found that individuals with a consistent meditation practice had more stability in their ventral posteromedial cortex (vPMC), or the part of the brain that is linked to spontaneous thoughts and mind-wandering, as compared to non-meditators. While both groups showed consistent brainwave activity in the vPMC, meditators were able to better control their thoughts before they spiraled out of control (11).
- Promote emotional regulation: A study conducted by Yi-Yuan Tang showed improved emotion regulation after mindfulness training, including an increase in activity in the anterior cingulate cortex and adjacent prefrontal cortex, the parts of the brain related to self-control (12).
- Increase melatonin: A consistent meditation practice has been shown to increase melatonin levels, which plays a vital role in sleep regulation (13).
Activate your parasympathetic nervous system: Transcendental meditation techniques have been shown to activate the body’s parasympathetic nervous system or your rest and digest response, which is key to bringing the body to a calm and relaxed state (14).
- Deactivate your sympathetic nervous system: The same study also showed that transcendental meditation techniques deactivated your sympathetic nervous system, which controls your flight or fight response (14).
The relaxation techniques used in sleep meditations provide you with a wide range of benefits that can help better prepare your mind and body for a good night’s sleep as well as help you throughout the day when you’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or just in need of a break.
Daytime Meditation for Quality Sleep
Meditations completed throughout the day, not just before bed, can contribute to higher quality sleep once your head hits the pillow. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, patients with insomnia who practiced deep relaxation techniques during the day reported improved sleep at night (15).
While there is no best time to meditate during the day, meditation provides different benefits depending on when you complete your session. Meditating at night or before you go to sleep can help you slow down your breathing and heart rate, which can help more quickly move you to the first stage of non-REM sleep.
Daytime meditations can also:
- Provide clarity on the day ahead
- Ease pre-work stress
- Reduce stress related to family responsibilities
- Ease the transition from work to home
- Help you cultivate a more positive perspective
The more you do throughout the day to mitigate stress and develop positive emotions, the more relaxed you’ll feel before bed, which will lead to better quality sleep.
What Is Guided Meditation?
Guided meditations are led by an experienced meditation teacher, either in person, over a live broadcast, or via pre-recorded audio or video. While guided meditations can be utilized by both new and experienced meditators, those new to the meditation practice may find the extra guidance provided by an instructor especially helpful.
Muse S—a multi-sensor meditation device that provides real-time feedback on your brainwaves, heart rate, and body movements—allows users to seamlessly transition from daytime meditation sessions to bedtime use with comfort-fit fabric that you can fall asleep in.
The Muse library of meditations includes relaxing soundscapes for day use and responsive Go-to-Sleep Journeys for nighttime sessions that invite you to explore relaxing lavender fields, calming forests, and even underwater landscapes.
Whether you’ve had a good night’s sleep or woke up feeling groggy, here are a few questions to consider:
- How many times did you meditate?
- How many minutes did you meditate?
- What time of day did you meditate?
- How focused was your meditation sessions?
- How did you feel after your meditation session?
While meditations can play a large part in your daily routine, it isn’t the only factor that affects your sleep. It is important to periodically assess what meditation, bedtime, and exercise routines help promote high-quality sleep for you.
What to Expect When Meditating to Fall Asleep
If you’re brand new to meditation or only practice during the daytime, it may be helpful to know what to expect during your first sleep meditation session.
It’s also important to remember to be easy on yourself as you begin your meditation practice: for day or sleep. Start with short meditations and increase your session length over time. You may find meditation difficult at first, but if you are able to develop a consistent practice, the long- and short-term positive results will be worth the time and effort.
There are many different types of sleep meditations, most of them include a few standard components:
- At the beginning of the meditation, you will be asked to find a comfortable seat. You may even be encouraged to lay down in your bed and close your eyes.
- After you’re comfortable, your teacher will guide you through the meditation, which may include a body scan, visualization, or breathing techniques.
- During the meditation, there may be moments of silence when the teacher isn’t speaking. These quiet moments allow you to find deeper relaxation and focus on your breath.
- At the end of your session, the meditation will fade away without a gong or ending noise in order to help ease you into a relaxing sleep.
Unlike typical sleep meditations, the Muse S Go-to-Sleep Journeys provide a more in-depth meditation experience by combining soothing voice guidance with beautiful soundscapes that respond to your physiological state.
If your mind is active, the soundscape gets louder. If your mind is calm, the soundscape gets softer.
This real-time feedback allows you to better assess the quality of your focus during your meditation session and adjust as needed. It's important to note, that unlike daytime meditation sessions, biofeedback during sleep is used to bring your wandering mind back to calm and does encourage you to fall into a deep sleep.
Other Ways to Improve Sleep
It’s important to remember that the choices you make throughout the day—not just right before bed—can affect your sleep in many different ways. While sleep meditations can certainly improve your sleep quality, a consistent bedtime routine and healthy lifestyle choices also play an important role in your overall sleep quality.
Here are a few healthy habits and lifestyle choices that you can implement throughout the day to improve your sleep at night.
During the day:
- Avoid taking naps during the day. They may make it difficult for you to fall asleep at night.
- Exposing yourself to sunshine throughout the day can help regulate your sleep-wake cycle. If you live somewhere with consistent rainy and overcast weather, consider purchasing a light therapy box.
- Any amount of exercise during the day can help contribute to a good night’s sleep. Aim for 30 minutes of aerobic exercise a day.
Control your stress levels throughout the day with guided meditations sessions, journaling, or exercise. The less stress you have during the day, the easier it will be to wind down at night.
- Avoid staying up late and sleeping in, even on the weekends. A consistent bedtime and wake up routine are important to your overall sleep quality.
- Avoid screens and blue light at least one hour before bed, including television, phones, and tablets. Replace these activities with reading, puzzles, or other unplugged activities.
- Limit sugary foods, heavy meals, and caffeine throughout the day, but especially as you get closer to bedtime.
- Avoid alcohol consumption before bed as it may interfere with your sleep cycle.
- Drinking too many liquids at night may result in frequent trips to the bathroom.
Right before bed and in the middle of the night:
- Dim the lights while you prepare for bed and make sure your room is completely dark when you’re ready to go to sleep. Alternatively, consider wearing a sleep mask.
- Outside noises can also prevent you from falling and staying asleep at night. If you live in a loud area, wear earplugs at night to protect yourself from noise.
- Keep your room at a slightly cooler temperature. Being too hot or too cold can disrupt your ability to fall and stay asleep. The ideal room temperature for sleep is between 15-19 degrees Celsius or 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit (8).
- If you wake up in the middle of the night, avoid looking at your phone and turning on the lights. Instead, try a meditation exercise to ease yourself back to sleep.
Why Did We Make Muse S?
Statistics from our Muse community show that sleep is our most popular guided meditation collection and our community averages almost four sleep meditation sessions per week...that’s why we created the Muse S!
Sleep meditations are a powerful tool that can help prepare your body and mind for the deep and restful sleep you need to recharge. In order to get the most out of your sleep meditation session, you should strive to create an environment that will encourage deep relaxation.
What is Meditation for Sleep?
A little bit of background on the sleep cycle can help you better understand the benefits of sleep meditation. When you fall asleep, you go through your sleep cycle several times a night.
Your sleep cycle includes REM sleep and non-REM sleep, which includes three stages of distinct brain activity.
Non-REM sleep cycles are usually longer when you first go to sleep, REM sleep cycles are usually longer later at night.
Non-REM Sleep, Stage 1: When you start to fall asleep, your brain waves slow down, your muscles relax, and your heart rate and breathing decreases. Stage one of your sleep cycle only occurs for a few minutes and it helps prepare your mind and body for a deeper sleep. You can be woken up easily during this stage of your sleep cycle.
Non-REM Sleep, Stage 2: In this sleep stage, your muscles continue to relax, your eye movements stop, and your body temperature drops. The rest of your bodily functions continue to slow down, including your heart rate and breathing. While your brain activity continues to slow, you still experience short bursts of electrical activity, also known as sleep spindles. Most of your total sleep time is spent in this sleep stage.
Non-REM Sleep, Stage 3: You experience deep sleep during this stage of your sleep cycle. Your brain waves, breathing, and heart rate continues to slow down and your muscles are completely relaxed. In order to feel refreshed in the morning, you need high-quality stage three sleep.
REM Sleep: During REM sleep, your brain becomes more active, and your heart rate, breathing, and eye movement increase. REM sleep is important for memory and learning and is when you are more likely to have vivid dreams.
Brainwave Activity: What’s the Difference Between Meditation & Sleep?
The main the difference between meditation and sleep are the levels of alertness that you experience during each activity.
Meditation: During meditation, your mind is awake and alert. Depending on the type of meditation that you are doing, you may be focused on your breath, heart rate, visualizations, or your thoughts. If your attention shifts during your meditation session, you are able to notice the shift and redirect your thoughts. At the end of a meditation session, your mind feels clear and calm.
Sleep: When you’re sleeping, your conscious mind is unfocused and you are unbound by your senses and thoughts. After a night of deep sleep, you may wake up feeling groggy or drowsy in the morning. This is known as sleep inertia.
It’s important to remember that meditation cannot replace a good night’s sleep, which is essential to our physical and mental well-being.
Brainwaves exist at six different frequencies and each one represents different types of brain activities. Although meditation and sleeping require different levels of alertness, they do share some of the same brainwave frequencies.
Alpha: Alpha waves occur when your eyes are closed and your mind is relaxed, such as when you’re meditating or just before you fall asleep.
Theta: Theta waves occur when you’re dreaming or in a deep state of meditation (16).
What Meditation Techniques are Used for Sleep?
Before your sleep meditation session, you should set up your bedroom or meditation room by:
- Dimming or turn off the lights
Putting on relaxing meditation music (if you prefer)
- Remove all devices to avoid distractions and bluelight
- Applying an essential oil or turning on a scent diffuser with a scent that encourages sleep, such as lavender
Sleep meditations can be done either sitting up or lying down and can even be done in bed, whichever is most comfortable for you.
There are a few different styles of sleep meditations to choose from, including:
Body scans: These guided meditations encourage you to relax your body by moving your attention from one body part to the next, noticing and releasing any tension that may be present.
Progressive muscle relaxation: Similar to body scans, progressive muscle relaxation meditations encourage you to tighten and release one muscle group at a time in order to let go of tension in your body.
Breathing exercises: Regulating and slowing down your breathing can help let your body know that it’s time to fall asleep.
Visualizations: These guided meditations help you release stressful thoughts by replacing them with calm and relaxing scenes that help prepare your body for sleep.
Mindfulness: Mindfulness meditations help you set aside you're worries about the past or future and focus on the present moment.
Review your day: These guided meditations invite you to replay the events of your day without judgement or criticism, and reimagine your behaviors with more consciousness and intention.
As you continue to explore new sleep meditations, you may find that you prefer the sound of some voices over others. Be sure to note this as well. When you find a teacher that you like, take the time to explore their entire collection of meditations. You may find your new favorite sleep and daytime meditation!
Sleep meditations should be part of a larger sleep hygiene bedtime routine that includes consistent bedtimes and wake up times, ideal sleep temperatures, and avoiding blue light, caffeine and other sleep disruptors before bed.
A SIMPLE MEDITATION TO AID SLEEP
The Benefits of Guided and Unguided Meditation
Whether you choose to practice guided or unguided meditations, a consistent meditation practice combined with a healthy lifestyle can provide you a wide range of physical and emotional benefits, each of which are backed by scientific studies.
Here’s a simple progressive muscle relaxation meditation that you can try to help you sleep better at night:
- Begin by finding a comfortable position lying down in your bed.
- Take a deep breath, close your eyes, and focus your attention on your body. Notice which muscles are tense and which are relaxed.
- Take three rounds of deep breaths. Feel your abdomen and lungs expand as you inhale. Exhale slowly and feel your muscles soften.
- To begin the progressive muscle relaxation, start by tightening the muscles in your face. Hold for five seconds, release, and pause for ten seconds.
- Moving down your body, tighten your muscles part by part—shoulders, back, arms, hands, stomach, legs and feet. Pause between each set.
- Once you’ve tensed and released each muscle in your body, scan your body again and enjoy the feelings of relaxation that you’ve created.
- Let your body feel heavy, sink into your bed, and continue taking deep breaths until you are able to fall asleep.
You can complete this meditation right before bed or any time that your body feels especially tense.
If you’d like to try a visualization meditation for sleep, listen to Magic Carpet Sleep Meditation by Chodo Campbell.
RESOURCES & REFERENCES
Resources & References
For more information on sleep meditations, sleep hygiene and bedtime routines, be sure to check out these Untangle podcast episodes:
- A Women’s Guide to Getting a Good Night Sleep with Dr. Shelby Harris
- Why Your Sleep is Broken and How to Fix It with Chris Winter
- Your Sleep And Insomnia Questions Answered with Dr. Shelby Harris
- National Sleep Foundation: How Excessive Sleep Can Affect Your Metabolism Accessed on: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-excessive-sleep-can-affect-your-metabolism
- Black, D., O’Reilly, G., Olmstead, R., Breen, E. and Irwin, M. (2015). Mindfulness Meditation and Improvement in Sleep Quality and Daytime Impairment Among Older Adults With Sleep Disturbances. JAMA Internal Medicine, [online] 175(4), p.494. Available at: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2110998 [Accessed 3 April 2020].
- Prevalence and perceived health associated with insomnia based on DSM-IV-TR; International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, Tenth Revision; and Research Diagnostic Criteria/International Classification of Sleep Disorders, Second Edition criteria: results from the America Insomnia Survey. Roth T, Coulouvrat C, Hajak G, Lakoma MD, Sampson NA, Shahly V, Shillington AC, Stephenson JJ, Walsh JK, Kessler RC Biol Psychiatry. 2011 Mar 15; 69(6):592-600.
- Voitsidis, P., Gliatas, I., Bairachtari, V., Papadopoulou, K., Papageorgiou, G., Parlapani, E., Syngelakis, M., Holeva, V., & Diakogiannis, I. (2020). Insomnia during the COVID-19 pandemic in a Greek population. Psychiatry research, 289, 113076. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2020.113076
- Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Sleep Medicine and Research; Colten HR, Altevogt BM, editors. Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2006. 3, Extent and Health Consequences of Chronic Sleep Loss and Sleep Disorders. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK19961/
- Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Sleep Medicine and Research; Colten HR, Altevogt BM, editors. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2006.
- John Hopkins Medicine: Exercising for Better Sleep on: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/exercising-for-better-sleep#:~:text=Exercise%20Decreases%20Insomnia,to%20medical%20treatments%20for%20insomnia.
- National Sleep Foundation: The Sleep Environment http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/how-sleep-works/the-sleep-environment
- Harvard Health Publishing: Mindfulness meditation helps fight insomnia, improves sleep https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/mindfulness-meditation-helps-fight-insomnia-improves-sleep-201502187726
- Science Direct: Mindfulness-based therapy: A comprehensive meta-analysis https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272735813000731?via=ihub
- Psychology Today: Brain Scans Show How Meditation Improves Mental Focus https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/you-illuminated/201204/brain-scans-show-how-meditation-improves-mental-focus
- Science Direct: Mindfulness meditation improves emotion regulation and reduces drug abuse https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0376871616001174
- Nagendra, R. P., Maruthai, N., & Kutty, B. M. (2012). Meditation and its regulatory role on sleep. Frontiers in neurology, 3, 54. https://doi.org/10.3389/fneur.2012.00054
- Harvard University: Calming Your Nerves and your Heart Through Meditation http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2009/issue61/#:~:text=The%20physiologic%20benefits%20of%20transcendental,epinephrine%2C%20norepinephrine%2C%20and%20cortisol.
- Science Daily: Meditation May Be An Effective Treatment For Insomnia https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090609072719.htm
- Teplan, M. (2002). Fundamentals of EEG. [online] Available at: http://www.edumed.org.br/cursos/neurociencia/MethodsEEGMeasurement.pdf [Accessed on March 12, 2020]
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