Meditation can help us be more present in life, but what about the moments when we want to be less present?
Can meditation help us sleep?
Not only can meditation help us optimize our nightly routine, but it can also help us fall asleep faster and sleep more pleasantly.
How can meditation help improve sleep?
One of the biggest barriers to sleep is a restless mind—a mind that won’t shut off—filled with worry and stress.
Meditation can help calm the mind and release anxious thoughts or worries, easing us into a more restful state. In part, this is due to the state of concentration that accompanies meditation, we can’t simultaneously be focused on that stressful thing at work while also focused on our breath; this makes it easier to sleep at night as a mind filled with anxiety makes it hard to sleep, but a settled mind rests easily.
Sometimes our mind won’t calm down and the stress won’t go away—that’s okay, too.
When practiced correctly, meditation can help us let go of the resistance to troublesome states of mind, settling into a state of acceptance and inner peace—even in the face of restlessness or worry.
How does a regular meditation practice build better sleep habits?
One benefit of having a consistent meditation practice is that it cultivates two key emotional intelligence qualities: self-awareness and self-management.
Self-awareness can be critical in helping us identify the things in our life that are keeping us awake, or giving us trouble with sleep. For example, with increased body awareness we might realize that caffeine is causing tension and tightness in the chest late in the evening, and therefore we decide to limit our caffeine intake.
Or we might realize that we’re hooked on our phone, scrolling through social media for hours into the night instead of sleeping; so we decide to implement a nightly phone-off time.
Similarly, self-management is an essential quality that helps us take action on improving our nightly routines. We may already know that we should be turning off our computer and screens early in the night, but don’t have enough self-control.
Better self-management around our habits and behaviors will help give us the mental strength we need for behavior change. It can help us resist the urge to check our email for “just a couple minutes,” and it can help us take the appropriate action to set ourselves up for a good night’s rest.
On top of that, a well-developed meditation routine has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, and overwhelming emotions.
As mentioned earlier, a huge barrier to sleep for most people is an overactive and stressed mind. Therefore, the more consistent our meditation the less stress we will have, and the easier sleep will come.
What are some useful pre-bedtime meditation techniques?
One of the best styles of meditation for sleep is a concentration practice—bringing our attention to a single point of focus. This will help calm and settle the mind, especially adding a visualization technique like visualizing your breath as a wave, watching it crash onto the shore, and then receding. This can be very soothing.
A style of meditation that I find particularly useful before bed is loving-kindness or Metta meditation. This style of practice involves sending kind thoughts and well-wishes to various people—a concentration meditation that cultivates good feelings and a warm heart and could lead to pleasant dreams at night.
Open awareness or acceptance-based meditation techniques can be useful when the mind doesn’t feel focused. This style of meditation focuses on opening up to whatever is arising in our environment: sounds, body sensations, smells, thoughts, and emotions, and simply resting in a state of open awareness.
Meditative sounds or instruments could help induce sleep, too.
Many sounds can help ease us into sleep, but it’s important to know that each person is different in terms of what helps them fall asleep. Some people will like singing bowls or meditative chanting, while others prefer the natural sounds of wind or rain. White-noise machines can also be helpful. Find what helps you and stick with that.
Additional resources for better sleep.
There are a million amazing resources for people looking to implement meditation into their nightly routine from online courses on platforms like Udemy and Skillshare, to meditation apps like Headspace and Calm.