3 Types of Meditation For Deeper, More Restful Sleep, According to Experts

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When you can’t sleep, you might try counting sheep or popping a tab of melatonin. If nothing seems to be working, it’s easy to spiral into anxiety over the fact that you can’t fall asleep, which, ironically, only makes it harder to drift off. It’s a common occurrence; in a 2020 survey, nearly 15 percent of adults in the US reported having trouble sleeping, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Hands up if you're an unintentional night owl!) What can you do to break the cycle? Well, there’s a good chance meditation for sleep could be your key to sweet dreams.

Experts In This Article

Sleep meditation—meditating in bed with the goal of falling asleep—is a simple yet effective method that pros recommend without hesitation to help induce more restful sleep. For those who don't regularly set aside time to breathe deeply and let their minds relax, meditating might seem a little daunting. The effects on your sleep cycle, though, could be monumental—if you're able to get into the right headspace, that is. Ahead, see what types of meditation experts recommend for better sleep and a few tips for trying meditation for sleep next time you're struggling to catch a few Z's.

How can meditation help with sleep?

Meditation may be trendy in Western nations these days, but it dates all the way back to the Vedic period in ancient India, where it was included in the Vedas, Sanskrit texts composed around 1500-1200 BCE, which later shaped Hinduism. Though its roots are spiritual, meditation has since been adopted by many people as a secular part of their wellness routine to reap the physical and mental health benefits it offers.

 

“Meditation can help you cope with negative emotions and become more patient, present, and accepting." —Renee Pengov, MSSA, LSW, a mindfulness and meditation guide

Some of the most notable perks of meditation include reduced anxiety, stress, depression, and even physical pain, explains licensed social worker Renee Pengov, MSSA, LSW, a mindfulness and meditation guide and owner of Conscious Connection and Wellness. “Meditation can help you cope with negative emotions and become more patient, present, and accepting," Pengov says. "It can strengthen areas of the brain related to memory and self-awareness and is even used in recovery for addiction."

Those mental health perks matter a lot when it comes to catching some shut-eye since sleep and mental well-being are closely connected; bad sleep is linked to poor mental health, and vice versa. People with insomnia are 10 and 17 times more likely than those without insomnia to experience depression and anxiety, respectively, according to a 2021 study. At the same time, patients with anxiety and depression are much more likely to complain of sleep troubles. Conversely, improving someone’s quality of sleep is shown to significantly improve mental health.

Meditation offers a sort of two-for-one benefit here: not only can it help improve sleep directly, but it can also have a positive impact on mental health, which may then lead to better sleep.

Meditation is especially helpful when included as part of a wind-down routine prior to bedtime, says Anita Shelgikar, MD, clinical professor of sleep medicine and neurology at the University of Michigan and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. “Meditation can help on both cognitive and autonomic levels, by helping us to quiet our minds and also lower our adrenaline levels. Studies have shown that meditation can help lower heart rate and blood pressure readings, and some data indicates that meditation may be helpful in addressing sleep disturbances.”

This calming effect is why beginners often fall asleep during meditation even if they don’t mean to, Pengov says. Studies have even found that long-term meditators have elevated levels of melatonin and its precursor, serotonin — two neurochemicals that play a key role in defining a person's mood and sleep quality.

Benefits of meditation for sleep

Here's a quick overview of some of the potential benefits of meditation for sleep to keep in mind:

  • Decreased stress, anxiety, and depression
  • Reduced blood pressure and heart rate
  • Reduced pain levels
  • Reduced levels of adrenaline
  • Elevated levels of melatonin and serotonin

What type of meditation is good for sleep?

Any type of meditation has the potential to impart the benefits listed above. This includes helping to improve your sleep, even if you do it earlier in the day or as an evening wind-down. Sleep meditation, however, is most commonly done while lying in bed in an effort to actually fall asleep.

There are plenty of ways to meditate, and the same technique won’t be effective for everyone, Dr. Shelgikar says. On some nights, you may even need a combination of methods, she adds. One overarching recommendation from Pengov is to pick a meditation designed specifically for sleep. After all, you can find a meditation for just about anything you’re looking for, whether that’s coping with a breakup, dealing with nerves around work, or getting energized ahead of a workout. “For that reason, I recommend using a specific sleep meditation if you are looking for assistance in falling asleep,” she says.

TL;DR: All types of meditation are good for sleep, but the best kinds are specialized to help you get into a restful mindset before bed. These three meditation methods are expert favorites for winding down and nodding off.

1. Counting your breath

This concept is much like counting sheep. Instead, however, you’re focusing on your breath, says Raafat Girgis, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry and psychosomatic medicine at Loma Linda University School of Medicine and clinical director at The Moment of Clarity Mental Health Center. “Laying in a comfortable place on your bed, lights out, eyes closed, begin with breathing in through your nose (mouth shut) then slowly releasing your breath through your mouth, pushing all the air out of your lungs, and begin counting,” he instructs. This technique can help to calm racing thoughts at night. “It keeps your mind busy counting and your body in motion; you will notice that it helps to calm the mind,” Dr. Girgis says.

2. Mindful breathing exercises

Some people find deep breathing to be more intuitive than other sleep meditation techniques, Dr. Shelgikar says. The intent is to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth while paying attention to the rhythm of each breathing cycle. Some specific breathing exercises include breathing in for two seconds through your nose, then out for four seconds through your mouth, or a technique called box breathing. A 2021 study found that a mindful breathing exercise performed 30 minutes before bedtime seems to help with sleep quality, latency, efficiency, duration, daytime functioning, anxiety level, and insomnia.

3. Body Scanning

“This is the most amazing systematic tool for relaxing each body part,” says Dr. Girgis, who personally uses it to fall asleep. “I repeat it over and over until my body is relaxed, my mind is tired, and I am able to fall asleep. The primary purpose is progressive muscle relaxation releasing tension in each muscle group.” To do it, you start progressively and intentionally relaxing each area of your body, starting at your toes and working your way up to the top of your head.

Does listening to sleep meditation work?

Yes! Sleep meditation does work, and there are several guided meditation apps to help get you into the zone for a good night's rest. Dr. Girgis, Dr. Shelgikar, and Pengov all wholeheartedly recommend listening to guided audio meditations or bedtime podcasts to fall asleep, especially if you’re new to the practice. “Some people find guided audio meditation to be beneficial because the structured format helps remove the pressure or anxiety of having to ‘know how’ to meditate or having to do it ‘just right,’” Dr. Shelgikar says.

Listening to a guided sleep meditation is a good way to get started and find what you do or do not enjoy, Pengov says. But if you’re not into guided sessions, there’s no need to force it. “Others may prefer to personalize their sleep meditation practices and not have to follow a predetermined structure,” Dr. Shelgikar says. That’s totally OK. Remember: “Meditation takes time and practice and there is no right or wrong way to do it,” Pengov adds.

Wondering where to start when it comes to guided meditation? These expert-recommended apps and videos are a great place to start.

  • Tracks to Relax: Pengov loves this platform for sleep and nap meditations, which you can access anywhere you listen to your favorite podcasts.
  • Headspace: Pengov called out this popular meditation app, which offers a large library of sleep meditations and sleep stories.
  • Calm: Another popular meditation app noted by Pengov, Calm has sleep stories, meditations, music, and soundscapes, including some titles voiced by celebrities.
  • Sleepiest: Dr. Girgis loves this library of over 150+ different sleep sounds, including white noise and zen monk chants. With this app, you can choose sounds that help you drift off without any actual guided meditation.
  • Insight Timer: Both Dr. Girgis and Pengov recommend Insight Timer, a free app with a vast selection of talks, guided meditations, and soothing music tracks.
  • Pzizz: “Pzizz uses science-backed psychoacoustic principles to create personalized sleep programs,” Dr. Girgis says. You can also customize the voiceover settings and session length.
  • Buddhify: This app, recommended by Dr. Girgis, offers guided meditation for anxiety. “It’s great for calming your mind, whether during your morning commute or at bedtime. They also have kid-friendly meditations,” he says.

How can I meditate myself to sleep?

It’s easier than you might expect to meditate yourself to sleep. Cue up a meditation on your phone, settle in, and allow yourself to relax. For a more thorough breakdown, here's how Dr. Girgis and Pengov recommend giving it a try.

1. Get ready for bed.

Start by brushing your teeth, grabbing your sleep mask, and doing any other necessary before-bed tasks, Pengov says. Make your room quiet and dark and eliminate any other distractions.

2. Cue up a meditation.

Next, find your favorite sleep meditation, sleep story, or white noise, and set a timer, if necessary, Pengov says. Press play and find the right volume so you can hear it, but it’s not loud enough to keep you awake. If you’re planning to meditate without your phone, you can skip this step.

3. Place your phone out of sight and reach.

Put your phone in a place where you can hear it but it is not within close reach, Pengov instructs. “I also suggest putting your phone on 'do not disturb' and ensuring it is face down to avoid being interrupted by any light,” she adds.

4. Immerse yourself in the meditation.

Settle in to meditate. “Sit or lie down, depending on what feels most comfortable,” Dr. Girgis recommends. Lying down is preferable at bedtime, he says, especially if you’re hoping to fall asleep imminently. As you begin, release any expectations or worries about doing it the “right” way or about how much sleep you’re going to get. Try not to worry about catching up on sleep or making up for any sleep debt. All you need to worry about at this moment is relaxing. “Your mind is likely to drift. That is expected!” Pengov says. “When you find your mind drifting, take note of that and bring your thoughts back to the meditation.”

How long should you meditate before bed?

There’s no set amount of time you should try meditating before bed; however, if you’re new to the practice, it’s always a good idea to start small.

“New habits take time before they become part of your routine. Try starting with five minutes of meditation as part of the wind-down routine before bedtime,” Dr. Shelgikar says. “As you become more comfortable with the practice, you can extend the time you spend on meditation and even try different meditation approaches to see what works best for your sleep.”

If you’d like to fall asleep with a meditation playing, you don’t really need to worry about how long it is. Many guided sleep meditations run for 15 to 60 minutes so that you have plenty of time to fall asleep, and the expectation is that the meditation keeps playing even after you’ve drifted off into deep sleep.

“If you find that you're unable to focus on the meditation or aren’t becoming relaxed, maybe you're not ready for sleep yet or maybe this isn't the meditation for you—some people prefer one voice over another or certain background music, for example,” Pengov says. “There is no right or wrong way to meditate. If you are doing it, you are doing it right!”

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