How Meditation Can Improve Your Sleep

While for some, the word “meditation” might conjure up images of monks on mountaintops, saffron robes, and Buddhist temples in the middle of nowhere, modern science is increasingly coming to understand the true potential of this ancient technique.

There’s a growing body of evidence pointing toward the benefits of regular meditation – combatting everything from unhealthy stress to chronic depression.

And according to a couple recent studies, meditation might actually be able to help restless sleepers and chronic insomniacs alike get the kind of sleep they need.

Find that hard to believe?

Here’s what you need to know about how it works!

Image: psychedelic representation of the mind as a profile against a cosmic backdrop

Quieting Your Restless Mind with Meditation

Calming down is a difficult thing.

Our entire society is built around things like hard work and a busy schedule – and when you spend so much of your day trying to get as much work done as you possibly can, you brain sometimes never gets the memo that it’s time to sleep.

We all experience this at least occasionally – you lie down and get yourself comfortable, but you can’t get your brain to shut up!

This often leads to the kind of tossing and turning we all dread.

Sometimes you might be actively worrying about things going on in your life or everything you have to do in the coming day.

Other times, though, there might not seem to be any obvious reason for why you can’t get your brain to stop.

It just won’t! 

Whatever the reason for those racing thoughts, though, you’re always going to need to properly clear your mind before you stand a chance at getting to sleep.

Thought is the enemy of sleep, after all, and getting into the kind of state we need to rest runs counter to everything you’ve probably been doing for a good chunk of the day.

How Meditation Improves Your Sleep

With meditation, however, everything becomes that much easier.

Meditation is all about clearing your mind of all the unnecessary stray thoughts that lead to suffering in our lives.

A common Zen Buddhist analogy involves seeing your mind’s thoughts like waves on an ocean.

The waves seem to move, but they’re really just disturbances – the water underneath remains unmoved.

Some schools of Buddhism actually talk about enlightenment as reaching a state of “mind without mind,” in which you reach a state of total peace through the complete realization of what that means.

But of course, you don’t actually need to believe in all the technical Buddhist beliefs to reap the benefits of meditation.

Meditation is something people of all faith traditions can benefit from because it simply involves letting go of all the racing thoughts and feelings that keep us up at night.

It’s an art people have been practicing for thousands of years, and it does not have to be connected to any particular religion.

Image: Silhouette of a woman meditating turned towards the sunset

The Best Times to Meditate for Better Sleep

There are a couple different ways you can go about meditating if you want to improve your sleep.

One study published in JAMA Internal Medicine looked at 49 middle-aged and older adults who were having trouble sleeping.

Half of the participants were enrolled in a program designed to help learn better sleep hygiene, while the other half were enrolled in meditation sessions.

Each group met for two hours once a week for a total of six weeks.

On average, those who learned to meditate experienced decreased insomnia, as well as less fatigue and greater feelings of general wellbeing.

Other researchers, however, recommend spending a mere 20 minutes each day meditating to achieve the best sleep results.

And then, on the extreme end of the spectrum, you have those who recommend spending a whole hour meditating before bed each night to get yourself in the proper state of mind.

Don’t feel like you have time for any of these?

One super easy meditation-type sleep trick involves simply counting up to 10 and back down to 1.

The thing is, you have to focus your mind entirely on those numbers.

If you feel your thoughts wandering at all while you’re counting, stay on your number until you can get them back under control.

This is especially helpful if you didn’t meditate today and are having trouble calming down for sleep!

How to Meditate Before Going to Bed

Meditation is a skill learned and practiced over an entire lifetime, so it’s not something you can expect to pick up just by reading an article online.

The best way to learn to meditate is by doing it with instruction from other, more experienced meditators.

If that’s not an option in your area or if you don’t think you’d be comfortable with that, there are a number of different meditation guides you can find online that will lead you through the process.

If you start looking into this sort of stuff, one thing that might surprise you is the sheer variety of meditation techniques people find effective.

Concentration Meditation

For some, concentration meditation may be the best way to start.

This involves focusing on a single point, to the exclusion of everything else in the world.

This can involve focusing on your own breath, on a single object, on a simple mantra, or on some repetitive task like counting mala beads.

The important part here is letting go of any unnecessary thoughts, improving your concentration and your ability to overcome all negativity.

Set a timer for two or three minutes and sit somewhere where you won’t be disturbed.

Then, shut your eyes and focus entirely on the experience of breathing.

Don’t try to breathe in any particular way – just focus on the air rushing into your lungs and out of it, your lungs expanding and contracting, your diaphragm pumping in and out.

If you notice yourself thinking about anything other than your breathing, just gently reel yourself back in and go back to breathing.

Image: five smooth pebbles stacked above still waterLoving-Kindness Meditation

Another interesting technique is called loving-kindness meditation.

This involves focusing yourself on radical love and compassion for everyone and everything in the universe.

One mantra I’ve come across involves repeating following lines: “May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you live life at ease.”

You take these positive vibes and apply them to pretty much everything.

You can start by focusing on yourself and repeat these words with your own needs in mind.

Then move on and slowly repeat them while thinking about someone you find it easy to love.

Then, repeat them while thinking about someone you have trouble loving.

Then, repeat them while thinking about the person you like least in the world.

Finally, repeat them while thinking about the entire world and everything thinking creature in it.

If you’re interested, you can find a couple variants on this chant in the link a couple lines above.

Mindfulness Meditation for Sleep

The last major kind of meditation involves mindfulness.

This calls for simply observing thoughts as they move through your mind and accepting them for what they are.

You can practice mindfulness meditation in absolutely any context.

The next time you’re feeling upset or overwhelmed, for instance, try taking a moment to observe the movements of thought across your brain.

This is often very helpful in calming down and re-centering on the things that matter.

What to Do If Meditation Doesn’t Work

For many people, meditation can be a powerful tool.

However, it’s not something you can expect to become an expert at immediately.

While even a few minutes of simple meditation exercises might be helpful in reorganizing your thoughts, it might take you a little longer before you start seeing real progress when it comes to your sleep.

Obviously, the true meditation guru would encourage you to simply be patient, keep trying, and accept that not everything happens overnight.

And that’s good advice – only the thing is, while we’re still practicing meditation, life keeps going on anyway.

Because of this, it’s really a good idea to develop quality sleep habits as much as possible.

This involves things like reduced electronics use late at night, developing calming bedtime rituals, and restricting your bed to nothing but sleep and intimate activities.

You can read our complete article on all that stuff here.

However, one oft-overlooked aspect to a quality sleep life is the quality of your mattress.

 While some Zen masters might disagree with me, for the most part, you can’t really expect to be getting a good night’s rest without having a comfortable sleeping surface.

Think a good mattress might be the thing for you?

Try checking out our guide to the best mattresses of 2018!

(One of our most-recommended products is the Saatva.)

Conclusion About How Meditation Can Help Improve Sleep

So there you have it – you complete guide to getting better sleep through the power of meditation.

While it might seem like some special, mystical ritual, meditation is actually something we can all stand to benefit from.

It’s just about allowing yourself to relax and calming down those crazy thoughts we have running 24/7.

And while it might seem difficult to carve out those extra couple minutes of your day, taking the time to do real meditation can have real effects.

Take care of your body.

Start sleeping right today!