“Sleep is the best meditation” said the Dalai Lama and I completely agree. However, sometimes I need to meditate to help me get to sleep. I love meditation and I often start my day with a short 10- 15 minute meditation just to get present before the day begins and while I find it amazing in my day to day life, here I am going to just talk (type) about how and why meditation helps with sleep.
I struggle with my sleep a lot of the time, finding that I go to bed with a busy head and then wake up twice or three times throughout the night with more thoughts and more plans. For myself, and many other people, the problem with getting to sleep and staying asleep is usually excitement or some form of stress which keeps me thinking rapidly, feeling tense or anxious. Mediation helps me because it calms my mind and body, coating me with an overall sense of peace which allows me to melt into my bed just a bit more.
“Sleep meditations help create the inner conditions needed for a truly restful night”- Headspace .
There are many types of meditations which are good to do before going to bed so read on to find out if one of these could be good for you. Remember that meditation doesn't replace sleep or good sleep hygiene, you still need to turn off your electronics, keep your room cool and get your eight hours but meditation can help improve the quality of your sleep and allow you to drift off.
(Top tip, if you feel yourself getting worked up over you to-do list, write everything down which you need to do and then put that piece of paper into the kitchen or any room which isn't your bedroom and it will be there in the morning so you don’t need to worry about forgetting something).
How does meditation help with sleep?
Using science terms for a moment, mediation helps to calm the body down by igniting our parasympathetic nervous system through slow and long breaths simultaneously lowering our heart rate. (Harvard Medical Journal). By doing this we are gently tricking the body into experiencing similar sensations to our early stages of sleep making meditation a fantastic tool to use to encourage sleep.
Often sleep evades us because we are feeling stressed or anxious and mediation helps to tap into our parasympathetic nervous system to improve our relaxation response.
Meditation can help to increase melatonin levels which is the hormone that we release when we are going to sleep. This is so important because melatonin is vital for healthy immune function so yes, meditation will enhance your immune system.
As mediation helps to release melatonin it also increases serotonin allowing us to feel more relaxed and happy. Serotonin is so important to help us regulate our emotional state and is the chemical responsible for sending messages to the brain about when to sleep and wake.
Meditation helps to reduce our heart rate slowing down the systems of the body, coaxing us into a state of inner peace.
Different types of mediation:
There are lots of different ways to meditate but I will suggest my three favourite nighttime meditations. Have a think about what type of mediation would serve you best and mix it up exploring new options to fit what you need each night. Be mindful, if you are going to do one before bed it may not be appropriate to do one which gets you to explore your emotional state as this could be too intense and triggering when you are aiming to relax yourself.
A guided meditation is amazing for any level of your meditation journey but I found it vital when I was just starting to meditate as someone guides you allowing you just to focus on them and what they are encouraging you to do.
These can be anything to do with visualisations, breath work, a body scan or just noticing sounds. Listening to a recorded guided meditation in bed is extremely helpful and remember, whenever you find your mind wondering just label it thinking and go back to the soothing voice which is talking to you.
You can find guided meditations on podcasts, apps, Spotify and even on Instagram now. Below are some of my favourites ones:
Happy not Perfect app
Where is my Mind with Niall Breslin on Spotify
Meditation Mini Podcast series with Chel Hamilton on Spotify
Guided Nap Meditation- on Spotify
Top Tips for doing a guided meditation:
Dim the lights on the device which you are using to listen to the recording and turn any phones off or onto silent. You mind want to listen to the recording through earphones just to really block out any outside noise.
Get extremely comfortable on your bed or wherever you are doing the mediation - you might choose to sit up, whatever works for you.
Keep your focus on the person's voice and whenever your mind wanders just bring it back to their voice without judging the distractions.
Once the recording is done just spend a moment acknowledging how you feel after the mediation and check in to see if it’s one that works for you or if you would want to experiment with a different one next time.
Trying a mindfulness meditation before you go to sleep is an excellent way of becoming present after a busy day which may have flown by without you realising it. The way to practice a mindfulness mediation is to become present with yourself, your breathing, your body, your thoughts.
The way that I practice a mindful meditation,
Step one, remove distractions, turn your phone off or onto silent. Acknowledge that you are going to take some time to meditate and allow yourself the time.
Step two, lie down on my bed making sure that my body feels completely relaxed and comfortable.
Step 3, turn my awareness to my breath at first just noticing it as it moves in and out- prephas through my nose or mouth. First just notice and explore it, is it long, short, even inhales and exhales? Can I feel it in my belly or my chest?
Step 4, starting to lengthen my inhales and exhales, following my breath as it comes in through my nose of mouth. Trying to follow it the whole way down into my lungs. Hold it for a few counts and then slowly exhales. I try to lengthen my exhale as this helps to tap into the parasympathetic nervous system. I do this for 10 rounds, just following the breath in and out. If a thought comes into my head I try to acknowledge it, label it “thinking” and then start my counting again from 1. Sometimes I take around 30 breaths before I make it to a count of 10, otherwise I can be calmer and not get caught up in my thoughts.
Step 5 with a more mindful awareness I start to notice my body. As I inhale I start to tense a part of my body and then as I exhale I release it. I do this 5 times moving to different parts of my body until I feel relaxed. Finally I gently scan down from my head to my toes with each breath and just allow myself to melt into the bed a bit more with each exhale.
Body Scan Meditation:
This is one of my favourite meditations as it allows me to really explore how my body is feeling, what areas need a bit more love and relaxation. You can do this yourself or you can listen to a recorded episode. A body scan meditation really allows you to become aware of your physical sensations- touch and smell and so you might like to either be fully covered with a duvet or light some candles just to have even more sensory stimulation as you relax.
If you are doing it yourself I often find it nice to have some mediation music on very softly in the background incase they are any outside noises going on.
If you are doing one yourself without a guide then this is the way that I do it:
Step one, remove distractions, turn your phone off or onto silent. Acknowledge that you are going to take some time to meditate and allow yourself the time. Decide if I want to have some soft music playing the background I can set that up and light and candles before I lie down on my bed.
Step two, choose my position (normally laying down on my bed) and make sure that I am as comfortable as possible.
Step three, closing down my eyes, lengthening my breaths I start to become aware of my body and my weight onto of the bed. I take around 7 deeps long and slow breaths just to arrive.
Step four, beginning at my feet I begin to bring my awareness into the very tips of my toes, starting to explore any sensations which arise. I try to breathe into my toes and then as I exhale I let go of the toes and bring my full awareness up my feet- slowly working my way with each inhale and exhale around my feet. Sometimes I notice tingling sometimes I notice numbness- either way we are just noticing, not judging or getting caught up with anything.
Step 5, with this same awareness and breath I work my way slowly up by body trying to explore each corner which I encounter. You can notice differences in the body which is in contact with the bed and that which is not. With each exhale trying to allow the body to relax fully and deeply into the bed.
Step 6, when I get to the crown of my head, having worked slowly slowly up I then take a deeper breath, hold the hold of my body in awareness and as I exhale slowly I allow my body to melt away.