Meditation for Sleep
Meditation can help us fall asleep and rest more deeply. Read about a few practices and listen to our guided meditation for sleep as you fall asleep.
Five years ago when I was new to meditation I mainly used it as an aid to help me sleep. I didn’t have a guided meditation to fall asleep, so I led myself in a meditation. At the time I was struggling with anxiety and panic attacks. It seemed like whenever I closed my eyes at night and let the business of the day fall away I became more aware of being uncomfortable and anxious. It would be hard to get to sleep even if I was tired and I would sometimes wake up throughout the night. What was worse, many days I woke up in almost a state of panic with my heart rate elevated and a feeling of dread like I had just overslept the most important meeting of my life.
At the time I remembered a mediation for sleep that I learned where you just focus on the sounds going on around you. One night when I was especially anxious and having trouble falling asleep I decided to try this meditation and see if it helped. I began noticing the sound of the crickets and leaves outside my window. As I became more concentrated I noticed the sound of my own breathing and subtle movements. I could clearly hear the few cars on the street behind my apartment. I was able to alleviate some of my anxiety by just noticing what was happening in the present moment. As I did this I noticed I became calmer. The calmer I became the more tired I felt. After just a few minutes of doing this I was asleep. Rather than obsessing about the worry and thinking about the troubles from my day, I was able to come into contact with what was actually happening around me moment to moment. I began using this meditation regularly before bed and I noticed that I started falling asleep faster. I was also able to stay asleep without waking up throughout the night.After about a week of doing this meditation I found that I was no longer waking up in a state of panic. Just calming myself down in this way before bed drastically improved my quality of sleep.
Guided Meditation for Sleep
There are many different reasons that we may have difficulty sleeping. From physical pain to anxiety and worry, many of us are kept awake at night while trying to go to sleep. There are many natural insomnia remedies that may help you fall asleep, and meditation certainly is a great way to go. Here are a few meditation practices we like to help us fall asleep.
Hearing Meditation for Sleep
The meditation that I did was very simple and can easily done both with or without someone’s voice guiding you. Here are some written instructions for this guided meditation, and you may find an audio version at the bottom. This meditation is suitable for anyone, whether you’re a beginner to mindfulness, or have years of experience. You begin by lying down in bed on your back with your arms at your sides, palms face down. Allow your eyes to close. First notice the sounds going on outside. You might notice a car outside, pay attention to the sound without clinging it. Allow the sound to arise and pass. You might simply label it “hearing”. You might then notice a new sound like the sound of the leaves in the trees. Again, listen to the noise but allow it to pass when a new sound captures your attention. With each new noise you pay attention to simply label it “hearing”. You might then notice the quieter more subtle sounds that are happening, like the sound of your own breathing. See how sensitive you can become to sounds either close or far away. If you find your mind is wandering or that you are drifting into thinking simply refocus yourself on the sounds going on around you. Every time your mind wanders you can bring yourself back to the noises. Do not set a timer or anything like that, instead allow yourself to do this meditation until you drift into sleep or a relaxed state.
As my meditation practice progressed I continued using this listening meditation when I needed it. However, there were times when it seemed like it was not my mind keeping me awake but rather the tension in my body. At the time I worked at a clothing store and was standing on my feet for eight hours a day. By the time I went to bed my feet and knees ached from the day. In this case the listening meditation was sometimes helpful but I felt that I needed another practice to accommodate the circumstances. By this point I had started regularly attending meditation meetings and I had practiced meditation a few times where you gently scan your attention over your body. This allowed me to release any tension that I was holding. It also allowed me to bring a gentle acceptance to the tightness in my body. Doing so would make me feel calmer and some of the discomfort would disappear. I noticed this meditation was especially helpful for falling asleep.
Body Scan Meditation for Sleep
This meditation practice is another simple way to help you get to sleep. It too can be done with a voice guiding you or you can guide yourself through with these simple instructions. Again, lay in bed on your back with your arms at your sides and palms face down. Begin by focusing your attention on the top of your head. Try to relax the muscles on the top of your skull. You might tighten the muscle then relax it to help this happen. Next move to your brow. Allow your brow to drop and not be furrowed. Focusing on you sinuses on either side of the nose, breathe deeply into this area allowing it to relax on the exhale. Letting your cheeks drop and be soft. Allow your jaw to go slack and the tongue to rest comfortably on the roof of the mouth or behind the teeth. Use your breath to release any tension in the throat. You might breath into the back of the throat to help this happen. Let you shoulders drop. Release any tension in your biceps and triceps. It might be helpful to tighten the muscles and then release them. Invite relaxation into your forearms. Notice your hands and the contact of your palms on the bed. Maybe notice if your hands are warmer or colder than the rest of your body. Next move up to your chest. See if you can feel it rise and fall with your breath. Can you feel your heart beating? Relax the muscles in your upper back. Allow your belly to be totally soft. See if you are holding it in or keeping it tight in any way. If you are, just breathing into it and allowing it to relax. Letting your lower back relax. Notice your the contact of you butt with the bed. Relax your hips and let them be soft. Release any tension in your thighs. You might clench these muscles and then allow them to relax. Notice any pain or discomfort in your knees. Allow yourself to invite relaxation into your knees. Release any tension in your calfs. See if you can feel the small muscles in your ankles. Allow softness and relaxation. Release any tension in the arch of your foot. Finally see if you can relax each of your individual toes.
Usually I find that I do not even make it to my stomach before I am asleep. Simply allowing some relaxation into my sore body helps me fall asleep. If you do not fall asleep before you get to your toes you can start again by just going back up your body in reverse. You can go through the body scan as many times as necessary before you fall asleep. If you notice your mind wanders just bring it back to the body. If your mind is especially busy and jumping around it can be helpful to label each part of the body and take one breath in and out of every part. For example, you might label “hands” and then breath in and out once before moving on. Using a body scan like this can be a great tool for getting to sleep if your body is especially restless or uncomfortable.
I still use this guided meditation for sleep whenever I need it. However, I have also expanded my practice to include a breathing meditation that I find helpful when my mind is really restless and needs something to both occupy it can calm it down. Earlier this year I was was having anxiety again and having trouble with sleeping and was also waking up panicking. I talked to my mentor about what meditation practice I could use since my listening meditation and body scan did not seem to be helping. I told her whenever I tried to use them I would end up ruminating about situations happening in my life. My mind would not became easily distracted which would make my anxiety worse and I would end up not being able to get to sleep. She suggested that I try a breathing meditation that included counting the breath. The main purpose of the meditation is to make the exhale longer than the inhale which calms down the body. Using the counting gives the mind something to be occupied with that requires conscious effort.
Breathing Meditation for Sleep
This guided meditation can also be done by yourself of with someone guiding you. Begin by getting in bed and lying on your back. Place on hand on your heart and the other hand on your lower abdomen. Doing this will allow you to feel the rise and fall of your breath in both of these places. Count in and breathe in one and out two. Do this eight times. To keep on track it is helpful to say to yourself in one out two two, in one out three two, in one out four two… When you get to eight begin again by breathing in two and out three. Again do this eight times, in one two, out one two three, in one two, out two two three…When you get to eight, go back and breathe in three and out four do this eight times. Then breathe in four and out five, repeat it eight times. Next breathe in five and out six eight times. Breathe in six and out seven, in seven, out eight, in eight out nine.
I generally end the meditation when I get to breathing in for eight and out for nine. I usually fall asleep before this happens but if I am not asleep by then start back at one and go up to eight for as many times as you need. Doing this keeps my mind busy enough that it often does not wander as much as it might with other meditations. However, it is the nature of the mind to wander. When you notice this happening just bring your mind back to the counting and the feeling of your breath.
If you notice that you fall asleep very quickly when doing this meditation there is also a slightly shorter version. You can breathe in for one and out for two. Then in for two then out for three. In for three and out for four. Do this up to eight. This shorter version might allow you to get through more of the meditation and calm down more than if you fall asleep quickly in the longer version.
All three of these meditations can be helpful for different things. Listening meditation has been most helpful for me when I am feeling a little bit anxious and need attend more to the present moment. Body scan meditation have been most helpful for falling asleep when I am sore or uncomfortable. Finally the breathing meditation has helped me when I am experiencing anxiety and my mind is wandering. Meditation can be a great tool for falling asleep, staying asleep, and waking up feeling relaxed.
Guided Meditation for Sleep Audios
Below I offer you a guided meditation for sleep on each subject above to try for yourself. You can also find other ways to do mindfulness practice on the web. Try the ones below, see which one works for you, and try to learn the practice yourself to eventually guide yourself.
The Science of Meditation and Sleep
Multiple studies have found that meditation can help improve quality of sleep. Harvard Health reported in 2015 that mindfulness meditation helps fight insomnia, and many studies in the past decades have found similar findings. According to a meta analysis published in 2012, meditation practice can influence brain functions, induce neuroplasticity, modulate many functions in the body, and ultimately promote sleep. Here are a few of their findings.
A study in 1997 found that meditation helped study participants spend more time in the REM sleep stage and experiencing slow wave sleep. This points toward meditation’s potential to help us achieve longer periods of deeper sleep, so we wake feeling more rested. Two studies in 2006 and 2010 found that people practicing vipassana meditation showed significant increase in slow wave sleep and REM cycles. This was especially prominent in older study participants. The increase in sleep cycles helped participants wake with more energy and focus.
Another interesting finding surrounds the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems. It was found that meditators had more activity in the parasympathetic nervous system during sleep, a part of the autonomic nervous system responsible for conserving energy, lowering heart rate, and calming us. This also correlated with less unfavorable cardiac events. The most interesting part is that meditation also includes activity in the sympathetic nervous system, the part that is responsible for fight or flight. Activity in the sympathetic nervous system is not conducive to sleep. However, because of such heightened activity in the parasympathetic nervous system, the meditators still got better sleep than their non-meditating counterparts.
One that I recently learned about is that meditation has been found to impact hormones. These include hormones like growth hormones, thyroid stimulating hormones, prolactin, and perhaps the one best known for sleep, melatonin. Melatonin is essential to our sleep, and naturally raising melatonin levels has been found to increase sleep quality in multiple studies.
The final finding which may help you to know is that meditation can help induce sleep. During sleep, we experience reduced heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, oxygen consumption, arousal, and anxiety. This leads to what is known as a hypometabolic state. This state is crucial for our biological survival, and when we don’t achieve these things we are left feeling tired and foggy-minded. Like sleep, meditation can produce a hypometabolic state. By regulating blood flow to executive regions of the brain, meditation can give us this relaxed feeling. We may experience a waking relaxation or ease in falling asleep.