Will Meditating Help You Sleep?

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People have likely heard that meditation — a type of mindfulness practice — can help them fall asleep more quickly, and get better rest overall. It may sound questionable, but research shows that meditation really does have tangible benefits when it comes to sleep.

One 2008 study found that combining meditation with cognitive behavioral therapy could help people with insomnia. A 2015 study in JAMA Internal Medicine followed 49 adults who reported having trouble sleeping. One group took a 6-week “standardized mindful awareness practices” program, which taught them meditation and mindfulness exercises. The other group took a 6-week course on sleep education.

The Harvard Health Blog reports: “Compared with the people in the sleep education group, those in the mindfulness group had less insomnia, fatigue, and depression at the end of the six sessions.” The study’s researchers concluded: “Formalized mindfulness-based interventions have clinical importance by possibly serving to remediate sleep problems among older adults in the short term.”

[Editor’s Note: The information provided should not be considered a substitute for professional advice. Please consult a sleep doctor or other medical expert if you have questions related to your own health.]

Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

In another 2015 study, researchers in the Netherlands introduced some participants to four different mindfulness practices: a three-minute “mindful breathing” exercise, a “loving kindness” meditation, a “body scan” exercise, and “mindfully focusing” on an everyday task. Participants were then asked to meditate twice a day for two weeks. The participants who meditated reported better sleep quality and a longer sleep duration.

Ute Hülsheger, the study’s lead author, told Greater Good magazine that consistency is key when it comes to meditation. “Mindfulness is not something that people can just train properly in one or two weeks,” she said. “If people want sustainable effects, they have to keep practicing regularly.”

The National Sleep Foundation recommends meditation for four reasons: it’s safe and medication-free, it’s easy, it can be combined with other sleep techniques, and there are multiple health benefits to a regular meditation practice (the Mayo Clinic says meditation can help decrease anxiety, lower blood pressure, and relieve tension headaches).

For a list of ways to turn a room into a sleep haven, click here.

The foundation offers a basic meditation practice that beginners can try at home:

Start by finding a comfortable place to sit or lie down, and then close your eyes and breathe slowly and deeply, directing your attention to your breath as you inhale and exhale. If your mind starts to wander, simply bring your attention back to your breath. You might try doing it for, say, five minutes at a time at first and gradually increasing the amount of time as you get more comfortable with the practice.

If you’re looking for guided meditations, there are plenty of free YouTube videos and podcasts out there for everyone from total beginners to advanced meditation practitioners. Headspace, a meditation app with a special sleep meditation available, is also a popular option.

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“Neuroimaging studies are beginning to support the idea that a meditation practice promotes greater wakefulness and lower sleep propensity as it progresses in intensity,” Dr. Adrian Williams, Professor of Sleep Medicine at King’s College, London, wrote in a blog post. “So in the early stages of a practice, if people meditate one to two times per week, they might experience relaxing and sleep-promoting effects (which are great in and of themselves).”

While more research is needed to clarify exactly how meditation aids sleep, it certainly seems that meditation can have tangible sleep benefits. And even if it doesn’t work for someone, it’s cheap (or free) and relatively quick — so it’s probably worth giving it a try.

The Inside Scoop on Meditation and Sleep

We spoke with several experts in the meditation field to get a better understanding of meditation’s benefits and the first steps people should take to get started with meditation.

What Types Of Meditation Have You Used to Sleep Better?

Rebecca Davidson, Lotimus

Easy, effortless sleep. How do you surrender to that when your thoughts are racing and you are subsequently triggering emotionally? Because that’s the problem: thoughts trigger emotions, which flush through the body and cause us to zoom awake, suddenly a hostage to anxiety or fear or pain.

One approach is to use a first-person story as a kind of extended mantra. The linearity of the story guides your thoughts, nudging them away from thought forms likely to trigger you. Moreover, as your mind becomes absorbed with the story, swinging its attention spotlight to that, all its cognitive resources are being recruited, which leaves nothing left over to process the thoughts that trigger painful or anxious emotions. But the story has to be engaging, with a compelling trajectory and a role for you as the main character experiencing the journey.

Gabrielle Juliano-Villani LCSW, Colorado In-Home Counseling

Some of this depends on why someone can’t fall asleep but it’s usually because someone’s mind is racing, or you’re worrying about the next day. I like to use visual imagery or guided meditations. Think of your thoughts as clouds, passing by in the sky, and notice them moving along. Thoughts come and go, just like clouds moving in the sky. If you are having intrusive thoughts, you can imagine the words/thoughts hitting a stop sign or a force field and bouncing off, therefore not coming into your mind.

Jim Sweet

One of the things that I found to be very helpful in my sleep routine is yoga nidra. This is a guided meditation that has roots in ancient India. The meditation generally lasts between 20 minutes and 1 hour. Even though this practice has yoga in the name, it is different than physical yoga. Yoga nidra is done in the yoga pose savasana (lying down on the back) which leads to a deeper relaxation. The meditation while lying on the back is different than seated meditation- It puts the meditator into amore relaxed state which helps lead the brain into a more restful sleep state.

Anne-Marie Emanuelli, Mindful Frontiers LLC

Body scan relaxation practice can help you fall asleep and enjoy deep relaxation.
Body scans are a quick and effective way to release tension in the body and mind. Body scans use breathing and focus to release energy within the body in a systematic way.

The head to toe scan: This body scan takes the practitioner’s attention one area at a time starting with the crown of the head and ending with the toes. It should take about 20 minutes and can take even longer if the practitioner wishes. Starting at the top of the head, using breath and focus, attention is placed on the crown and then moved down the body. With awareness, curiosity and mindfulness feelings or sensations are welcomed.

As the body scan progresses, attention is placed one area at a time: the face, forehead, eye area, nose, cheeks, mouth, and chin. The same kind of breathing and focus is placed as attention is moved down the body: back of head; shoulders; chest; mid back, hips, thighs, knees, calves, ankles and feet, ending with the toes.

What Are Your Tips For People Who Are New To Meditation?

Dr. Leigha Saunders, ND, The Sleep Fix

If you’re a beginner and looking to get started with meditation, here are some tips:
Aim for a short meditation at first – just 3-5 minutes of focusing on your breathing, for example. After you become more confident and comfortable, you will be able to meditate for longer.

Use an app that will walk you through a guided visualization, breathing exercise or mindfulness meditation – great ones include Calm, Headspace, Insight Timer and 10% Happier

Remember, the goal isn’t to quiet your mind entirely! The goal is to become aware of your thoughts and when you’ve become distracted, without judgement. When that happens, simply come back to your breath and focus on what you are experiencing in the moment.

Gabrielle Juliani-Villani LCSW

Start slow and with something easy that feels good. If you already like to read or listen to an podcast before bed, then keep doing that (replace podcast with Calm App instead)- just add it to your routine. Meditation is different for everyone, you don’t need to be “zen” for three hours a day. Even a few minutes can make a difference, don’t put pressure on what it needs to look and feel like.

We’re very grateful for these experts for lending their advice to our community. if you’re struggling with insomnia or stress we hope acupuncture can bring the relief you need! For mattress recommendations, check out our lists for the best innerspring mattresses and the best online mattresses.

[Editor’s Note: The information provided should not be considered a substitute for professional advice. Please consult a sleep doctor or other medical expert if you have questions related to your own health.]

Featured image:  Luna Vandoorne/Shutterstock

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Joe Auer

Joe Auer is the editor of Mattress Clarity. He mainly focuses on mattress reviews and oversees the content across the site.

He likes things simple and take a straightforward, objective approach to his reviews. Joe has personally tested nearly 250 mattresses and always recommends people do their research before buying a new bed. He has been testing mattresses for over 5 years now, so he knows a thing or two when it comes to mattress selection. He has been cited as an authority in the industry by a number of large publications.

Joe has an undergraduate degree from Wake Forest University and an MBA from Columbia University.


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