Sleep is a need—like water, shelter, or food—but we as a society have taken centuries to consider it as such. Studies have shown that we must sleep for 7–9 hours every night. But due to various reasons, approximately 40% of Americans sleep for less than seven hours. And we are not sleep-deprived because we don’t want to sleep.
We can’t sleep because of technological, biological, or lifestyle factors. But just because you find it hard to keep yourself from using the device before bed does not mean you should not be able to sleep. If you did keep the phone away an hour before bed, nothing like it. But if you can’t sleep, it is time to take matters (and sleep) into your own hands. We recommend sleep meditation or yoga nidra to relax your body, mind, and soul – so you can not only fall asleep but also sleep peacefully throughout the night.
What is Sleep Meditation?
We spend the entire day thinking—a tendency that increases when we hit the sack. Meditation helps us break that pattern by grounding us to the present moment.
Meditation is a practice that makes you aware of yourself and gives a healthy sense of perspective. It is about letting our thoughts come and go instead of interacting with them. It is about learning to observe them without judging yourself.
Sleep meditation is no different. It is a guided experience aimed at helping you let go of thoughts so you can relax before bed. It eases you into yourself – guides you to look within, not from the point of view of thoughts—which may or may not be yours—but from the point of view of sensations.
During the endless sleepless nights, you spend while your partner blissfully sleeps, you might have observed how their breathing slows down. Meditation helps you reach that state – it lowers your heart rate and encourages you to cultivate awareness of your breath. Studies have shown that long-term meditators breathe only 1.6 times per minute. With practice, your respiration rate (the number of in and out breaths per minute) decreases. This increases your sleep quality by helping you relax and easing you to sleep.
Direct studies suggest mindfulness meditation can improve sleep quality if you face sleep disturbances. These studies also suggested that mindfulness improved sleep quality compared with non-meditators. However, the strength of evidence at this stage is low.
Isn’t Sleep Meditation Like Sleeping?
No! Sleep meditation is a stage between regular sleep and wakefulness. Before we explain the difference, let’s take a quick recap (or introduce you) to the concept of mind. When we talk about the state of mind, we consider three things:
- Conscious (defines our thoughts and controlled actions)
- Subconscious (defines are automatic actions and reactions)
- Unconscious (stores experiences we don’t remember)
So when you are sleeping, your subconscious mind takes over. However, with sleep meditation, your consciousness is active. So when you are sleeping, your subconscious processes your day’s events and makes decisions without you thinking about it. This is why you can carry your day’s stress to your sleep. But during sleep meditation, your conscious mind can achieve that feat.
Is Sleep Meditation Important?
Hectic lifestyles, innumerable work obligations, inability to say no, lifestyle choices, poor sleep hygiene – either all or one of these factors may be keeping you from catching a wink. Oh, and binge-watching Netflix (or Disney, Hulu, Apple+,…you get the picture) does not help either.
So, how can sleep meditation help you sleep? When you meditate, your body undergoes some physiological changes, which help you sleep. It improves control of the autonomic nervous system (it regulates involuntary processes like heart rate), reducing the chances of you waking up.
Meditation also helps you with the following – increase melatonin (the sleep hormone), reduce heart rate, decrease blood pressure, increase serotonin (which converts into melatonin), and activate a part of the brain that controls sleep.
Sleep Meditation – How to Go About it?
If you are a regular meditator, then you will find that sleep meditation is not very different from regular meditation. If you are new, you might want to get started with an audio session of 45–50 minutes. This audio is called sleep meditation music – you can choose from anything among the following:
- White noise (mixture of different sound frequencies played at once)
- Nature sounds (thunderstorms in the background or the sounds of waves lapping at a beach or birds singing)
- Instrumental music (like classical music or simply a piano cover)
Research has found that young adults with sleep deprivation issues can alleviate their troubles by listening to calming music. Now that you have chosen music, it’s time to get started, just follow these steps:
- Settle down on your bed and loosen up your body.
- Decide what you want to get from meditation.
- Check in with your body, and focus on the sensations of your body.
- Take a deep breath – in from your nose and out from your mouth.
- Visualize pleasing thoughts and imagine the tension leaving your body.
Other Techniques Used in Sleep Meditation
A regular technique and one that works for most people might not work for you. In that case, you could try something different. You could also try practicing different techniques every night and go with what works for you. Some other techniques to practice sleep meditation are as follows:
- Visualization: Assuming you are already in bed, picture a relaxing setting – anything that puts you at ease. For example, you could imagine yourself hiking up a mountain, lounging by a lakeside, or playing in a waterfall. However you imagine yourself, pay close attention to the details of the scene. Feel yourself touching the rocky mountain, or imagine what it’d be like to touch the water and splash, and imagine what kind of plants would surround you at a lake. As you focus on these things, you will find yourself relaxing rather than overthinking.
- Reflective Meditation: Can’t sleep? Well, why not look within yourself and ponder. What to ponder, you may ask? Anything – as long as it is deep, important and helps you. For example, think about something good that happened to you or something good you did for someone. And focus on the positives of how it made you feel. With these thoughts in mind, slowly close your eyes and give in to the embrace of your old friend – sleep.
- Relaxing Body Scan: Conduct a mental X-Ray – just close your eyes and take in how every body part of yours is feeling at the moment. Don’t judge and don’t think about the hows and whys – just feel. Start with your feet and slowly make your way up. If you want to doze off faster, consciously try to relax your body parts as much as you can.
Making Sleep Meditation Less Challenging
Meditation is challenging initially, it helps you, yes, but it is challenging. But so is sleep deprivation, and not being able to focus on an important presentation, or snapping at others. It depends on you which challenge you want to choose.
One way to make it less challenging is to get as comfortable as possible. Get cozy in your bed, and do not forget your comfy, favorite pajamas. Oh, and keep your devices in a separate room (or on the flight mode).
As we mentioned earlier, sleep meditation can help you with anxiety, high blood pressure, pain tolerance, and heart diseases – and we have just touched the surface of the benefits. Why don’t you meditate and share your experience with us?
But even meditation may fail if it is your partner’s snoring that is keeping you from sleeping. In such cases, consider investing in snoring solutions. Some solutions, like Smart Nora, let you convert your pillow into an anti-snoring pillow. Then as soon as Nora senses any signs of snores, it will gently reposition your partner’s pillow so they can breathe easily and let you sleep.