When you turn off the lights and lay down in your bed at night, do you find your mind buzzing with thoughts of the day, and plans for tomorrow? If you struggle with “turning your brain off”, you may find yourself feeling restless and unable to sleep. Fortunately, meditation is one way to quiet your thoughts and fight insomnia.
Meditation has been shown to help people who struggle with insomnia and other sleep disturbances. But many don’t know how to meditate before bed, or aren’t aware of the different techniques and methods they can use.
To help you on your path to restfulness, Dr. Anjum Kumbkarni shares some insights on how to use meditation to improve sleep quality and fight insomnia.
How does meditation help you sleep?
Meditation has been used by a variety of cultures throughout history to achieve a sense of inner calmness and clarity. Research shows that meditation can help patients quit smoking, lower blood pressure, and manage symptoms of anxiety and depression. It’s also an effective tool for people who struggle to fall asleep at night.
By relaxing your body and brain, it’s easier to quiet the distracting thoughts that keep your mind buzzing.
Studies have found that meditation can help reduce cortisol, which is the hormone associated with stress. Meditation increases the natural melatonin levels to help with more restful sleep. Furthermore, meditation is shown to have benefits on patients with mental health disorders who may experience insomnia as a symptom. By using meditation to reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression, some patients have an easier time falling and staying asleep.
It’s important to note that meditation is not a cure for underlying conditions that may affect sleep quality or the ability to fall asleep. If your sleeping is not helped by meditation, talk to your doctor about other options.
Step #1: Setting up the right environment
The first step of meditating before bed is preparing the right environment. The ideal environment should be calm, quiet, and free of distractions. It may be helpful to create a set nightly routine to make the process easier.
Here are some tips for creating a relaxing setting:
- Remove distractions. Turn off the TV, make sure the kids are in bed, and put down your recreational electronic devices. Make sure your meditation space is quiet and dark (or at least dim).
- Get comfortable. Wear whatever you find most comfortable. Choose a posture that limits fidgeting and discomfort; you may either lay down in bed or sit up.
- Set up your meditation tools. If you’re using your phone or another device to listen to a guided meditation program, turn down the screen brightness and close all other apps or windows. If you use a white noise machine, turn it on at a comfortable volume. It’s important to keep your meditative time free of distractions, so ensure your environment is set up with everything you’ll need before getting started.
Note: Some find that candles are helpful when creating a soothing setting. If you want to use candles, make sure you blow them out before falling asleep.
Step #2: Choosing a meditation method
There are many different methods of meditation out there to help you find peace before bedtime. The goal of each of these methods is to relax your mind and body in preparation for sleep.
You may have to experiment with a few different techniques to find the one that works best for you. Let’s go over some of the most popular sleep meditation methods.
Guided meditation involves listening to a pre-recorded podcast or audio clip of someone leading you through the process. A teacher or host may talk you through a meditative session, explaining relaxation techniques, breathing exercises, and more. They may involve audio, video, or a combination of the two.
Guided meditation may be helpful for those who struggle to keep their mind focused on relaxing. However, listening to another person may be disruptive for those who need silence to meditate before bed.
Mindfulness & Body Scan Meditation
Mindfulness and body scan meditation methods involve focusing on the present state of your mind and body. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that mindfulness meditation is an effective way of treating insomnia in older adults.
To practice either of these methods, you can start by closing your eyes, breathing slowly and bringing awareness to your breath. From head to toe or toe to head, focus on each part of your body in turn and think about how each part feels. Ask yourself—what sensations are you noticing? Do you feel tension in a specific place? Do you find your mind wandering back to a recurring topic?
The purpose is not to get caught up in any one thought or sensation, but to acknowledge its presence, think about how it feels, and let yourself move past it. This may be difficult at first, but you’ll find that it becomes easier with practice.
If you struggle with your mind wandering, it may help to focus on your attention on a specific subject. This practice is known as concentration meditation.
This method begins by selecting a subject for your mind to focus on. The subject can be physical, visual, aural, or mental. For example, you might focus on a flickering candle, an audio track of ocean noises, a mantra that you repeat (such as “ohm” or “ah”), or a concept, like the color purple or the idea of love. You may also simply focus on breathing steadily.
The goal is not to write an essay in your head about whatever you focus on. Like in mindfulness or body scan meditation, just observe what you see and relax your mind. If you find your thoughts wandering, acknowledge it, bring your awareness back to your breath, and move your mind back to your focus subject.
Meditation is a powerful tool for those struggling with insomnia or poor sleep. It may require some trial and practice to find the right method, but meditation has the potential to improve your quality of sleep.
However, meditation may not work for everyone. If your insomnia persists or if you find that meditation is worsening your symptoms of depression or anxiety, talk to a doctor. Your insomnia may be caused by an underlying medical condition that requires treatment from a licensed professional.
If you’ve tried to meditate before bed and are still struggling with sleep, schedule an appointment with Dr. Kumbkarni. Dr. Kumbkarni is passionate about helping patients find relief from stress and insomnia through meditation and other treatments.
Disclaimer: This post is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a licensed medical professional.