Chances are, you’ve experienced a sleepless night or two; it’s something many of us struggle with at times. As a matter of fact, “I can’t turn off my brain before bed” is one of the biggest complaints Dr. Michael Breus, a.k.a. the Sleep Doctor and trainer of Mindvalley’s The Master of Sleep Quest, hears from his clients.
So when you find yourself in these situations, have you ever considered trying meditation for sleep?
This ancient practice has made its way into the mainstream, as more people seek a more natural way to achieve elusive sleep. What’s more, it’s even backed by science.
“Sleep is the best meditation,” says the Dalai Lama. And what better way to get to sleep than meditation?
What Does Sleep Meditation Do For You: 4 Key Benefits
The body is interconnected, and sleeping is one activity from which various body parts can benefit. Getting some much-needed shut-eye benefits everything from your mind to your body to your soul to your performance and relationships.
However, when your nights are like Edward Norton’s in Fight Club, you may start to feel a little like those buildings he blew up. You don’t need to attend a support group or find yourself a Marla. Just turn to meditation.
In fact, a 2015 study by Harvard Medical School shows that meditation for sleep can be a powerful solution to insomnia and other sleep disorders. Science is just beginning to explain how sleep meditation enriches our mind-body connection, but how exactly does it help?
Here are four key benefits:
1. Meditation enhances the brainwaves of sleep
If you find yourself tossing and turning one night too many, you may have an excess of beta brain waves, one of the five waves that dominate our normal waking state of consciousness. They are present when we are engaged in mental activity such as decision-making, and attentiveness, or even when we are uneasy, anxious, or depressed.
“Think about it,” says Dr. Breus in his Quest on Mindvalley. “All day long, people are asking you things, questions, you have to do stuff… and you never have any time to yourself. But as soon as you lie down and you get in the dark, what happens? All the thoughts come flooding in.”
What’s more, negative thoughts about your inability to fall asleep can escalate as the wee hours of the morning creep in, bringing in even more unwanted beta brainwaves. And this negative feedback loop makes falling asleep even more difficult as your clock gets closer to wake-up time.
How meditation for sleep can help: Research suggests that people who meditate produce far more alpha, theta, and delta brainwaves—brainwaves that boost deep relaxation and deep sleep—and produce far fewer insomnia-causing, attention-inducing beta brainwaves.
Alpha, theta, and delta brainwaves produced during meditation directly cancel out beta brainwaves, allowing you to wake up refreshed in the morning and ready to perform at your best.
2. Meditation brings you to the present
Ever find your thought space occupied by your long to-do list? Or a scenario-gone-wrong during the day? Or maybe even random wonderings, like those of an orange cat named Mr. Stubbs, who served as mayor of an Alaskan town for 20 years.
We’ve all been there; it’s normal to lose a few hours of sleep this way (even if it’s not the least bit fun). By learning to focus on the present moment during meditation for sleep, you can tap into the realization that the day is over, tomorrow is not yet upon you, and what matters is in the now.
How meditation for sleep can help: One of the objectives of deep sleep meditation or mindfulness practices is to better manage your brain and move it from a space of worry and stress to a space of peace and comfort, welcoming you to a relaxed state of mind as you drift off into a deep sleep.
It’s all about focusing your attention on the present: bringing your mind into awareness of your thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations. By doing so, you can then run them better, rather than allowing them to run you.
Bedtime meditation to achieve mindful thought awareness is often the only way to soothe your mind, rapidly get to sleep, and make deep rest your nightly norm.
3. Meditation boosts melatonin
Melatonin, a hormone produced by the pineal gland that regulates sleep and wakefulness, peaks just before bedtime to ensure a good night’s rest. Termed “the miracle drug from within,” it is essential to:
- Feelings of happiness and well-being,
- Activating the immune system,
- Regulating the circadian rhythms, and
- Acting as an extremely powerful antioxidant.
Unfortunately, many of us use our devices before bedtime, which can suppress the production of melatonin, making it harder to fall asleep. So can meditation help you if you’ve made revenge bedtime procrastination a habit? The answer is yes.
How meditation for sleep can help: According to a study by the University of Massachusetts Medical Center’s Stress Reduction and Relaxation Program, people who meditate had considerably higher melatonin levels than people who don’t meditate. And when test participants did not meditate, their melatonin levels did not increase that night.
The conclusion was that daily meditation, especially before bedtime, increases melatonin production.
Although scientists are not clear how meditation stimulates the pineal gland which produces melatonin, what studies suggest is that melatonin increases immediately after meditating.
So instead of reaching for your melatonin supplements for rejuvenating sleep before it’s time to turn in, a more natural, effective (and cheaper) long-term solution to elevate your sleep-inducing melatonin levels can simply be through sleep meditation.
4. Meditation enhances the REM stage of sleep
The quality of your sleep trumps the number of hours you spend in bed. Every. Time.
So if you find yourself feeling continuously tired and fatigued, even if you are putting in enough hours of sleep, you’re likely not getting enough sleep time in the most restorative part of our sleep cycle — the REM (rapid eye movement) stage.
Brain activity during the REM stage is characterized by brain waves similar to what you experienced in a wakeful state — a mix of alpha and theta waves, and high-frequency beta waves typical during high-level concentration and thinking. People often associate REM sleep with dreams.
REM is the fifth and last stage of sleep and not reaching or disrupting your REM sleep stage translates into an incomplete cycle, causing fatigue and grogginess throughout the day.
REM sleep begins with signals from an area of the base of the brain called “pons” which regulates melatonin.
How meditation for sleep can help: “Meditation isn’t specifically designed to make you sleepy, it does make you feel very relaxed,” says Dr. Breus. And feeling and being relaxed helps you get into the REM stage.
In fact, neuroscientists at Massachusetts General Hospital conducted brain scan research that shows how meditation elevates the REM-stimulating “pons” region of the brain.
The study concluded that people who practice sleep meditation have far more enhanced REM cycles and more neuroplasticity (the ability to rewire and connect different parts of the brain), which may explain the increase in dreams reported by many who practice bedtime meditation.
Guided Meditation for Sleep
If you are new to meditation and you have trouble sleeping, you may be wondering, “What is the best meditation for sleep?” The answer isn’t so black and white.
There are all sorts of meditation out there to help with falling asleep. So it’ll take a little trial and error to find one (or a few) that resonate best with you.
Mindvalley has an assortment of meditations, some guided by our quest trainers, to help you find yourself in dreamland. Below are three you can start with.
Before you start, here’s one little tip on how to do meditation for sleep: Listen with headphones and set your audio player to replay for uninterrupted hours of slumber. If you’re on the Mindvalley app, you can opt to listen to it with binaural beats.
Rest, Sleep, and Heal Meditation | Niraj Naik
If you want to do a meditation with some breathwork, this is one to press play on. Guided by Niraj Naik, SOMA Breath® and trainer of Mindvalley’s Breathwork for Life Quest, this session will help leave you calm, rested, and tranquil.
Drifting Into Deep Healing Sleep | Sonia Choquette
Six-sensory expert Sonia Choquette, who’s also the trainer of Mindvalley’s Sixth Sense Superpower Quest, is no stranger to guiding meditations. This particular calming and beautiful meditation is designed to lead you through a dreamy creative visualization, so you can drift into a deep, restorative sleep with ease.
Available on the Mindvalley app
Tranquil Sleep | Emily Fletcher
This gentle meditation is guided by the founder of Ziva Meditation and trainer of Mindvalley’s The M Word Quest, Emily Fletcher. She’ll lead you through a body scan to identify any tension and help you release it through gentle breathwork so that you can move into a state of tranquility.
Available on the Mindvalley app
Meditation Music for Sleep
If you’d prefer not to be guided, then there are options to listen to meditation music as part of your sleep schedule. Here are three you can tune into.
Quick & Easy Deep Meditation Music for Sleep, Relaxation Positive Energy
This session is a great option as a sleep meditation for anxiety. The calming tune will take you on a journey to take off the layers of stress from the day so you can find yourself ready to embrace the rest you so deserve.
Deep Meditation Music to Enhance Focus, Sleep, Relaxation & Positive Energy
The name of this guided meditation says it all—a mindfulness meditation that can help calm your nerves and get you into a deeper state of relaxation.
So if you’ve had “a day,” plug into this heavenly session to put your mind at ease as you drift into a dreamy, well-needed slumber.
Delta Waves 1.5Hz Deep Sleep | Gabriel Loynaz
Delta waves are the slowest of the five brain waves. Research shows that it’s associated with deep sleep, meditation, and healing. One study, in particular, found that delta waves are “an integral feature of REM sleep.”
This meditation, created by Gabriel Loynaz, can help slow your breathing, alleviate stress from your mind, and promote better sleep.
Available on the Mindvalley app
5 Other Mindfulness Methods to Help You Fall Asleep
There are other powerful techniques to help optimize your sleep. Here are a few Dr. Breus suggestions that can help get you to dreamland in no time.
1. A worry journal
This is something you’d complete about four to five hours before lights out. The process is simple:
- Take a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle.
- Write everything single thing you’re worried about on one side of the line.
- Write a solution for it on the other side.
“You don’t have to have the solution that solves the problem,” Dr. Breus explains. “It just has to be a step in the plan to solve the problem.”
For example, if your pet is acting peculiar as if they’re not well, then the solution you may write is to make an appointment with the vet.
This action, most likely, isn’t going to solve your problem, but it is a step toward doing so. As a result, it can help lower your anxiety levels.
2. A gratitude journal
There are several reasons cultivating a gratitude journal practice is so beneficial. Research has shown that when you focus on positive things before bedtime has a trifecta effect:
- It helps with falling asleep faster,
- Helps with sleeping longer, and
- Improves your sleep quality.
There’s no right or wrong way to do a gratitude journal, but Dr. Breus suggests listing five things from your day that you loved.
3. Guided imagery
“Guided imagery” is exactly what it sounds like: ”it’s where you lie with your eyes closed and a voice will guide you to think of certain very serene or tranquil images,” explains Dr. Breus. For example, floating among the stars, relaxing on a cloud, or lying on a beautiful island beach.
There are plenty of guided imagery recordings you can sift through. And the Sleep Doctor suggests finding one that resonates with you to listen to before you power down hour.
4. Mind games
If you’ve ever counted sheep, then you’ve done a mind game. One in particular that Dr. Breus suggests is counting backward from 300 by threes. 300…297…294…and so on.
The goal of this practice is to distract you from your stimulating thoughts. And, as he describes it, it’s so “doggone boring, you’re out like a light.”
For Mindvalley Members: Dr. Breus has created a list of mind games and it’s available on the Quest for you to download.
5. 4-7-8 breathing technique
There are several “inhale, exhale” practices to help de-stress and relax. One of the breathing techniques for sleep that Dr. Breus suggests is what he calls the 4-7-8 breathing technique. Here’s how to do it:
- Place the tip of your tongue behind your upper front teeth.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a “whoosh” sound.
- Close your mouth and inhale through your nose for four counts.
- Hold your breath for seven counts.
- Exhale again through your mouth, making a “whoosh” sound for eight counts.
- Repeat the process.
This process activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which helps you power down for the night.
Sleep Well, Live Well
Whether you have insomnia, sleep deprivation, or any other kind of sleep disorder, it’s as Edward Norton says in Fight Club: “You’re never really awake, but you’re never really asleep.”
Meditation for sleep may be one solution, but there are also other natural methods to help you go to dreamland. You can learn how over at Mindvalley.
The Mastery of Sleep Quest with Dr. Michael Breus’ is filled with science-backed approaches to getting quality slumber, personalized to your unique sleep patterns. You’ll learn how to…
- Identify your chronotype, your body’s natural sleep time,
- Reprogram your mind and body for sound sleep, and
- Wake up naturally without an alarm clock.
Sign up for a Mindvalley account and you’ll have access to the first few lessons so that you can get a taste of how powerful his Quest is. You’ll also have access to several meditations on the Mindvalley app, including those that are perfect as part of your bedtime routine.
It’s time to awaken your unstoppable. And it first starts with your sleep.