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5 Meditations for Sleep
by Brittany Risher Englert

Is there anything that meditation can’t do? As researchers continue to study more about the different types of meditation, they keep discovering the many benefits of the practice. The one we’re most interested in these days: All the ways meditation may help you fall asleep, stay asleep, and improve the quality of sleep. Plus, unlike some pills and supplements, there’s no risk of negative side effects. 

Read on to learn how meditation can lead to better sleep, the best way to practice, and some top guided meditations to ease you into dreamland. 

Why meditate for sleep?

Meditation sets off a slew of changes in the body that is way more effective than counting sheep at promoting dozing off. For example, researchers reviewed 18 trials with 1,600 participants for a meta analysis published in 2019 in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. They discovered that, at both five months and a year after studies ended, people who practiced mindfulness meditation had sleep quality improvements on par with those seen from using other proven sleep treatments—like cognitive behavioral therapy or relaxation training.

In a small study published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2015, adults 55 and older with moderate sleep disturbances learned either good sleep habits or mindfulness exercises like sitting meditation, mindful eating, mindful walking, and loving-kindness meditation. After six weeks, the mindfulness group showed significant improvements in insomnia and fatigue compared with the other group. Other studies also show that meditation may help with insomnia, perhaps to the same degree that medication does. 

Several factors may be at play here. First, some research suggests that meditation increases melatonin, the hormone that rises in the evening, triggering the urge to sleep. Additionally, meditation may boost the activity of theta waves in the brain. These waves promote deep relaxation, which may prompt you to nod off.

Fitbit data reflects that people all around the world have adapted to pandemic-induced lifestyle changes by meditating more and, for the most part, sleeping for longer periods. In October 2020, our research team’s review of aggregated user data revealed that meditation increased 2,900 percent globally, while sleep duration, too, is up around the globe. (The increase in both meditation and in sleep were not correlated in these Fitbit findings; both were changes in lifestyle behavior brought on by the pandemic.) Talk about turning a negative into a positive! 

Meditation also activates the parasympathetic nervous system, slowing down our breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure, explains Jami Carder, a certified Nama Shivaya meditation instructor. “These things help turn off the sympathetic nervous system, which is what controls our fight-or-flight response.” 

Add in how meditation can help decrease rumination, and it begins to become clear why meditation may be particularly powerful for stressed, anxious types. 

How to meditate for better sleep

There’s no one “best” way to meditate, no matter what your reason for practicing. Some meditation teachers advocate meditating in the morning and again in the evening. If that seems like a lot to bite off, start with just a nighttime meditation, but probably not too close to bed. For some people, meditation relieves stress but wakes them up, says world renowned meditation master Yogmata Keiko Aikawa. Clearly that’s not the goal, so aim for an evening meditation that’s about an hour or two before bedtime, then see. If you find that you are so relaxed that you fall asleep, then you might want to push back your meditation time.

There’s also no set amount of time anyone “should” meditate. “You find benefit from as little as five minutes a day, though it’s best to try and do it every day,” Carder says. “As you become more comfortable, you will likely want to do it for longer periods.” 

Sleep meditation recommendations

Guided meditations are excellent for new meditators or those who want something targeted specifically toward sleep. “It’s helpful to choose a guide who has a voice that’s soothing to you,” Carder says. “There are millions of meditations available and something for everyone.”

Check out the below meditations we love from Fitbit Premium.

PREPARE FOR SLEEP WITH PROGRESSIVE RELAXATION

In this 10-minute meditation, Deepak Chopra guides you through a body scan. After some deep breathing, you work from feet to head, going from body part to body part. For each, you hold slight tension for a few seconds, then relax that body part, feeling how other surrounding body parts then also ease. By the end, your body is limp in the best way, almost like you’re melting into your mattress.

RETURN TO RESTFUL SLEEP

The voice in this meditation from Aura has a bit of an ASMR effect. That stands for “autonomous sensory meridian response”—it’s when something causes you to feel tingling that typically travels from your head down your neck and sometimes to your spine. 

Even if you don’t sense that, this seven-minute practice may help you fall back to sleep by repeating “I am” statements that affirm you are relaxing, letting your body take over, and returning to deep, restorative slumber.

HOW TO FALL ASLEEP

“The body knows how to fall asleep. Sometimes the mind gets in the way,” says Jeff Warren of Ten Percent Happier at the opening of this meditation. To get more into your body and less in your mind, this 10-minute practice has you pretend as if you were falling asleep: You change your breathing pattern as you half-watch any images that begin to appear in your mind. 

Faking it till you make it works, and this meditation will help you let go of your thoughts and trust your body to ease into dreamland.

SLEEP IS THE BEST MEDICINE

Clocking in at 17 minutes, this is a longer meditation, but it also features much less talking. A meditation teacher from Aaptiv first explains how changing the way we breathe activates the “rest and digest” part of the nervous system. Then you very, very slowly do a body scan while incorporating the deeper breathing that promotes relaxation. The gentle music that plays when the teacher isn’t talking further helps you drift off.

EQUAL BREATHING EXERCISE FOR SLEEP 

A Fitbit original, this 20-minute practice guides you through equal breathing: You inhale, hold the breath, exhale, and hold the breath, all for the same amount of time. This helps relax the mind and reduce stress so you can fall asleep. Don’t worry, you’re not holding your breath forever; you work up from four seconds to eight seconds. 

Throughout the practice, listen to your body. You likely can get to eight seconds, but if that doesn’t feel right, shorten the time periods to whatever is best for you.

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This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.