It goes without saying that a good night’s sleep can be elusive. One 2016 study revealed that almost 70 percent of Americans reported having sleep struggles at least once a week.
This isn’t for lack of trying, though. Taking supplements, purchasing an ergonomic mattress, scheduling a consistent lights-out time, and inhaling the scent of essential oils are all common approaches to achieving sleep.
In fact, the global spend on sleep aids totals $80 billion a year (and counting), of which the U.S. represents the largest market.
However, another approach is quickly growing in popularity: meditation.
From relieving headaches to ramping up your sex life, there are plenty of benefits associated with this ancient practice — and research indicates it’s highly effective at improving sleep, too. Here’s how.
There isn’t one “right” way to meditate — instead, it’s about finding the approach that works best for you. “Dip your toes into different styles,” suggests Coleman. “Don’t waste time trying to force yourself into one type of practice. If it doesn’t feel right… try something different.”
Here are seven meditation types that each offer a different taste, while all contributing to the same end goal: lowered stress and enhanced sleep.
|Type of meditation||What it involves||How it aids sleep|
|mindfulness meditation||“This is paying attention to the moment-by-moment experiences that arise,” Coleman says. Note what’s occurring around you — the sound of birds or passing traffic — before gently bringing back your focus.||Mindfulness “trains us to pay attention in the moment, and to quiet that overthinking mind,” says Coleman.|
|visualization meditation||Imagine a tranquil scene in great detail — perhaps a sandy beach or woodland filled with wildlife. Think about the view from every angle, the sounds, and the scents.||In doing this, “you allow your imagination to take you out of whatever it is that’s causing you stress and relax into your slumber,” notes Coleman.|
|movement meditation||This can range from yoga to a long walk — but save the HIIT for another time. Focus on the movements of different body parts: the way your foot hits the pavement, or how your arms rise during Warrior Pose.||This serves to distract us from worrisome thoughts. But exercise also releases endorphins — aka the “happy hormones” — and encourages blood flow (which can be hindered by stress).|
|breath-focused meditation||This (unsurprisingly) focuses on breathing. “Place a hand on your belly and a hand on your chest, and slow your breathing down,” says Coleman. “Notice your breathing and, every time you get distracted, just come back to focusing on the breath.”||By paying attention to your breathing, your mind is less able to wander. Plus, research shows slow and deep breathing directly before bed can improve sleep quality, thanks to its effect on our nervous system.|
|mantra meditation||For this, a word or short phrase is repeated, either softly spoken or internally, throughout the session. Your mantra can be a traditional phrase such as “Om” or ‘”My body is a temple”; or create one yourself, such as “I am at peace.”||“The theory behind it is, by repeating the mantra, it focuses your mind and takes you into a deeper consciousness state, which helps relieve stress,” Coleman shares.|
|loving-kindness meditation||This is about focusing on the positives: those you love, those who love you back, and self-love. Revel in and radiate out good thoughts about compassion, kindness and peace, and appreciate these in your life.||Research shows those who practice this type of meditation experience higher quality sleep — a result of positive emotions encouraging a mental tranquility, lower cortisol levels and calmer heart rate.|
|body scan meditation||Concentrate on the feeling in your toes, then work your way slowly up the body: your shins, knees, thighs — you get the drift. If you feel any sensations, take a moment to pause and focus on them.||Not only are you concentrating on something other than worries, this approach encourages you to actively notice and release points of tension in the body; and has been proven to significantly reduce insomnia.|
While its sleep aid peers focus on the act of snoozing directly, meditation takes a more roundabout approach. “Better sleep is like a by-product of mediation,” explains Laura Coleman, meditation expert and founder of Be Modern Meditation. “When you meditate, you just happen to sleep better.”
Meditation has been shown to help alleviate these — in turn, leading to better sleep — in several key ways.
Firstly, meditation improves our ability to calm racing thoughts.
“We’re in the stress response so much of the time, that it becomes our default state; and we don’t have the capacity to switch out of it,” Coleman continues. “Every time you meditate, you interrupt that stress response and make it easier and easier to switch track.”
Improves brain function
Meditation can also cause actual change in brain composition and function.
Researchers at Harvard discovered those who engaged in regular meditation experienced positive alterations in their gray matter, the area associated with emotion regulation; while another found the practice fires-up areas of the brain linked with controlling anxiety.
Lowers blood pressure
Meditation affects us physically elsewhere, too.
It assists in lowering heart rate and blood pressure and regulating breathing, but also lowers levels of cortisol — the body’s ‘stress’ hormone — in the blood. With research showing a strong link between raised cortisol levels and insomnia, it’s important to keep this in check.
The best news? You can meditate at any time of day for as little as 5 minutes at a time to get these benefits.
Meditation can sometimes prove a challenge, especially for newbies; as maintaining focus for longer periods is easier said than done. Fortunately, there are things you can do to minimize distractions, encourage relaxation and improve your chances of success. These include:
- closing your eyes
- wearing loose, comfortable clothing
- sitting on a cushion, or laying down
- listening to quiet, gentle music
- using aromatherapy scents
- lighting candles
- starting with shorter sessions, and building up in length
“I really encourage people to normalize meditation,” Coleman adds. “If you try to wait for the perfect situation, it will never happen. What’s more important is that you try to do it consistently.”
Finding yourself struggling? There’s absolutely no harm — or shame — in attending meditation classes or one-on-one sessions for a dose of support.
Even if you’re sailing along nicely, meditating with a professional can add a sense of accountability to your practice; while some types of meditation, such as Transcendental, actually require guidance from a trained expert.
If in-person is a bit too far outside your comfort zone, there are plenty of expert-led apps that offer a wide variety of guided sessions to help you on your way. You don’t have to go searching for them yourself, either — we’ve rounded up seven of the best.
Meditation can be a key ally in relieving stress and, in turn, encouraging better quality sleep. Don’t get too frustrated if the practice itself doesn’t come naturally or provide the desired effects immediately. Give it a little time, try different techniques, and remain consistent.
It won’t be long until you could experience a variety of benefits — in and out of the land of nod.
Chantelle Pattemore is a writer and editor based in London, UK. She focuses on lifestyle, health, beauty, food, and fitness.