If you’re like the average North American, your life is stressful and busy and it’s taking a toll on your sleep. The more things on our mind at bedtime, the less likely we are to have a good night’s sleep. The less rested we are, the more stress negatively affects us – it’s a vicious cycle. The good news is studies are showing us that meditation, particularly before bedtime, is quite effective in calming the mind for sleep. Meditation is low-cost, can be done at home or when travelling, and is easy to do alone, as a family, or as a couple. It makes a fantastic addition to a bedtime routine and you can choose how long you want to spend on it.
To learn how to meditate to sleep better you must know that there are four main types of meditation used to help with sleep. The four types are mindfulness, progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), deep breathing, and guided meditation. Not all types of meditation are right for everyone so experiment and see which one you like best. You can even set up a dedicated meditation area to enhance your practice.
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This has been the subject of several studies in medical journals of late. Mindfulness centres on the idea of being present in the moment, so it’s a great technique for those times when your mind just won’t shut off. Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future. Any time your mind drifts into the future or the past or worries pop in, you simply redirect your thoughts to the present. It’s very simple to learn but can be a powerful addition to your bedtime routine.
Try This! To allow yourself to start thinking more presently, choose two everyday activities you do throughout the day to practice. It may be washing the dishes or cleaning the house. Begin to pay attention to every detail of these activities and enjoy the process. If negative thoughts creep in or suddenly you are lost in thought and your brain starts spiralling, try and pull yourself back to the present chore at hand. Once you’ve practiced this and feel more confident in these mindful activities bring it into the bedroom and begin to practice it during your bedtime routine as well.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)
PMR has been around since the 1920s, and is still one of the most recommended forms of meditation for sleep troubles. With PMR, you tense and then relax all of the muscle groups in your body either starting from the head and working your way down, or starting at your feet and working your way to your head. PMR forces your brain to focus on the muscle groups, which takes your mind off your worries. It also promotes general relaxation which can help with sleep.
Deep breathing is a component of every type of meditation and is critical to activities such as yoga, but it can be very useful on its own as a sleep aid. The keys to using deep breathing effectively as a relaxation tool are to breathe deeply into the abdomen, and to breathe in and out at a slow, controlled rate. A popular technique is the 4-7-8 technique where you inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds, and exhale for 8 seconds; repeat the cycle 3-4 times.
This is what comes to mind for most people when they think of meditation. Guided meditation uses an audio device (such as an app on your smart phone or a CD player) to help you with visualization and relaxation exercises. You can use the same guided meditation experience every night or vary it. Most feature relaxing sounds as well as the soothing voice giving you the instructions. Many apps have a free version so you can try before you buy.
I encourage you to #BringBackBedtime by learning how to meditate to sleep better either on your own, with your children, or even with your partner before bed. It’s a great addition to any bedtime routine.
Alanna McGinn is a Certified Sleep Consultant and Founder of Good Night Sleep Site – a Global Pediatric and Family Sleep Team. She provides free child and family sleep support through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. She invites you to join her sleep community as she works towards Good Night Sleep Site’s mission of a healthier rested family unit. For more sleep tips, subscribe to our newsletter and visit Good Night Sleep Site.