Meditation, Sleep and Your Health: The Benefits of Meditation

Meditation is likely to be a useful tool in the journey to sleep better, but you need the right method.

Falling asleep at work; can meditation lead to better sleep
Can meditation lead to better sleep?

Sleep Better

Meditation is a wide range of ancient mind-training techniques which are now used widely to support health and wellbeing. One of the less well-known applications is to create relaxed states that support better quality sleep. A short evening meditation practice can lead to significantly improved quantity and quality of sleep. It’s not just that meditation can increase alpha brain activity, leading to sleep-friendly lower metabolic rates. But evening meditation methods can use visualisations that create serenity and contentedness allowing relaxing sleep patterns to develop naturally.

What is Meditation?

There are literally thousands of traditional meditation methods, and scientists are only just beginning to understand how they work. And although we don’t yet fully understand the psychological and physiological processes that link meditation to better sleep, there is a wealth of anecdotal evidence that indicates it really does help. So, at the risk of overgeneralising, we can consider meditation as a process that allows better control over your own thought processes, allowing you to develop practices that support relaxation and a great night’s sleep. Mindfulness forms of meditation may also give you space to focus on the here and now in a non-judgemental way. Finally, unlike many other practices, such as behavioural modification techniques, building a regular meditation habit anywhere, anytime, is easy. You don’t have to change your routine or beliefs; just focus on techniques that help you sleep better.

The Benefits of Meditation for Your Sleep

Many meditation scientists regard the altered metabolic state indicated by changes to alpha brain wave activity as a form of relaxation. And while meditation should not be sleep-inducing per se, the calmness and relaxation meditation brings should allow sleep to come without difficulty when you are ready. In one sense, regular meditation restores healthy balances in body, speech, and mind, supporting sleep and waking activity in equal measure. If the brain rests, natural healing and rejuvenation can take place. Adopting meditation can help improve sleep cycles. Different meditation styles have different focuses to help your sleeping patterns and dreams. In addition, meditation can help to calm your mind and reduce anxiety. A recent study found meditation positively impacted lowering cortisol levels in the blood, linked with stress. There is a suggestion that it may even decrease muscle tension and improve alertness.

How to Meditate Before Sleep

If you are new to meditation, your first step should be to find a reliable meditation teacher and a method appropriate for you and your meditation goals. Different practices have different functions in traditional meditation, so make sure you use a technique designed for the evening to support better sleep. Then, when you have the right method and reliable instructions, you can set aside twenty or thirty minutes in the evening to meditate. Don’t worry about doing everything perfectly or according to strict guidelines; evening practice does not normally work that way; you’re looking to calm down, not get hyped up. So to support your evening practice, you might want to think about your use of social media, consider what you eat and generally avoid unsettling influences.

Conclusions

The rhythms of modern living and how we think about ourselves and others can be counter-productive to a good night’s sleep. With extended working hours, multiple appointments, commuting, eating on the run, and constantly looking at screens, we’re all trying to keep up with modern living, but somehow we’re barely getting by. This isn’t to suggest that sleep is an option we’d consider to be a luxury because sleep should be available whenever we need it. Instead, we need to find ways to take our health and wellbeing into our own hands to help the process. Meditation has an impressive track record of tackling many modern problems and health challenges, including stress and anxiety, loneliness, depression, and sleep issues. But meditation is not a magic solution, and you will get the best results if you combine your practices with relevant lifestyle changes.

Does meditation help you sleep better?

Meditation and mindfulness can help to improve your sleep, but don’t allow them to hide or minimise an underlying problem.

Mindfulness and sleep, it’s all about balance

Sleep-related problems are frequently a reason why people start meditation classes or ask me for advice. The reasons why our sleep is disturbed are many and varied, and although it’s hard to give general advice, regular meditation often leads to improved sleep. The key term to note is ‘improved’ rather than ‘longer’. We know that almost half of people over 50 experience some kind of sleep problem; for many a chronic sleep condition can lead to a range of physical and mental health problems.1 The good news is that meditation has been shown to help, but it does depend.

As a general principle, improved relaxation is correlated with better sleep; we all know that restlessness and agitation, particularly at bedtime, can make it hard for us to ‘drop off’. So at this most fundamental level, some regular meditation is likely to lead to a more relaxed state, and when the practice is established, better sleep patterns. But one of the critical differences between medicalised and traditional forms of meditation is the notion of ‘cure’ and ‘treatment’.

If you’re not sleeping, it’s often linked to other factors, such as an underlying health problem, stress from work or relationship issues. While meditation can make a difference, the actual solution to the problem might also rest in some clearer thinking. So the first question for you to resolve is why aren’t you sleeping? If you can go some way to answering this, it will make a big difference to the kind of meditation practice you should use. For example, if work-related stress is a root cause, you might want to tackle this as well as meditating for better sleep. Similarly, if you have a health problem that’s limiting your sleep, tackle that issue as well as thinking about meditation. Don’t use meditation to mask other issues.

Based on the feedback I receive, meditation usually helps people get better sleep, but there are typically several issues at play. For example, after undertaking an evening practice, I encourage students not to spend too much time on social media or watching TV. If you discover that engaging with social media at bedtime limits your sleep, you might wish to change that habit in addition to meditating.

In traditional meditation systems, there are practices linked to sleep and dreaming, but their role is to support the meditator in personal and spiritual development. It’s also not unusual to see more experienced meditators have less hours but better quality sleep, from the physiological perspective this makes sense although there are few scientific studies in this area.

As always email us if you have any concerns. And please post your thoughts and experiences below.

Notes

1 Black, D. S., O’Reilly, G. A., Olmstead, R., Breen, E. C., & Irwin, M. R. (2015). Mindfulness meditation and improvement in sleep quality and daytime impairment among older adults with sleep disturbances: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA internal medicine, 175(4), 494-501.

AI Crypto Trading

Help with trading bots for newbies

On Mind and Matter

Musings on Consciousness, Neuroscience and Philosophy

BSHS

The British Society for the History of Science

TastingInfinity

Taste the Freedom that is already here

Hidden History

Forgotten mysteries, oddities and unknown stories from history, nature and science.

Contemplative Pedagogy Network

Exploring the role of contemplative teaching and learning in higher education

The Psych Talk

Discussing All Things Psychological...

Meditation for Health

Advanced scientific knowledge, traditional meditation methods

%d bloggers like this: