Researchers are increasingly interested in the potential of meditation as a treatment for insomnia. Given that sleep meditation for insomnia is relatively affordable, low-risk, and easy to implement, it is an attractive option for people who have difficulty accessing other types of therapy or medication.
Research suggests that various types of meditation can help improve insomnia, and may even improve sleep quality for those without existing sleep problems. Mindfulness meditation, in particular, appears to improve sleep quality and reduce daytime disturbance in people with chronic insomnia and older adults. In the long term, these improvements may be comparable to effects seen from sleep medication or other established methods for insomnia treatment. Like other sleep treatments, a main goal of meditation is to take the pressure off to fall asleep.
Mindfulness and meditation help bring about a relaxed state of mind that is conducive to falling asleep. This reaction is often described as the relaxation response, or the opposite of the stress response.
Whereas falling asleep involves a gradual reduction in arousal, insomnia is often defined as a state of hyper-arousal. When we are stressed, depressed, or anxious, our brain stays “wired” and we find it more difficult to fall asleep. Over the long term, we perpetuate this tension as we start to associate bedtime with worries about not being able to fall asleep.
The state of acceptance and awareness invoked by meditation helps reduce psychological distress and improve rumination and emotion regulation. Studies on people with fibromyalgia have found that mindfulness helps patients manage anger, worry, anxiety, and depression. These researchers theorized that mindfulness may improve sleep quality by supplying patients with the mental resources to calm down the nervous system in preparation for sleep.
At a biological level, meditation slows the heart rate and breathing and lowers levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Over the long term, the relaxation response reduces stress-related inflammation and oxidative stress and improves insulin resistance.
The exact interplay between meditation and sleep is still being investigated, but it appears that meditation provokes lasting changes in the brain that may affect sleep. Studies on people experienced in meditation have found that they display improvements in slow-wave sleep and REM sleep, as well as fewer nighttime awakenings.
Meditation is a skill, and those who practice it more often tend to see more meaningful benefits. Studies on the relaxation response have found that it produces immediate psychological and physical effects, suggesting that daily practice is optimal in order to see effects on that night’s sleep.
While factors such as the minutes spent meditating and the quality of meditation are difficult to quantify, the benefits of meditation have been found to be enhanced in long-term practitioners.
Similarly, a study on the benefits of meditation for insomnia in breast cancer patients found that these benefits disappeared after 12 months. These results suggest that the greatest benefits are derived from consistent meditation over a long period of time.
To lay the groundwork for your meditation session, start by preparing a calm environment and finding a comfortable position. When meditating before bedtime, this may include changing into loose pajamas, turning off the lights, and getting into bed. Practicing healthy sleep hygiene habits and utilizing techniques from cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia can help you get the most out of meditation for insomnia.
If you are using your phone or another device to listen to a guided meditation session, you can reduce distractions by turning off notifications, turning down the brightness on your screen, and setting the volume to an appropriate level.
Most meditation methods then instruct their disciples to find a center of focus. Meditation soundtracks for insomnia may use a soothing voice, guided imagery, music, or other techniques to induce relaxation.
Meditation techniques for insomnia tend to incorporate breathing and mindfulness components, with a significant amount of overlap between methods. If you’re new to meditation, you can start by talking to a licensed practitioner, downloading an app, or looking up videos online to find a relaxation exercise that works for you. Some common meditation methods for sleep include:
Meditative movement such as yoga and tai chi also has benefits for sleep quality. Though these activities may be less practical to carry out right before bedtime, practicing these activities on a regular basis may reduce overall feelings of stress and anxiety and assist in reaching a state of relaxation at will.
Meditation has few side effects, but they are very rare. However, some people may experience the following:
Meditation is perhaps best known for its ability to reduce anxiety, depression, and pain.
Along the same lines, emerging research is uncovering potential benefits on quality of life for patients with fibromyalgia, diabetes, breast cancer, and irritable bowel syndrome. Preliminary evidence indicates that meditation may also play a role in preventing cognitive decline, quitting smoking, and lowering blood pressure.