The Importance of Mindfulness and Meditation for Sleep
Mindfulness meditation is widely practiced across the world to promote relaxation, and there are a variety of techniques you can use. Increasingly, we’re seeing it as a treatment for sleep disorders such as insomnia. How does it all work? Let’s dig a little deeper.
What’s the difference between mindfulness and meditation?
First things first, let’s take a closer look at what we’re actually dealing with. Some people use ‘mindfulness’ and ‘meditation’ interchangeably, which can be confusing, but they are different.
- Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present. This means being aware of where we are, what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us1
- Meditation involves paying attention to your breath as it goes in and out, and noticing when the mind wanders from this task. This practice of returning to breathing builds attention and mindfulness2
In short: mindfulness is about being aware; noticing and paying attention to everything, which can be supported and enriched by meditation.
What is mindfulness meditation?
So, what does this actually look like in practice?
Mindfulness meditation involves sitting in silence and paying attention to thoughts, sounds, breathing, or parts of the body. Whenever the mind starts to wander, attention back3.
How to do mindfulness meditation
Mindfulness meditation can be done by inhaling for 10 counts, then holding your breath for 10 counts. After that, exhale for another 10 counts. Repeat this five times.
Next, inhale and tense your body. Relax and exhale. Again, repeat five times.
At all times, pay attention to your breath and body, consciously relaxing any parts of your body that feel tight.
Meditating has a number of benefits for both physical and mental health, which is why it’s practiced so widely across the world, including:
- Helps manage stress
- Reduces negativity
- Boosts creativity
- Improves mood
- Increases self awareness
- Improves sleep quality
- Increases patience4
Meditation to help sleep - how does it work?
Mindfulness and meditation help bring about a relaxed state of mind, similar to falling asleep5. This is often described as the relaxation response, or the opposite of the stress response.
When we’re stressed, it’s harder to fall asleep, as our brains stay ‘wired’. But, practicing mindfulness and meditation can help calm down the nervous system in preparation for sleep.
Meditation can also:
- Increase melatonin (the sleep hormone)
- Increase serotonin (precursor of melatonin)
- Decrease blood pressure
- Activate parts of the brain that control sleep
- Reduce heart rate6
How to meditate for a better sleep
What’s good about meditation is that it needs no equipment, it’s free and can be done almost anywhere. It can also help you rest without the need for sleep therapy or medication.
- Remove all distractions
- Sit or lie down quietly (whatever you’d prefer)
- Close your eyes
- Breathe slowly and deeply
- Keep the focus on your breathing
- If your mind wanders, bring it back to your breathing
Be patient, it can take time to get it right. Particularly during periods of stress or upset, it can be difficult not to let your mind wander.
How long should you meditate for?
In the beginning, 3-5 minutes is a good start. Over time, increase this to around 20 minutes, just before bed. Do this instead of watching a film or staring at your phone while trying to sleep.
Why is sleep so important?
If you’re regularly getting a poor night’s sleep, it’s time to start taking that seriously.
Mental health problems like depression and anxiety often go hand in hand with sleep problems; this can have physical effects too7.
Lack of sleep puts you at a higher risk of:
- Heart disease
Meditation can be a useful tool to help you drift off at night, however it’s not a cure-all. You should also look at your sleep environment and assess if you have any poor sleeping habits, such as an irregular bedtime.
Remember, it’s not just about how much sleep you’re getting, but also the quality. Duration is one thing, but if your sleep is of a poor quality, you’ll likely wake up still feeling tired. Getting a healthy sleep is key.
Mindfulness and meditation tips
If you want to take the steps to improve your sleep, and hopefully become more mindful along the way, here are some top tips:
- Choose a time to meditate and stick to it – be consistent
- Practice mindfulness throughout the day, not just at night, e.g. slowing down to eat and paying attention to your food
- Lying down to meditate might be preferable at bedtime
- Start with a few deep breaths (to calm the body)
- Breathe naturally
- Meditate in the same place every day
- Remind yourself of the benefits
- Understand it might feel uncomfortable at first
If you’re new to it, meditation can feel challenging at first. But, the more you do it, it will soon become a habit. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t take to it straight away and try to stick it out.
What if meditation doesn't work?
Meditation doesn’t work for everyone, but there are plenty of other ways you can help yourself get a better sleep. Or, there might be other factors preventing the meditation from working as well as it could.
When trying to sleep, ensure you:
- Block out all light, especially blue light (e.g. phone screen)
- Block out as much noise as possible
- Stick to a regular sleep schedule
- Avoid working in your bed during the day
- Declutter your room
- Clean your sheets regularly
- Get a comfortable mattress and pillows
- Avoid caffeine after 3pm
If sleep disorders persist, it’s a good idea to speak to your doctor about what to do next.
It takes time to build healthy habits
Sleep is as important for our bodies as good nutrition, so it’s essential you pay attention to it. It can take time to become more mindful, meaning you’re more aware and attentive throughout the day. Meditation is a tool that can help you get there. Together, they can help you sleep better, for the long term. If you’re tired of being tired, this could be the answer you’re looking for.
- What is Mindfulness? – Mindful
- How to Meditate – Mindful
- Mindfulness – NHS
- Meditation: A simple, fast way to reduce stress – Mayo Clinic
- How Meditation Can Treat Insomnia – Sleep Foundation
- 3 Ways to Meditate for Better Sleep – Healthline
- The importance of sleep – Mental Health Foundation
- Why lack of sleep is bad for your health – NHS
- Top 13 meditation tips – Headspace