Sleep is just as critical to our health and wellbeing as water, food, warmth and exercise are. Thankfully, as a nation, we slowly seem to be giving sleep a lot more attention now compared to what our predecessors did. Long gone are the days when people bragged about ‘not needing to sleep until they were dead’ and seeing the need for sleep as a weakness, rather than recognising good sleep habits as an important skill!
Sleep disorders are prevalent though, with approximately 10 to 20 per cent of our European population reporting frequent sleep disruption. Not because we don’t want to sleep or necessarily because of work constraints, but sometimes we simply can’t fall asleep or stay asleep.
Perhaps you have been in this scenario yourself: Your head hits the pillow, your eyes feel tired, but then your mind suddenly speeds off into overdrive. You start thinking about things you need to do, things you forgot to do, or scenarios that could happen at some point in time. And, before you know it, an hour has passed and you’re still wide awake with no hope of sleep in sight. Sound familiar?
Technology has also contributed to increased sleep problems. Looking at TV screens, phones, tablets or gaming devices during the hour before bed is negatively associated with sleep as our mind struggles to switch off from all the distractions, lights and content we have consumed.
How can we achieve a healthier sleep pattern?
Healthy sleep is not just always down to the number of hours we go to bed for. The quality of sleep we experience is what really makes a difference to how we feel and function. The combination of deep sleep, light sleep and REM sleep fluctuates from night to night and you can always tell if you’ve not had enough deep sleep if you wake up feeling tired and groggy with little motivation to get out of bed.
Sleep meditations are being used more and more regularly, helping to create the important inner conditions that are needed for a restful and deep night’s sleep.
Because when we settle the mind, we rest the body—and that restfulness is what makes it easier to wind down and drift off.
Sleep meditation for beginners
Meditation helps us to spend less time in our own headspace and be more aware of the present moment we are in. For most of us, the night time is when our thoughts usually have more time to creep into the silence and take hold – despite it being the time when we need to stop and be still.
Meditation for sleep is a specific, guided experience that offers a natural sleep aid. It helps you to let go of the day you’ve just had. Everything that’s happened and everything that’s been said. So that you can rest your mind while simultaneously resting your body.
Meditation and breathing help to lower you heart rate by stimulating your parasympathetic nervous system. This is the one that helps you to relax and be calm as opposed to fighting or flighting!
Meditation for sleep can be approached in the same way as you approach any daytime meditation too. Allowing the body to first relax, with gentle encouragement, without force. As much as possible, you should try to allow yourself to be led by the guide who is taking the sleep meditation, not thinking too much about the technique or instructions you are being asked to perform.
What happens during a sleep meditation?
Before you begin your sleep meditation, make sure you are all ready for bed with nothing left to do. Your pyjamas on, your lights off and your to-do-list written for tomorrow. Then lie flat on your back on your bed, take a deep breath in and out, and slowly begin to close your eyes.
If you’re using a guided meditation recording, then follow the instructions. Your guided meditation may consist of any of the following techniques…
Mindful breathing. This involves regulating your breath, for example by counting breaths, or maintaining a breathing pattern. This will eventually slow your breathing down a bit, which signals to the body that it’s time for sleep.
Body scanning. As you lie on your bed, you may be asked to notice certain areas of your body. Usually starting at the toes, you might then be asked to “switch off” each part of your body, bit by bit until your whole body is relaxed.
Visualisations. You may be asked to imagine an image or scene, taking you away from the current setting that you are in. This will help to take you into a mental state that is similar to hypnosis.
Gratitude. Some sleep-focused meditation programs focus on appreciation meditation and loving kindness. This will help you to focus on things you are grateful for so that you can go to sleep content and happy.
Silence. In between guidance, your narrator may ask you to lie calmly in silence for up to a few minutes, providing very little guidance. This is a way to help you to focus inwards after a long and busy day, creating silence and space in your thoughts.