For those of you juggling work commitments, family needs and mile-long to-do’s, this probably comes as no surprise: Americans are stressed out. And all that stress has a way of wreaking havoc on our sleep schedules. Time to meditate your way to better sleep.
If you’re someone who struggles with stress-related sleep loss, meditation can be a big help. Its ability to activate the relaxation response makes it a great before-bed practice. All you need is a quiet room and some comfy clothes. Already a good sleeper? Meditation can improve other aspects of your life, too, including mindfulness, anxiety management and more.
Below we break down a few meditation basics to try the next time you have a quiet moment.
Even if you’ve never meditated before, you probably already know the classic pose: legs crossed, hands in lap, eyes gently closed. It’s important to sit in a way that maintains the spine’s natural position, so try your best not to slouch (sitting on a cushion can help you maintain good posture), and limit fidgeting as much as possible.
Close your eyelids, but keep your eyes focused on a spot on the horizon. Doing this will help keep you alert and prevent you from dozing off.
Breathe in through the noise and out through the mouth, focusing on each breath as it moves through your lungs. Some find it helpful to count to a certain number—try in for 4, hold for 4, out for 4, hold for 4 (this is called box breathing). It may sound counterintuitive, but the chest should actually move very little. Instead, breathe deep into your belly, feeling it expand and contract with each breath.
Aim for your exhalations to last as long, if not longer, than your inhalations. The reason? By emptying your lungs as much as possible, you create more room for fresh, oxygen-rich air to come in. If you have trouble lengthening your outbreaths, try using your abdominal muscles to gently coax more air from your lungs.
When starting out in meditation, it’s normal for your mind to wander. You may start thinking about the day’s events or planning your next task. Let those thoughts come and go naturally. Some find it helpful to visualize each thought and imagine it floating past. The purpose of meditation is to release your worries and anxieties and just be in the moment. Like all things worth doing, the more you practice, the easier it becomes—no one’s a meditation master on their first try.
If you’re a fan of white noise, try listening to soft, natural sounds (like crashing waves or a crackling fire) as you meditate. Free apps like this one make it easy to add some soothing sounds to your routine.
Deep breathing brings more oxygen into your system, which keeps you clear-headed, calm and happy—key ingredients to a good night’s sleep. Meditation has the ability to counteract the fight or flight response (the body’s natural reaction to a perceived threat), so continued practice can offset stress’s physical and psychological effects. Plus, meditation teaches you how to tap into feelings of peace and well-being, so when stresses do arise, you’re better equipped to deal with them in the moment rather than letting them follow you into the night.