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Meditation and sleep

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Practising specific types of meditation regularly is a research-backed way to improve your slumber. Discover why – and how to reap the rewards.

The benefits of meditation

Meditation has a lot going for it. From strengthening regions of the brain associated with memory, attention span and coping with stress, to improving heart health and even helping to reduce feelings of loneliness, meditation can do it all. 
Stands to reason then that another of its health perks is delivering a better night’s sleep. But does any and every type of meditation have the desired effect? And does it only work if you do it right before bed – or is that a bad idea? Read on to learn more.  

Which type of meditation works best for sleep?

Research shows that mindfulness meditation improves sleep when it’s practised regularly.  
In fact, in one study, meditating mindfully for 20 minutes a day improved both sleep quality and sleep duration for people with no previous meditation experience in just two weeks.

What is mindfulness meditation?

In simple terms, it’s a technique that involves focusing on your breathing and bringing your mind’s attention to the present without letting it drift into concerns about the past or the future.  
Mindfulness-meditation techniques that have been shown to improve sleep in scientific studies include:
  • Mindful breathing, which focuses attention on the breath
  • Body scan, where you move focus across different areas of your body
  • Mindfully focusing on an everyday task, such as taking a shower or preparing a meal
  • Loving kindness meditation, which involves sending feelings of love and compassion to yourself and others
A good place to start if you’ve never practised mindfulness meditation is setting a timer for two or three minutes, sitting somewhere comfortable and making a conscious effort to focus your entire attention on your breathing – and nothing else – until the timer sounds. 
You can also use apps that will guide you through different mindfulness meditation techniques, including some that are free, such as Smiling Mind, and in-app purchases like Headspace.  

What’s the best time to meditate for sleep?

In the research that links meditating mindfully to more peaceful nights’ sleep, it was practising the technique during the day – in some cases in two, 10-minute blocks, one in the morning and one in the early evening – rather than doing it immediately before bedtime, that delivered results.  
Researchers say the idea is that by meditating during the day, you’re creating and strengthening a reflex that you can call on when you need to feel relaxed. The more you practise, the easier it is to bring forth that feeling of relaxation when you need to fall, and stay, asleep.   
But if you do want to (or feel like you need to) do something to help yourself fall asleep once you’ve hopped into bed, Smiling Mind also has a dedicated ‘Sleep program’ that features six different mindfulness sessions, all designed to help you drift off.