Meditate Your Way to Better Sleep—Here’s How
Discover the art of sleep meditation with Peloton.
If you have problems falling and staying asleep, you’re not alone. According to the CDC, one in three adults report getting less than the recommended minimum of seven hours of sleep per night.
Anyone interested in health and wellness (or really, just functioning as best as you can) should take their sleep seriously. After all, good sleep is essential to your ability to stay illness-free, keep a clear head, regulate your emotions, and perform your best physically. Failure to regularly get enough quality sleep is also linked with numerous chronic health problems, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and depression, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
So if you’re tired of being tired, it’s time to break the cycle. While there’s no magic solution to better sleep, sleep meditation is an entirely natural and supremely effective method for falling (and staying) asleep. Here’s what to know about sleeping meditations, the benefits of nighttime meditation, and how you can make sleep meditation a part of your evening wind-down routine.
What is Sleep Meditation?
Sleep meditation is about calming the mind to relax the body and ease into deep, restful sleep.
The distractions of the day are over and you’re lying in bed—and that’s when fears, worries, or stress begin vying for your attention. These thoughts are tucked away during the day so you can accomplish tasks, but they often reappear with a vengeance when you’re finally ready for a good night’s sleep.
That’s why it’s important to prepare your mind, as well as your body, for sleep. Clearing intrusive, sleep-disruptive thoughts involves a combination of mental and physical techniques that can be learned and then used whenever you need them.
Sleep meditation aims to move your focus away from the chatter in your head so that you can be fully in the present moment. Your attention shifts toward your breathing and other sensations in the body, which activates the parasympathetic nervous system, a network of nerves focused on helping you “rest and digest.” This automatically slows your heart rate and breathing, increases serotonin levels, and makes it easier for you to drift off to sleep.
Sleep meditation is similar to regular meditation in that both help you consciously disconnect from your thoughts and focus on being in the present moment. Both also use similar meditation tools, like body scanning, guided meditations, visualizations, and breathwork. The only big difference is that the end goal of sleep meditation is, well, to fall asleep (which you probably don’t want from a mid-day meditation for stress or your morning mindfulness ritual).
The Science Behind Sleep Meditation
When you drift off a night, there’s a lot more going on in your brain and body than just some wacky dreams and light snoring. Sleep and meditation have a deep connection and mutually affect each other.
When you’re awake yet relaxed, your brain operates at an alpha frequency (that’s 8 to 12 hertz if you were wondering). However, as you start to fall asleep, your brainwaves slow to theta (4 to 8 hertz) and eventually delta (0.5 to 4 hertz) frequency levels. During meditation, EEGs have shown the brain settles into theta and alpha waves (instead of faster waves such as beta and gamma). Over time, a consistent meditation habit can increase your percentage of time spent in alpha frequency, which can improve your sleep quality and reduce stress.
Meditation has been shown to reduce stresses of all kinds, from anxiety to chronic pain. That may be because meditation changes our hormone levels. Specifically, meditation can lower cortisol levels (which is strongly tied to stress) and increase melatonin, which helps regulate sleep and drowsiness. High cortisol levels are also associated with poor sleep.
Sleep and Health
As discussed previously, poor sleep or lack of sleep is linked to several negative health outcomes. According to the CDC, not getting enough sleep means an increased risk for type 2 diabetes. People with sleep apnea are at higher risk for several types of heart disease (such as hypertension, stroke, or coronary heart disease). Shorter sleep durations are associated with medical obesity, possibly due to the hypothalamus (which regulates appetite and energy spent) malfunctioning.
Benefits of Sleep Meditation
You already know what a lack of sleep feels like in your body and mind. A bad night’s sleep means daytime sleepiness, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and generally not feeling up to par. With sleep meditation, however, you can turn this around.
The benefits of sleep meditation include:
Sleep meditation helps you sleep longer and better. You’ll find it easier to fall asleep, stay asleep, and get plenty of restorative deep sleep. That means spending more time in REM and deep sleep stages so you can skip all the usual tossing and turning. You’re also much more likely to awake refreshed and restored.
Improved Mental Health
According to the American Psychological Association, insomnia not only takes years off your life, but is also associated with increased hopelessness, depression, and irritability. Improved sleep has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression as well as improve mood, memory, and even patience levels. You may be pleasantly surprised to find that you’re able to better tolerate inevitable frustrations during the day when you’ve had good sleep the night before.
If anxiety is keeping you up at night, meditation may be the antidote you’ve been looking for. A sleep meditation in bed as you prepare to sleep can help you recapture those missing Zs.
Less daytime sleepiness means greater clarity of thought and an improved ability to focus. The key to these improved daytime abilities is a calm mind. It’s what allows you to get good quality sleep at night and what allows you to better direct your focus and intentions during the day. Luckily, meditation teaches you how to calm your mind.
For example, we all have high expectations for ourselves—but with meditation, you’ll learn to minimize those as much as possible. “Clearly, there will be some hope or expectation that peace of mind will result and thus an easy sleep, but by entering meditation with a mindset of no matter what happens, you’ve succeeded, you’re already beginning to ‘let go,’” says Peloton yoga and meditation instructor Ross Rayburn. “That’s one of the fundamentals of shifting toward a calmer mind and body.”
By developing an innate sense of peace, you’ll feel better during the day—and yes, that should help you feel more relaxed and ready for sleep at night too. Win-win.
Good sleep is essential if you’re working out and want to make your body stronger and more fit. Sleep is the ultimate wellness hack, as Peloton instructors like to say. That’s because sleep is when our body takes out the metabolic trash and when we physically and mentally process whatever we are doing in our daily lives. For example, if you’re spending time biking, running, strength training, or doing yoga, sleep is the time when your body recovers and your muscles repair themselves.
Peloton’s Approach to Sleep Meditation
Peloton has created the Power of Sleep program, available on the Peloton App, to help you learn and practice sleep meditation techniques from the comfort of your bed. Over two weeks, you’ll learn from several of Peloton’s expert meditation instructors (including Ross, Aditi Shah, Kristin McGee, and Anna Greenberg).
Unlike other programs, the Power of Sleep program offers an overview of several types and styles of sleep meditation for all levels of experience. That way, you can find a meditation style that resonates with you and your goals.
“Some meditations help give us energy, others help us cultivate certain qualities such as kindness or empathy, but sleep meditations are geared toward truly calming the body down, quieting the mind, and setting the stage for sleep,” Kristin says. “We’ll tap into our parasympathetic nervous system, the rest and digest phase, which naturally calms the mind and body.”
Here are a few of the sleep meditation topics covered in the Power of Sleep program:
Using your breath to release tension
Step-by-step body scanning to relax your body
Visualization to direct your focus and clear your mind
Counting and day-scanning to help release intrusive thoughts
Sleep music to assist with activating the parasympathetic nervous system
Getting Started with Sleep Meditation
When you’re just starting your journey to better sleep, you may not know where to begin, or you might be intimidated by the thought of meditating every single night. We’re here to help. Your first step is to set up a calm, relaxing sleep environment to immediately improve your sleep hygiene. (Sleep hygiene, FYI, refers to the habits and physical changes you can make to up your chances of getting great sleep.) Good sleep hygiene, combined with sleep meditation, can make a remarkable difference in the quality of your life. Here are a few sleep hygiene practices recommended by the Sleep Foundation:
Remove Noise, Distractions, and Your Cell Phone
A cool, quiet, and dark bedroom is a must for anyone trying to sleep soundly. Removing any distractions, especially electronics (TV, computer, cell phones), is equally important to help quiet your mind before sleep.
Turn Down the Temp
Your body temp naturally drops when you sleep, and a cooler environment can help your body lower its core temperature naturally. Try setting the thermostat to 65 degrees, and add lightweight layers to your bed so you can easily find your ideal temp.
Prioritize Your Bedding
Naturally, your bed has to be comfortable to sleep well. Your perfect mattress depends totally on your preferences (memory foam vs. springs? Soft or firm?), and it may be influenced by factors like body weight, aches and pains, and your preferred sleep position. Sheets can be chosen based on whether you run hot or cold at night. And don’t forget a supportive pillow!
Sleep Meditation Techniques and Practices
Ready to start counting sheep? These sleep meditation strategies will get you started (and we go over them in-depth in the Power of Sleep program).
There are many types of breathing exercises you can include in your meditation practice. One recommended by the Sleep Foundation is “box breathing” in which you inhale to the count of four, then exhale to the count of four.
Meditation, even in short 10-minute doses, can train your brain to focus on what you want, and not to go down the rabbit hole of available distractions. This allows you to identify and release tension in each body part as you prepare for sleep.
Visualizations can enhance your sleep meditations by helping you focus on calming, relaxing images while letting go of anxious or ruminating thoughts. Try classic visualizations like waves crashing on a beach, walking through a sunlit forest, or a crackling fireplace in a library.
Success Stories and Testimonials
Peloton users who have already tried the Power of Sleep program report falling asleep faster and feeling more awake and alert during the day. “Between learning various approaches to mindfulness and gaining the tools I need to calm my mind and release tension, sleep meditation helped in ways I didn’t expect,” says one Peloton Member. Other benefits reported by Members include learning how to release physical tension, falling back asleep faster upon waking up in the middle of the night, and reducing morning grogginess.
Integrating Sleep Meditation Into Your Routine
When you’re ready to hit the hay, you might feel like a sleep meditation isn’t worth the effort and you’d rather just scroll on your phone until you get sleepy (we’ve all been there). But by making a consistent effort at nighttime meditation, your good sleep habits will start to feel second nature—and you’ll feel the results in your daily life. Here’s how to make sleep meditation part of your evening routine.
Pair It With a Relaxing Ritual
One way to make a habit stick is by pairing it with something you already enjoy. For sleepytime specifically, that may be practicing aromatherapy (lavender oil, anyone?), lighting a candle, or meditating immediately after writing in your journal. Soon, it’ll feel natural to do both every night.
Find an Accountability Buddy
Whether it’s a partner, friend, or family member, invite someone to take on the Power of Sleep program with you. Encourage each other and share successes or obstacles as you debrief each morning.
Practice Self-Compassion and Patience
Your success with sleep meditation will vary from night to night, depending on all kinds of things, including the events of your day and whether or not that night’s topic or instructor particularly resonated with you.
As you go through the Power of Sleep guided meditation classes, you’ll learn how to develop a consistent meditation practice—but if it takes you a bit to get the hang of sleep meditation, that’s okay.
“Be compassionate with your experience,” Ross says. “Similar to the idea of minimizing expectations, if you can honor your efforts no matter what your experience, that kind of openness is a powerful portal to profound experiences in meditation.”
Get Started with Sleep Meditation Today
When life is stressful and your racing mind keeps you awake, you might feel alone or like the only person still awake in the world. That’s when you can turn to Peloton’s sleep meditations and the Power of Sleep program for some much-needed support.
Our meditation experts are ready to guide you to your deepest sleep yet with guided meditations, body scans, visualizations, and more. In as little as two weeks and five to 10 minutes a night, Peloton’s Power of Sleep program can help you quiet your mind, tune into your body, and learn to relax.