Mindfulness Exercises

8 Sleep Meditations for a Good Night’s Rest

Sleeping well is perhaps the single most important thing we can do for our health. Sleep meditation will help you fall asleep sooner and improve the quality of your sleep. 

Sleep is required for our health and well being. If we’re not getting enough sleep, neither the healthiest diet, the best exercise routine, nor one hundred cups of coffee can make up for the problems caused by sleepiness. If you’re struggling with insomnia, meditation can help. Studies show meditation benefits a good night’s sleep even more than sleep hygiene interventions which encourage darkening the room, avoiding technology before bed, or eliminating caffeine after noon.

Sleep meditation goes far beyond counting sheep. The quiet moments before you drift off to dreamland offer a valuable opportunity to improve your mindfulness while improving your rest. We explore eight ways to more mindfully drift off to sleep. 

How to Do Sleep Meditation:

Environment

When meditating to fall asleep, set up your environment to encourage restfulness. Practice in a quiet and darkened room, a comfortable bed, and turn off your devices to free yourself from distractions.

Posture

Sleep meditations are best practiced lying down. Choose a comfortable position, but be mindful of maintaining a naturally aligned spine. If you’re lying on your side, support your head and neck with pillows to keep your spine neutral.

Attention

In sleep meditation, we’re susceptible to distraction just as we are in any other meditation. Be mindful of the difference between allowing yourself to become sleepy, and allowing yourself to become distracted.

Letting Go

The goal of sleep meditation is to drift off to sleep. Find balance between staying focused and letting go. Allowing your body and mind to slip into a restful state.

“Sleep is the best meditation.”

– His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama –

We’ve all heard of counting sheep to help us drift off to sleep. Counting breath is similar, but keeps us connected to our bodies by placing our attention on a process that’s familiar and well known. 

The simplicity of breath awareness allows the mind to relax. The focus on the physical process of breathing keeps us present and holds distractions at bay. The ease and repetition of counting to 10 lulls us into a softening that’s experienced by both body and mind.

How to do The Counting Breaths Sleep Meditation

  • Lie comfortably in your bed
  • Encourage relaxation by breathing deeply in and out through your nose
  • Anchor your mind to the breath by noticing where or how you feel the breath most clearly
  • Breathe in, breathe out, then count that as 1
  • Breathe in, breathe out, then count that as 2
  • Continue until you reach 10, then repeat
  • If at any time you notice you’ve lost count, simply begin again at 1
  • Let go of self-criticism and let your mind relax
  • Keep repeating the count until you fall asleep

Download the full meditation script here

Meditation helps us fall asleep by teaching us to let go of the thoughts that keep us awake. Without mindfulness, we often identify with our thoughts. We become attached to our thoughts and it’s difficult not to chase them. If our thoughts are negative, we become increasingly self-critical, believing our thoughts are an indication of failure or lack of self control. The more we fight against our thoughts, the stronger they become. 

Mindfulness teaches us to recognize our thoughts as merely energy. This energy arises and dissipates, similar to clouds in the sky. We are not our thoughts, we are the sky itself, the basis of awareness from which thoughts arise. By identifying as the sky, we give our thoughts space to float on by. 

How to Do The Thought Cloud Sleep Meditation

  • Lie comfortably in your bed with your eyes opened or closed
  • Take three deep and intentional cycles of breath to settle the body and mind
  • Anchor your awareness to the natural rhythm of your breath
  • Each time you notice a distracting thought arise, visualize it as a cloud
  • No need to fight against it, no need to judge or self-criticize
  • Allow the thought to be, and allow it to be cloud-like
  • As you return to awareness of breath, notice how the cloud dissolves, or floats on by
  • Keep a light watch on breath
  • Let distracting thoughts enter awareness and leave, just like clouds in the sky

Download the full meditation script here

Body scan meditations are excellent for sleep because they are grounding and deeply relaxing. As awareness shifts from the crown of your head toward your toes, consciousness drops too, inducing sleep. 

Using body awareness as an anchor for the mind also keeps the mind present. Tasking the mind with observing the physical form keeps it from ruminating or worrying. Each time you notice you’ve run off with a thought or emotion, ground your awareness and hold it present by returning to the body itself.

How to Do A Body Scan for Sleep:

  • Lie comfortably on your back, or on your side with your spine neutral
  • Close your eyes and settle your energy with 3-5 long, patient breaths
  • Begin by bringing awareness to your face and forehead
  • Notice any tightness or tension and then mindfully and intentionally let it go
  • For 3-5 cycles of breath, remain aware of the sensation of relaxing and softening
  • Repeat this process with the eyes, the cheeks, the mouth
  • Then repeat the process with the shoulders, arms and hands
  • Repeat with the torso, chest and belly
  • Repeat with the hips, thighs, lower legs and feet
  • Each time, first notice if there’s tension present
  • Then become aware of the sensation of releasing and softening that tension

Download the full meditation script here

“A ruffled mind makes a restless pillow”

Visualizations help us fall asleep by carrying us to a place in which we feel spacious and comfortable. Nature is one such place. Because the mind takes the shape of that which is in front of it, open skies, expansive landscapes, and the infinite horizon of the ocean each remind us that we too are spacious and infinite. 

The ocean is also a place we associate with vacation, enjoyment and getting away. By recreating the details of such an environment in our mind, we recreate the feel-good feelings associated with being in a natural place. Awareness of this connection helps us return to our natural state, one of peace, calm and contentment. 

How to Do an Ocean Visualization Meditation for Sleep:

  • Lie down comfortably in your bed
  • Closing your eyes is helpful when working with visualizations
  • Settle the energy of body and mind by taking 3 mindful, slow cycles of breath
  • Imagine standing at the edge of the ocean, on a sandy seashore
  • Visualize looking down at your feet
  • Feel and see the edge of the water as it gently rises toward your ankles, then retreats
  • Watch the waves come and go in rhythm with your breath
  • Inhale and the water rises up to meet you
  • Exhale and the water retreats
  • Stay connected with this one visualization, or slowly look around, inviting in detail
  • See the stars in the sky, or feel the light touch of the ocean air against your skin

Download the full meditation script here

When we’re new to mindfulness we practice meditation by working with an anchor to which we tether the wandering mind. When we notice the mind has wandered, we return to our anchor. With the practice of spacious awareness, even distractions themselves can become the object of meditation. We notice everything that arises in our awareness with an open curiosity. 

This challenging practice asks us to notice and allow everything, without attaching or chasing. As part of the process of falling asleep, spacious awareness can help us work with thoughts, sounds or sensations that may be keeping us awake by asking us not to push them away, but to witness our relationship and reaction to them. 

How to Do A Spacious Awareness Sleep Meditation: 

  • Lie comfortably in your bed with eyes open or closed
  • Fill the lungs with an inhale, then relax the body with an exhale
  • Repeat this 2-3 times and let your whole being soften
  • As you lie in bed, simple notice anything that arises in your experience
  • Use of all your senses; touch, sight, smell, sound, taste
  • Notice also thoughts, feelings or emotions
  • Look upon everything with an open curiosity
  • Remain free from judgment or criticism
  • Grasp onto nothing, and push nothing away
  • Let each experience come and go

Download the full meditation script here

“Man should forget his anger before he lies down to sleep.”

When we’re lying in bed and trying to fall asleep, reviewing the day or looking ahead to tomorrow can keep us awake, especially if we let our thoughts about what happened or what might happen pull us off center. Equanimity is the ability to remain balanced, in spite of great success or failure, stress or joy, or any other opposites which can pull us toward attachment or aversion. The quality of equanimity brings inner balance and inner peace. 

Equanimity is not a state of dullness, but rather one of loving acceptance. We apply the same open curiosity, or even gratitude, to each of the day’s events. By remaining stable in this way, we give ourselves the gift of calm, making it far easier to fall asleep.

How to Meditate on Equanimity for Sleep: 

  • Lie comfortably in bed and take three deep breaths to relax both body and mind
  • Give yourself permission to let go of your to-do list and simply rest
  • Let your mind settle on breath awareness
  • Notice how the breath changes from moment to moment
  • Expand awareness out to your whole body, and notice how this too is changing
  • Extend the same acceptance to anything you notice as pleasant or unpleasant
  • Grasp onto nothing, and push away nothing, let everything simply be
  • Extend this same awareness to your thoughts, feelings and emotions
  • Practice accepting everything you notice with open curiosity
  • All of it is part of your human experience
  • All of it is equally worthy of your loving acceptance

Download the full meditation script here

Lying in bed with thoughts of self-criticism, worry or doubt can keep us up at night. A compassion practice helps us let go of these negative feelings by opening our hearts and guiding us to a place of peace and ease. When we recognize that our pain and suffering is human and we’re not the only ones who feel the way we do, we’re better able to give ourselves grace. 

While self-compassion is a meaningful practice, sending compassion to others not only offers the same heart-opening benefits, but eases our focus on self. All of our problems stem from worrying about ourselves too much, while all our joy comes from thinking about others. A regular compassion practice puts our troubles in perspective and makes it easier to sleep.

How to Sleep Better by Sending Compassion to a Friend:

  • Lie down comfortably and breathe gently in and out through your nose
  • Closing your eyes can help turn your attention inwards and improve visualization
  • After three deep full breaths, return to your breath’s natural rhythm
  • Bring to mind some you love and care about who is currently experiencing difficulty
  • Spend some time reflecting on this person, and the cause of their stress
  • Notice how you can recognize their stress because you too, have felt this way
  • Reflect upon how much you love and care for this person
  • Generate the wish to relieve them from their pain
  • See your loved one having received your wish
  • Feel your wishes wash over them
  • Feel them arrive at a deep sense of peace
  • Notice how you can recognize this peace because you feel it too

Download the full meditation script here

Tonglen, or taking and sending, is a Tibetan Buddhist compassion practice that combines a visualization with breath awareness. This soothing meditation teaches us to recognize our role in relieving the pain and suffering of others, and the power we have to energetically help all beings with the limitless source of love and kindness that lives within our hearts. 

Tonglen meditation is a wonderful way to drift off to sleep because it combines awareness of the rhythm of breath with a peaceful and loving state of mind. 

How to Do Tonglen Meditation for Sleep:

  • Lie comfortably on your back or any position that allows for a neutral spine
  • Settle the energy of body and mind by breathing patiently in and out through the nose
  • Recognize a source of warmth, love and kindness at the center of your heart
  • Remember this source is limitless, and cannot ever be depleted
  • Imagine this infinite love and light as a white, smoky substance that rides on your exhale breath
  • In front of you, picture the pain and suffering of one individual, or the whole world
  • Imagine this pain and suffering as a dark, smoky substance
  • With every breath in, willingly and lovingly take in this darkness
  • Visualize it vaporizing or transforming as soon as it touches the light at the center of your heart
  • With every breath out, exhale love and light back out into the world
  • With each round of breath, continue this exchange
  • With each inhale, there’s less darkness in the world
  • With each exhale, there’s more love

Download the full meditation script here

While sleep meditation is ideal for calming the body and mind and inducing sleep, even the meditations you do while awake will improve your sleep. When we meditate daily, we increase melatonin production and strengthen the areas of the brain that are responsible for regulating sleep and our circadian rhythm. A healthy and happy mind is a mind that’s happy to rest!

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