The Ultimate Guide to Mindfulness for Sleep

Sufficient sleep heals our bodies and minds, but for many reasons sleep doesn’t always come easily. Mindfulness practices and habits can help us fall asleep and stay asleep. Consult our guide to find tips for meditation, movement, and mindfulness practices to ease into sleep.

Mindfulness for Sleep

Sleep is a critical component of overall well-being. It doesn’t just heal your body; it heals your mind. Mindfulness for sleep can help you get a good night’s rest which can change how you interact with the world by elevating your mood and improving your concentration. In our fast-paced world, increased feelings of stress and anxiety can prevent people from tapping into the healing power of sleep. In fact, an estimated 30% of Americans are regularly sleep deprived.

With regular sleep deprivation, your attention span, mood, and memory suffer, according to Matthew Walker, PhD, professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and founder and director of the Center for Human Sleep Science. Over time, he suggests, sleeplessness could also lead to unwanted weight gain and mood problems. In up to 15% of adults, insomnia causes daytime distress or impairment, with the risk for insomnia being greater in women and older adults.

That’s where mindfulness comes in. This guide will help you practice mindfulness for sleep by introducing meditation and movement techniques based on cultivating awareness. The ability to “be with what is” holds powerful benefits for taming anxious thoughts, calming your mind, and promoting a good night’s sleep.

Why Practice Mindfulness for Sleep

Why Practice Mindfulness for Sleep?

“Mindfulness can quiet the brain and allow for deeper sleep,” says Shelby Harris, PhD, a clinical sleep psychologist in private practice in White Plains, NY. One of the biggest problems her clients share is dreading the night as it comes and growing anxious about trying to make themselves get sleepy. They worry, she says, that they “won’t be able to do X, Y, Z the next day” if they don’t sleep. “That thought process makes you stressed, worrying—often unnecessarily—about the next day’s effects. That cycle worsens sleep,” says Harris.

Mindfulness can set the stage for sleep by allowing you to be more aware of your thoughts and to be able to let go of those anxieties instead of getting stuck on them, says Harris. “Strengthening your ‘mind muscle’ through daily practice helps you better recognize the negative insomnia-inducing thoughts and let them pass.”
Mindfulness meditation prepares your mind for drifting off to sleep, and it can also improve sleep quality. Studies have shown that mindfulness may be at least as effective as other highly recommended insomnia treatments.

Four Mindfulness Dos and Don’ts for a Good Night’s Sleep

Meditate daily. Maintaining a regular, daytime mindfulness meditation practice will help you sleep better and stay asleep longer at night. However, it’s not a panacea. If you’re the kind of person who wakes up at 3 am a daily mindfulness practice might not immediately change that. In this case, you might just try a body scan while in bed, to relax any tension you may be holding in your body. 

Practice out of bed. If sleep still doesn’t arrive, you can do a mindfulness practice, but get out of bed and do it elsewhere. Staying awake in bed for longer than 20 minutes creates an association that the bed is for other activities as well as sleep, says Harris. The point isn’t to fall asleep in the midst of your practice, but afterward when you return to bed.

Don’t rely on those ubiquitous sleep apps. “A lot of people use them as a sedative, but that’s not ideal,” says Harris. “You shouldn’t need to rely on anything to fall asleep—what happens if one day your phone is out of juice or the app doesn’t work?”

Try not to force it. When you’re having trouble drifting off in the wee hours, try to let go of the struggle. As every insomnia sufferer knows, the more you lie there trying to make yourself sleep, the more it won’t happen. Notice your worries about being unable to sleep, your noisy mind, and visualize them floating by. The more you do this and accept that you cannot force sleep, the easier sleep will come.

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Three Ways to Wind Down for Sleep with Mindfulness

Three Ways to Wind Down for Sleep with Mindfulness

Getting a solid night’s sleep starts with the way you spend your time leading up to bedtime. Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D., recommends trying these three science-backed techniques for cultivating a better attitude about sleep and preparing yourself for a good night’s rest.

1. Say goodnight to your devices: Falling asleep means eliminating distractions, and smartphones are a likely distraction culprit. Not only will a phone or tablet lighting up your bedside table disturb your sleeping patterns, but these screens also emit blue light, which affects your brain by increasing alertness and reducing levels of sleep-inducing melatonin. It’s best to give your devices a break before bedtime.

2. Don’t force it: “Fake it until you make it” applies to sleep, too. The pressure of trying to fall asleep could have an adverse effect and heighten feelings of stress. By practicing mindfulness and embracing the moment, sleep will usually come naturally.

3. Try a body scan meditation<