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Meditation for Sleep: Does It Work?

A woman does a yoga meditation at night.
Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock.com

For centuries, meditation has been recognized as a practice that helps us calm down and feel more present, but can it help with sleep?

Lifesavvy spoke with Dr. Michael Breus, Ph.d., founder of The Sleep Doctor, Dr. Nilong Vyas, MD, at Sleepless in NOLA and Medical Review Expert at Sleep Foundation, regarding how meditation impacts sleep as well as Jen Emswiler, Breathwork and Mediation Facilitator, and Chris Gavin, Meditation and Mobility Expert at Austin, Texas-based Ritual Moves on exactly how to meditate for sleep.

What Does Meditation for Sleep Do?

A woman meditates in bed.
Dusan Petkovic/Shutterstock.com

Vyas and Breus were the first to share that meditation can impact sleep quality scientifically by changing the network in the brain to improve the connection of neurons in not only their function but also their ability to change and repattern (neuroplasticity).

In other words, Vyas explained that the practice of meditating before bed can cause a change in the “sleep archetype” to increase what is known as Slow Wave Sleep (SWS), where your body experiences the most restoration.

Those who meditate regularly have a higher level of melatonin (the sleep hormone) secretion in their brains, as well, as decreased cortisol levels.

“To be clear, meditation itself does not induce sleep; this is a large misconception in the general public and popular media,” Breus said.”But it does appear to have a lasting effect on sleep quality, meaning that it can help improve it over time.”

Meditation helps sleep over time due to its ability to relieve stress and worry (especially those nighttime racing thoughts), help with pain relief, and induce a “relaxation response” in your body. Together, these set the perfect stage for a good night’s sleep!

Trideer Cork Yoga Blocks

Use yoga blocks to support your meditation practice

Benefits of Meditation for Sleep

A woman sleeps propped up on a white pillow among white sheets.
New Africa/Shutterstock.com

Meditating before you sleep can be beneficial to anyone. Whether you are a busy parent, a full-time student, or a full-time employee, sleep is important. Our sleep doctors and meditation experts revealed a few of their top takeaways for how exactly a regular nightly meditation practice can benefit your sleep cycle and overall well-being.

Stress Relief

Some of the strongest research to date points to meditation-based practices as a top tool for combatting stress, anxiety, and even depression.

“I have found in working with clients who struggle with anxiety, have racing thoughts before bed, and experience difficulty falling asleep, that doing a meditation right before bed or in bed can have a profound impact on easing the body into relaxation, decreasing anxiety and stress,”said Emswiler.

Meditating is inherently designed to slow your breathing, take your heart rate down, and decrease your blood pressure. When this happens, your rest and digest system switches on, helping to ease racing thoughts for those struggling with anxiety and high levels of stress. Your rest and digest system is also known as your parasympathetic nervous system. Due to its role in taking the heart rate down, it is at play to achieve the most benefit from your meditation practice.


The hallmark impression of meditation is finding a place of stillness, rest, and relaxation. By reducing your heart rate, decreasing your blood pressure, and increasing your mindfulness of the present moment, meditation has a way of not only taking your stress level down but also enhancing what is known as the “relaxation response” in your mind and body.

Simply put, our sleep doctors explained that your relaxation response is at play when your blood pressure and heart rate lower, your breathing pattern calms down, your muscle relaxes from any gripping or tense state, and your rest-and-digest system turns on rather than your fight-or-flight.

Pain Reduction

One of the top benefits of meditation shared by both doctors at the Sleep Foundation was pain reduction. If you struggle with ongoing aches and pain, turning your pain dial down will certainly help to improve your quality of sleep.

Pain might be felt in our bodies, but the brain senses it. Studies have shown that a meditation practice for those dealing with pain, is directly related to the regions in your brain that regulate pain—like the front of your brain (the prefrontal cortex), and your hypothalamus (on the side of your brain stem), to name a couple.

The same study shows that meditation helps the most with pain relief when you carve out at least 20 minutes or more for your meditation session.

Improves Quality of Sleep

If you are part of the 22% of the population nationwide who struggle with insomnia, extreme difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, a sleep meditation, or meditation before sleep might be exactly what you need.

Meditation expert, Emswiler, revealed that a regular meditation practice can help you regulate your sleep patterns, particularly in individuals with irregular sleep-wake cycles or insomnia.

Studies have shown that meditation can improve the overall quality of sleep. Meditators tend to experience fewer sleep disturbances, wake up less frequently during the night, and report feeling more rested upon waking up,” said Emswiler.

Emswiler went on to explain that sleep meditation quite literally activates the part of the brain that controls sleep. It also increases your melatonin production (your sleep hormone), and your serotonin (the precursor hormone to melatonin).

How to Meditate for Sleep

A person meditates in front of a large window overlooking a city.
Diego Cervo/Shutterstock.com

Finding a peaceful environment will go a long way in helping you achieve all the benefits that meditation provides, especially when it comes to preparing for a good night’s sleep.

Meditation is an ancient practice that can take many different forms. Our meditation experts recommended trying out these three meditation practices before bed because they have been shown to increase the quality and soundness of your sleep, especially with consistency.

Florensi Yoga Bolster Pillow

A bolster can make your practice more comfortable.

Mindfulness Meditation

Emswiler espoused the positive effects of mindfulness meditations, due to how this particular practice has been shown to combat chronic pain and issues falling asleep. Mindfulness meditations can also take place in a matter of 1-2 minutes if concentrating in silence for longer than that seems challenging.

To begin practicing mindfulness meditation, focus your attention on the present moment without self-criticism.

“By cultivating awareness of your thoughts, sensations, and emotions as they arise, you can develop a sense of calm and relaxation. Mindfulness meditation can be particularly useful for calming a busy mind and reducing anxiety before bed,” said Emswiler.

Calm Essential Oil Roll On Blend

Increase your state of calm during your meditation practice with balancing essential oils.

Movement Meditation

If you find yourself with lots of energy prior to bedtime, a movement meditation might be just what you need to settle down and sleep well.

Above other forms of guided movement meditation before bed, Gavin recommends B.K.S.’s lyengar’s style of yoga, as it has been shown as a helpful tool for improving insomnia.

Iyengar yoga’s attention to body alignment, and careful sequencing of forward folds, backbends, seated and lying down postures will help set your body and mind up for a peaceful sleep.

“As you move, the slow and gentle inhales, coupled with longer extended exhales, play a pivotal role in regulating the nervous system. This controlled breathing helps to soothe the mind and body, promoting a calming and meditative state during the practice,” explained Gavin.

If you’re curious to give Iyengar yoga a try, we recommend checking out this Iyengar yoga video for sleep. All you’ll need is a mat, a wall, and a pillow or yoga bolster.

Florensi Meditation Cushion

Stay comfy while you meditate.

Body Scan Meditation: Yoga Nidra

Body scanning is a form of sleep meditation that was recommended by both our meditation experts as well as our sleep doctors. This type of guided meditation involves focusing on one body part at a time to promote relaxation and calmness to tight, stressed muscles.

A type of body scan technique that helps with sleep is Yoga Nidra.

“During a Yoga Nidra practice, both serotonin and melatonin are naturally released in the body, creating anti-anxiety and anti-depressant effects. Yoga Nida walks you through different stages of consciousness to help uncover and release tensions and unresolved emotions that often interfere with sleep,” said Gavin.

Gavin recommends starting your Yoga Nidra practice in a quiet, cool room with ample space to spread out. He also suggests keeping your feet, legs, and torso warm with a blanket. To amplify the relaxation state of the body during your Yoga Nidra practice, you can place a rolled-up towel under your neck as well as over your eyes.

While you practice, try to bring sensation and awareness to all areas of your body that might be easily forgotten in your day-to-day life—like your elbow, and the back of your ankle.

qqpp TPE Foldable Yoga Mat with Tote Bag

A thick, soft yoga mat for your meditation practice

As you can see, meditation can take many forms in its ability to improve your quality of sleep. Nightly meditations can accommodate a range of energy levels and preferences. Our experts all agree that if you are consistent with a meditation practice over time, you could see improvement in your rest.
Jenn Vigh Jenn Vigh
Jenn is a pilates and yoga instructor, an aerialist, and a travel blogger with 5 years of experience in nonprofit communications, and over 10 years of experience writing, teaching, training, performing and collaborating with creatives across the globe. For the last 6 years, her American home-base has been Austin, TX, where she’s worked with the aerial dance company, Blue Lapis Light, and enjoyed the sunshine with her world-traveling yorkipoo, Sheila. Read Full Bio »
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