Meditation for Insomnia

7 Meditations For Insomnia To Focus On While You’re Trying To Sleep

Insomnia is kind of like an uninvited house guest who takes up residence on your couch indefinitely. It overstays its welcome, and there are few things worse than clock-watching your way until the sun comes up because you can’t sleep. If you’ve tried everything to get some shut eye, these meditations and mantras for insomnia are worth a go. If you sleep in the same bed with someone else and don’t want to fall asleep with headphones on, or apps just haven’t worked for you, there are other meditations you can do on your own that work a whole lot better than staring at the ceiling.

Aside from being frustrating AF, according to the National Sleep Foundation, “Chronic insomnia (difficulty sleeping for three months or longer) may also lead to changes in mood, lack of motivation and energy, irritability, and more. When you’re drowsy, it may make you feel tense and preoccupied, and the worry over your inability to sleep can add to this.”

Being unable to sleep might also make you dread going to bed each night. This is no way to live, and eventually you’re going to run out Netflix shows to watch as your insomnia persists. If you want to try a different approach, these insomnia meditations just might help you drift off to dreamland.

1. Cognitive Shuffling

Cognitive shuffling is kind of like the updated version of counting sheep. While there is an app you can use for this called mySleepButton, this meditation can also be done app free. Created by Cognitive Scientist Luc Beaudoin of Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, B.C., Canada, it’s pretty easy to do the cognitive shuffle, according to the mySleepButton website.

  • Get into bed.
  • Next, think of a random, emotionally neutral word consisting of at least five letters. (How about Caboodle?)
  • After picking your word,gradually spell it out in your mind.
  • Next, for each letter of the word, think of a word that starts with that letter, and imagine the item represented by the word.
  • Repeat this for each letter until you run out of words. For example, the first letter is “B.” Words that start with the letter “B” are bath, book, baboon, etc. For each word you should be imagining a scene, for instance, reading your favorite book for the word “book.”

2. Sa Ta Na Ma (Mantra)

Aside from meditations, mantras are a great way to increase your chances of falling asleep. The blog Spirit Voyage suggested looking at insomnia as an opportunity to meditate versus an insurmountable barrier. Once you flip the script in your mind, try repeating the mantra Sa Ta Na Ma, which Spirit Voyage noted means:

“These five sounds help balance the hemispheres of the brain. Insomnia is often caused by an imbalance of brainwaves, or chemistry within the brain. “‘Sa Ta Na Ma’ helps to regulate and soothe your mind. The mantra itself refers to the cycle of life, and has great power as a catalyst for change.”

3. I Am Calm, I Am Light (Mantra)

“I am calm, I am light,” which I stole from Lady Gaga, is my go-to mantra when I’m anxious, when I have insomnia, or both. The website Yogi Approved suggested a similar mantra: My mind is calm and my body is relaxed. Personally, this mantra reminds me that I am not my anxiety, and that my body is relaxed and light enough to float off to dreamland.

“Meditation is the act of centering the mind and body and going inward. Relaxing mind and body is also the key to help you fall asleep. Since mantras are effective for meditation, it makes sense that they’re also effective for falling asleep,” Yogi Approved noted on its website.

4. Talk Yourself To Sleep

Talking to yourself is highly underrated, and if you’re resistant to doing it, the news that it can actually help you sleep just might change your mind. Instead of mentally beating yourself up for not being able to sleep, the website Insomnia Free recommended being kind to yourself instead.

“One day I began to offer myself calming and soothing words instead of the typical alarmist, self-critical internal dialogue I was accustomed to. It made a huge difference. The change was remarkable, because it brought out to me so clearly what I had been missing all those years. It was so simple… and yet I had never done it.”

If you’re not sure where to start, head over to Insomnia Free for some positive self-talk ideas. Insomnia is awful, and if you’ve tried everything to banish it from your bedroom, a little kindness and distraction could make all the difference.

5. Mindfulness Meditation Body Scan

While you can listen to a mindfulness meditation body scan on YouTube or on an app, this meditation is super easy to do on your own while lying in bed. A body scan is basically taking inventory of each part of your body and mentally releasing the tension stored therein. Start at one end of your body (top, bottom, right or left) and mindfully work your way to the other side. You can do this for as little as five minutes or for as long as it takes you to fall asleep. (This also is the basis of that military-approved sleep hack that went viral back in September.)

6. Tell Yourself *Not* To Fall Asleep

It may sound counter-intuitive, but it works. If you’re having anxiety around not being able to fall asleep, try tricking your brain into not being so anxious about it anymore. By repeating the phrase “Don’t fall asleep,” and trying your hardest to not fall asleep, your mind eventually gets over the fear of not falling asleep in the first place, Healthline reports.

7. Whatever Meditation Suits You Best

Like that old adage about going to the gym — “the best exercise is the one you’ll actually do” — the best meditation to help you fall asleep is the one you can stick with. Whether that’s imagining a boring, repetitive action — knitting, or peeling a hard-boiled egg are my go-ti’s — being mindful of the sensations around you, or repeating a set of words or phrases in your mind, the effectiveness of meditation lies in focusing on a particular thought and sticking with it. Don’t let people make you think meditation is something you can only do with an app. Sleep tight, my friendlies.

Mindfulness meditation helps fight insomnia, improves sleep

If you’ve ever crawled under the covers worrying about a problem or a long to-do list, you know those racing thoughts may rob you of a good night’s sleep. Sleep disturbances, like having a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep, affect millions of Americans.

The daytime sleepiness that follows can leave you feeling lousy and sap your productivity, and it may even harm your health. Now, a small study suggests that mindfulness meditation — a mind-calming practice that focuses on breathing and awareness of the present moment — can help.

A study published a few years ago in JAMA Internal Medicine  included 49 middle-aged and older adults who had trouble sleeping. Half completed a mindfulness awareness program that taught them meditation and other exercises designed to help them focus on “moment-by-moment experiences, thoughts, and emotions.” The other half completed a sleep education class that taught them ways to improve their sleep habits.

Both groups met six times, once a week for two hours. Compared with the people in the sleep education group, those in the mindfulness group had less insomnia, fatigue, and depression at the end of the six sessions.

The findings come as no surprise to Dr. Herbert Benson, director emeritus of the Harvard-affiliated Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine. “Mindfulness meditation is just one of a smorgasbord of techniques that evoke the relaxation response,” says Dr. Benson.

The relaxation response, a term he coined in the 1970s, is a deep physiological shift in the body that’s the opposite of the stress response. The relaxation response can help ease many stress-related ailments, including depression, pain, and high blood pressure. For many people, sleep disorders are closely tied to stress, says Dr. Benson.

Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future. It helps you break the train of your everyday thoughts to evoke the relaxation response, using whatever technique feels right to you.

Dr. Benson recommends practicing mindfulness during the day, ideally for 20 minutes, the same amount suggested in the new study. “The idea is to create a reflex to more easily bring forth a sense of relaxation,” he says. That way, it’s easier to evoke the relaxation response at night when you can’t sleep. In fact, the relaxation response is so, well, relaxing that your daytime practice should be done sitting up or moving (as in yoga or tai chi) so as to avoid nodding off.

Step 1: Choose a calming focus. Good examples are your breath, a sound (“Om”), a short prayer, a positive word (such as “relax” or “peace”), or a phrase (“breathing in calm, breathing out tension”; “I am relaxed”). If you choose a sound, repeat it aloud or silently as you inhale or exhale.

Step 2: Let go and relax. Don’t worry about how you’re doing. When you notice your mind has wandered, simply take a deep breath or say to yourself “thinking, thinking” and gently return your attention to your chosen focus.

This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation

If insomnia is at the root of your sleepless nights, it may be worth trying meditation. The deep relaxation technique has been shown to increase sleep time, improve sleep quality, and make it easier to fall (and stay) asleep.These are some key facts about the practice that may help you get over any hesitation about trying it.

  • It’s safe. Meditation can be a great tool for those looking who are for an all-natural, medication-free way to treat insomnia. In fact, meditation has even been shown to help reduce the use of sleeping pills. The practice likely improves insomnia symptoms by reducing measures of arousal in the brain. And there are no associated risks or side effects to trying meditation.
  • It can be used with other sleep techniques. Combining cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) with mindfulness meditation has been shown to improve sleep better than CBT-I alone.
  • There are multiple health benefits. Not only can meditation improve your sleep quality, but it may also help reduce blood pressure and ease pain, anxiety, and depression.
  • It’s easy. Meditation is an accessible, budget-friendly practice that everyone can try—insomnia sufferers of different ages respond well to the practice, including older adults. Though you can pay for meditative classes and books that teach you the practice, you can also search online for free apps and YouTube videos if you’d like to try it before you spend money on it. 

The basics: Start by finding a comfortable place to sit or lie down, and then close your eyes and breathe slowly and deeply, directing your attention to your breath as you inhale and exhale. If your mind starts to wander, simply bring your attention back to your breath. You might try doing it for, say, five minutes at a time at first and gradually increasing the amount of time as you get more comfortable with the practice.

A Mindfulness-Based Approach to Insomnia

Sleep disturbance is another area in which a mindfulness-based approach appears to be particularly suitable. Sleep disturbance is a common problem with nearly 75% of American adults reporting at least one symptom of a sleep problem a few nights a week or more during the past year (National Sleep Foundation, 2005). Approximately 10–15% of the adult population suffers from an insomnia disorder, which can have significant negative consequences if left untreated. Individuals who suffer from chronic insomnia will often describe their condition as a “vicious cycle” with increasing effort and desire put into trying to regain sleep. Ultimately, the strong desire to get more sleep and to avoid daytime fatigue leads to a state of feeling stuck between sleepiness and wakefulness. Hypnotic medications are frequently used to treat insomnia, but many patients prefer non-drug approaches to avoid dependence and tolerance (Morin, Gautier, Barry, & Kowatch, 1992).

Previous research has examined the effects of MBSR on insomnia patients or the addition of mindfulness as a component in a multi-component approach. In contrast, our program of research has focused on the development of a mindfulness-based therapy for insomnia (MBT-I), a treatment using a mindfulness-based approach combined with behavior therapy for insomnia. Mindfulness-based therapy for insomnia integrates the science of sleep medicine, behavior therapy, and meditation practices stemming from the Buddhist tradition.

The goal of MBT-I is to help individuals increase awareness of the mental and physical states that develop with chronic insomnia and to develop adaptive ways of working with these undesirable states. The meditation exercises, discussion, and daily monitoring of sleep and wakeful activities serve to develop this awareness. In particular, attention is brought to the mental and physical states of sleepiness and fatigue as participants are taught to discern these two states. Mindfulness-based therapy for insomnia includes reducing unwanted wakefulness at night and effectively managing the emotional reactions to sleep disturbance and daytime fatigue. As the program progresses, participants are taught to use mindfulness principles and behavioral strategies to work with these undesirable states. Using awareness as a platform, participants are taught to respond to sleep disturbance with mindfulness skills rather than react automatically by increasing effort to rest. For example, awareness of internal cues (sleepiness rather than fatigue) along with a recognition of reactive tendencies (avoid fatigue by going to bed) is used to make changes in both the relationship to sleep and behaviors that are likely to promote sleep.

Specific behavioral changes are implemented through sleep restriction and stimulus control, two empirically supported treatments for insomnia that complement the mindfulness principles. Sleep restriction (Spiel man, Sask y, & Thorny, 1987) involves regulating sleep by setting a limited time in bed (e.g., 12:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m.). By restricting the amount of time in bed, the individual avoids compensatory behaviors for sleep loss (e.g., taking naps, staying in bed to catch more sleep), which can lead to reduced homeostatic drive for sleep, thus perpetuating the sleep problem. Stimulus control (Bootzin, Epstein, & Wood, 1991) consists of an instruction set designed to maximize the opportunity to fall asleep in the bedroom by reestablishing the bed and bedroom as stimuli to feel sleepy so that sleep is most likely to occur. These instructions include not going to bed until sleepy and getting out of bed if unable to sleep for a period of time. By combining these sleep-related behavioral changes with mindfulness meditation, participants are taught to make significant changes in the way they approach both sleeping and waking stress, woven together with a greater ability to bring mindfulness into their daily lives.

Preliminary work on MBT-I has yielded promising results. A pilot study (Ong, Shapiro, & Manber, 2008) evaluated a 6-week version of MBT-I on 30 participants with primary insomnia. Half of the participants experienced a 50% or greater reduction in total wake time, and all but two participants scored below the cutoff for clinically significant insomnia on the Insomnia Severity Index at the end of treatment. In addition, the treatment resulted in significant reductions in presleep arousal, sleep effort, and dysfunctional sleep-related cognition’s. Also, a significant negative correlation was found between total number of meditation sessions during the MBT-I program and change in trait hyper arousal, suggesting that more meditation practice was related to greater decrease in arousal. Follow-up data revealed that 61% of participants had no relapse of insomnia during the 12 months following treatment, supporting the long-term benefits of this treatment (Ong, Shapiro, & Manber, 2009).

Following the initial pilot study, we revised MBT-I by extending the number of sessions to eight and including an all-day retreat. These changes were in response to feedback from participants and reevaluation of the treatment goals to reinforce the meditation components. Table 1 summarizes the key themes and core activities of each session. A second round of pilot testing was conducted on this new 8-week format. The following case illustration describes the course of one patient who participated in the 8-week MBT

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