If Your Thoughts Race at Night, Sleep Meditations Can Help Calm Your Mind
I'm normally a pretty easy sleeper, to the point of being boring about it. I fall asleep within a few minutes, I usually sleep through the night, and I typically wake up on time to my alarm. Lather, rinse, repeat. It wasn't until this past year that I realized how much my sleep schedule could be disrupted by stress and anxiety, when I started struggling to not only fall asleep but also stay asleep through the night. I would drift off fitfully, sleep a few hours, and wake up long before my alarm went off, completely alert. I started taking ZzzQuil and CBD sleep gummies, turned up my white-noise machine, put my phone down a little earlier before bed. Nothing seemed to help.
I'd been using the Headspace app to meditate every morning, and I knew the app had sleep meditations as well, so I finally gave in and checked them out. My sleep issues were mental, stemming from my anxious and overactive brain, and I already knew that meditation helped me calm down in the morning and keep me focused throughout the day. I thought the sleep meditations might be able to do the same.
My Sleep Meditation Experiment
I decided to do a sleep meditation every night for a month, and from the first night in, I knew it was a good choice. I turned on my white-noise machine, put my fan on low, and played the meditation out loud from my phone, so I didn't even have to worry about taking out my AirPods after the session ended. Then I went to the app and hit play.
On Headspace, each sleep meditation is structured slightly differently. There are calming body scans, deep-breathing exercises, and even one that asks you to do a quick, point-by-point review of your day from morning to evening. Each meditation felt almost hypnotic in the way it stilled my body and my mind, and from the first night on, I often fell asleep before the 10- or 15-minute sessions were up, freed from the anxious thoughts that usually kept me awake.
A few weeks in, I faced the ultimate test. I have trouble sleeping before I travel, so on the night before a road trip, I found myself staring up at the ceiling, white-noise machine droning, not sleepy in the least. I tried one meditation, and while it relaxed me a little, I still found my thoughts racing around in circles. I finally decided to try the "Nighttime SOS" meditation, which the app offered to address specific sleep struggles like nightmares, panic, or — in this case — racing thoughts. The soothing voice told me to do a few minutes of deep breathing. Then, I slowly began to count backward from 10,000. Even with my mind on a knife's edge, ready to wake up at the slightest thought or movement, I found myself drifting off to sleep.
Do Sleep Meditations Help You Fall Asleep Faster and Stay Asleep?
In my experience, sleep meditations can improve your sleep all around: falling asleep faster, staying asleep through the night, and feeling more rested the next day. If I don't fall asleep during the guided meditation, I'll turn over and conk out just a few minutes later. If I do wake up during the night, I'll reach for my phone and play a new session. After doing a sleep meditation, my body feels heavy and relaxed, my thoughts calm and slow. The voice of the meditation fades into the background, my thoughts unravel, and before I know it, I'm fast asleep.
If you're in search of sleep solutions, I highly recommend trying sleep meditation, even if you don't meditate normally. Think of it like listening to a story, reading, or watching a show before bed. In order to fall asleep, sometimes you have to think about anything other than sleep, and meditation can help with that. And no, you don't have to use a meditation app — there are plenty of sleep meditations on YouTube that you can try, complete with calming music. You might be surprised just how soothing and effective one short practice can be.