If you’re struggling to fall asleep, meditation is proven to help. Techniques range from deep sleep meditation to mindfulness meditation. But which is best for you?
Tossing and turning at night? We’ve heard all the tips and tricks to enable sleep – from having a hot bath to reading before bed. One solution to stop the endless midnight ruminations could be meditation. You don’t have to be an expert to reap the benefits of this ancient practice. Read on to discover which meditation technique will help your mind drift off and how to get started.
Mindfulness is the ability to bring your attention to the present moment. There are different types of mindfulness meditation, some more formal (guided meditation, body scans) than others (a few deep breaths). With mindfulness, you focus on the present by bringing your mind back to the here and now whenever it wanders, observing thoughts, feelings and sensations without any judgement. This can help with anxiety, stress, sleep and more. Start with a couple of minutes a day, at a time that suits your lifestyle; most people find morning meditation or sessions shortly before bedtime most convenient.
In a guided sleep meditation, an expert voice leads you through a breathing exercise, a visualisation or another relaxation technique, with the aim of eventually letting the mind gently drift off. Meditation apps such as Headspace and Calm offer all kinds of guided meditations devoted to sleep, with soothing extras such as sleep stories, wind-down music and calming nature-inspired soundscapes. The evening is the obvious time to practice for better sleep, but meditating at other times of day can also help improve sleeping patterns.
You can find guided meditation courses in retreats all over the world. If you’re based in the US or the UK, you might be interested in learning more about Culture Trip’s own range of meditation retreats, based in the Hudson Valley, Lake Tahoe and the UK’s Thames Valley.
Meditation is generally believed to have emerged thousands of years ago in India and has roots in religious tradition, particularly Buddhism and Hinduism. Spiritual meditation involves reflecting in silence, focusing on the breath and the present moment, as you feel for a deeper connection with something greater than the individual. For anyone looking to explore the origins and history of meditation alongside their practice, Sattva is a popular app, with sessions delivered by Sanskrit scholars.
This healing meditation is all about compassion, acceptance and kindness, towards oneself and, by extension, to others. It is rooted in developing understanding, forgiveness and letting go of judgement, and is thought to help with feelings such as anger and frustration, which often cause sleep problems. Loving-kindness meditation uses a variety of visualisation techniques, including sunlight streaming into the body and images of different people you know, and can be practiced by guided meditation or independently.
As the name suggests, in SKY breath meditation the emphasis is on the breath (rather than on engaging your thoughts) to quieten the mind and reach a deep state of meditation. Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (SKY) was developed several decades ago by the Indian spiritual leader Ravi Shankar. While it involves some poses and meditation, the key is a series of cyclical breathing exercises. It is taught through online sessions and in-person courses, afterwards you’re free to continue the practice independently.
With focused meditation, you channel your attention into a particular object, sound or sensation, tapping into the five senses. It’s a straightforward meditation style – the aim is simply to maintain your focus and attention (though this is the challenge, of course). Gazing into a candle flame, listening to a gong or counting mala prayer beads are popular techniques, though you can also focus on something internal, such as a mantra or the breath – all can help tackle sleep problems by creating overall calm before bedtime.
Originating in Buddhism, Vipassana meditation is also known as insight meditation. It is anchored in the breath as a means to observe physical sensations as well as thoughts, using body scans and without reaction. If a silent 10-day Vipassana retreat feels out of reach, you can start exploring this Buddhist meditation with meditation apps. Guided sessions will lead you through breathing exercises, focusing on your belly rising and falling, and gradually calming the mind.
Perhaps surprisingly, not all meditation involves sitting in silent contemplation. The movement of the body (rather than the mind) guides you through this active meditation, which can be practised through any gentle physical activity, such as yoga, qigong, tai chi or even walking. The focus here is not the goal or destination of the movement, but the movement itself, observing it moment by moment and fully connecting with the body to find peacefulness in action. In-studio and online classes are a great place to spark a movement meditation practice at home.