An estimated 30% of American adults suffer from insomnia, the most common type of sleep disorder, and 10% of people suffer from chronic insomnia that lasts more than six months. Sleep deprivation can have a significant impact on functioning, mood, health, and overall quality of life, making insomnia treatment important.
Meditation is a relaxation technique that generally involves slow, deep breathing and paying attention to your body. It has proven useful against insomnia.
Read on for more information on meditation, how it can help insomnia, the pros and cons of meditation, and other insomnia treatments.
Benefits of meditation for insomnia
Research on meditation has shown it can help with a variety of conditions. Studies have shown that it can improve sleep quality and help treat insomnia. It can also reduce pain and improve symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Meditation helps calm a person by lowering blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol, the stress hormone. It also helps to speed up thoughts and regulate emotions.
Different ways to meditate
There are many ways to meditate, and you can use different techniques at different times, depending on what is easiest or most appropriate.
During the day
There are different ways to meditate that may be easier to do during the day when you are active and involved in other activities. For example, while walking, you can do a walking meditation, focusing on your breath and the physical sensations of your body.
Other types of mind-body meditations you can do during the day that can help with insomnia include:
Mindfulness meditation is another option. It can be practiced anywhere and anytime, even while brushing your teeth. It simply involves being aware of what you are doing in the present moment. Don’t think about the future or what else you need to do that day; just focus on what you’re doing right now.
Another popular type of meditation is heart meditation, in which you sit quietly, breathe, and focus on the idea of light and love coming from your heart.
Mindfulness meditation and mindfulness meditation can also be practiced at night. Another good option that can help with insomnia is body scan meditation, also known as progressive muscle relaxation. It involves focusing on your breathing while consciously relaxing different parts of your body. Guided meditations available in audio can also be helpful; you can listen to them while you are in bed and allow the recording to direct the practice of meditation.
What are the different types of meditation?
Some of the most common meditation techniques include guided meditation, mindfulness meditation, and body scan meditation.
In guided meditation, another person leads the meditation and you follow their instructions. Mindfulness meditation encourages you to let go of judgment and negativity by focusing only on how you feel in the present moment. Body scan meditation helps you notice if you are carrying tension in certain areas of your body, with the goal of relaxing from head to toe.
Habits that contribute to insomnia
If you suffer from insomnia, be sure to take a good look at your personal habits, as many behaviors can contribute to sleep problems. These include:
- Consuming too much caffeine, which is a stimulant
- Use of nicotine, another stimulant
- Late afternoon siesta
- Using electronic devices like laptops, smartphones, or televisions right before bed, as light from the screens of these devices can interfere with your circadian rhythms, which regulate your sleep-wake cycle
- Using your bed for activities other than sleep, such as working, which can cause your brain to associate being in bed with being awake, which can interfere with sleep
- Eating heavy meals or spicy foods too close to bedtime
Disadvantages of meditation
Although rare, some people experience negative side effects from meditation, including:
- Social withdrawal
- Emotional dulling/blunting
- Feelings of dissociation
- Problems with wakefulness or energy levels
- Disturbed sleep/wake cycles
- Executive functioning problems (impairments in memory, thinking, decision-making)
More research is needed to determine why some people experience these problems. If this happens to you, see your healthcare provider.
Other Insomnia Treatments
Meditation is of course only one of the many treatments for insomnia. You may find that a combination of approaches works best; your healthcare provider can help you sort through the options and develop a treatment plan for you.
Treatment for insomnia may include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy, a common type of talk therapy that helps identify and change negative thought patterns
- Stimuli control therapy, in which you avoid stimulating activities in an effort to strengthen the association between the bedroom and sleep
- Sleep restriction, also known as paradoxical intention therapy, which involves limiting the time you spend in bed and avoiding naps
- Exercise (but not before bed)
- relaxation therapy
- The “z-drugs”, which are zolpidem (brand name Ambien), eszopiclone (brand name Lunesta) and zaleplon (brand name Sonata)
- Hypnotics such as benzodiazepines like Ativan (lorazepam). These should not be the primary treatment for chronic insomnia, due to the potential for misuse and abuse.
- Antihistamines, although regular use is not recommended due to the risk of side effects
Sleep hygiene education is also a potential treatment for insomnia. It helps people identify and change lifestyle behaviors that contribute to insomnia.
Insomnia is more than annoying, it can significantly disrupt a person’s life and contribute to illness. Treatment is important, but taking medication is not always the first step.
Meditation can help improve sleep quality by lowering blood pressure and stress hormones while calming racing thoughts. There are different types and you may need to try different approaches before finding the right one for you. If you still don’t get relief, talk to your health care provider about other treatments for insomnia.
A word from Verywell
Meditation can be an effective treatment for insomnia, but it’s not for everyone. If that doesn’t work for you, there are a number of other insomnia treatments to try.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should You Use a Guided Sleep Meditation App for Insomnia?
Some people like meditation apps, some people don’t, it all depends on the person. But using an app means you’re tied to an electronic device, and trying to avoid devices in the hours before bedtime defeats the purpose.
Does meditation really work for insomnia?
Everyone is different, but several studies have shown that yes, meditation can be effective in helping to treat insomnia. A 2020 meta-analysis (a statistical analysis combining the results of numerous studies) found that meditation, specifically mindfulness-based stress reduction, not only helped relieve symptoms of insomnia, but also improved the quality of sleep. Another study looked at heart meditation and found that it significantly improved insomnia symptoms in people with chronic insomnia.
Where can you find free resources on sleep meditation?
MIT Medical has a resource page with free daytime and bedtime meditation exercises. The Stanford Health Library has a page with free guided meditations in English and Spanish.