It can also be helpful to practice focused breathing techniques during this time. Dr. O’Neill says pairing meditation with focused deep breathing will help release muscle tension and help you relax. You can opt for rhythmic digraph breathing, or the 4-7-8 technique, where you inhale through your nose while counting to four, hold your breath for seven seconds, and exhale through your mouth for eight. While you exhale, she says you’ll want to focus on relaxing your body and all the muscle groups. Start relaxing the muscles at the very top of your head, and work your way down every time you exhale, visualizing each part of your body relaxing more and more — as if you’re melting into your mattress.
Dr. O’Neill adds that you don’t want to put effort into actually sleeping as you meditate. The point is to ease the mind so that sleep comes naturally, as opposed to replacing the beginning stages of sleep with meditation.
“I know it sounds counterintuitive; however, as soon as you are consciously trying to sleep, you have lost the purpose of sleep meditation,” she says. “The effort itself will promote more frustration and wakefulness than being relaxed and nonjudgmental. It is valuable to transition one’s focus from thinking about relaxing to engaging in an activity that promotes relaxation as a byproduct.”
What are the negative effects of sleep meditation?
In general, there are none. Dr. Conroy says calming the mind can be a very effective strategy for sleep. “Fortunately, there are numerous apps focused on relaxation and meditation at our fingertips,” she says. “Studies also show a regular yoga practice can also be helpful for sleep.”
She does stress that meditation is not a substitute for sleep. She explains that there is a very specific process that the brain must go through while sleeping that is essential to our health and well-being. Certain chemicals and growth hormones are linked to our sleep stages and it’s important we go through non-REM to REM each night.
Is too much meditation before sleeping harmful?
The short answer is no. But as with everything in life, you’ll want to practice sleep meditation in moderation. Dr. O’Neill adds health coping skills such as sleep meditation can sometimes turn into something that serves a completely different purpose than helping you sleep. She gives the example of hypersomnia, which means using sleep to pass the time avoid the emotional pain of wakeful hours and can be a symptom of depression. That’s why you’ll want to be mindful of the functional purpose of using meditation to sleep.