Guided sleep meditations are one of the most popular forms of meditation in mindfulness meditation apps like Headspace, Calm, and Ten Percent Happier. But for many of us, letting go of a stressful day to fall into a peaceful sleep is only a dream. People try breathing exercises, sleep hypnosis, body scans, or sleep music to fall asleep fast and improve sleep quality, but these don’t always work.
The approach to sleep meditation that many take is one where you try and push away thoughts and activity, putting on headphones to listen to a deep sleep meditation that lowers the heart rate and slows the breath through breathing exercises. These can be effective, and many use them every day to get a good night’s sleep.
However, there are other types of guided meditation from the Tibetan Buddhist analytic meditation tradition that don’t ignore our day, but help us to actively process it. These meditation practices help us let go of the experiences we regret and rejoice in the good we did during the day. These deep sleep meditations help us not only fall asleep fast, but train the mind toward becoming a better human being.
What keeps us awake at night?
To understand why we have a hard time falling asleep, it’s useful to look at the science of sleep. Sleep disorders prevent us from getting the natural sleep and deep relaxation we need to get a good night’s sleep. These are some of the things that keep us awake at night:
- Using technology before bed is now the number one cause of sleep disorders. For many of us the phone sits by our bed, even with its ringer on. It’s the last thing we see before going to bed and the first thing we see (and reach for) when we wake up.
- Erratic routines are also a cause of low sleep quality, when we go to bed at different times, or far too late.
- Too bright of an environment, too much noise, or a room that’s too warm fail to support sleep quality, making a good night’s restful sleep difficult.
- Stress and pain are one of the biggest factors preventing a good night’s restful sleep.
- Lack of exercise also makes restful sleep difficult.
You’re in control of many of these lifestyle decisions that cause a good night’s sleep. However, even when we make these changes, the stress from our day’s interactions can still keep us awake. And that’s where the unique mind training techniques of analytical meditation become useful.
What is guided sleep meditation?
Guided sleep meditations help you fall asleep fast and achieve restful sleep through a number of techniques:
- Mindful breathing exercises involve watching or counting the breath to help to slow the body down so you can eventually fall asleep.
- Mindful body scanning is a form of mindfulness meditation you can do even with headphones on, to fall asleep fast by conducting a body scan from head to toe. This helps you get out of your head and into your body for better sleep.
- Stabilizing silence can help achieve natural sleep by grounding you in the present moment.
- Gratitude is a powerful way to reduce stress by cultivating an all-embracing love that wishes all beings to be happy.
- Visualizations are forms of meditation practice that can help you fall asleep. For example, imagining a peaceful relaxing place that produces deep relaxation within you.
- Reviewing the day is a practice some people encourage for stress relief, letting go by reviewing the details of the day as a form of distraction.
Does guided sleep meditation work?
The last two techniques of visualization and reviewing the day have been adapted into secular forms that work, but strip away some of the powerful mind training benefits of Buddhist analytical meditations for sleep. As commonly used today as meditations for sleep, these methods focus more on mental distraction than actively embracing the beauty in our life and letting go of the day’s regrets and worries.
The science of guided sleep meditation
Science supports all of these techniques as beneficial in aiding sleep. However, we wanted to share some methods for improving sleep that come from Tibetan Buddhism. These methods not only help you achieve your best sleep and stress relief, but they also help you sleep well by embracing all the good you did that day. Analytical meditation techniques on gratitude and forgiveness give you a healthy way to release the day’s conflicts and problems, forgiving others and forgiving yourself.
In previous podcast episodes we’ve shared some of these techniques for letting go of problems based on ancient “purification” practices. These can be adapted to a wholly secular, science-based approach to stress relief, deep relaxation, and natural sleep that also helps you to become more and more your best self the next day.
Sleep meditation vs. Sleep hypnosis
Meditation, from the Buddhist perspective, is not a sleepy, fuzzy state, but an alert one. This is an important distinction that distinguishes meditations for sleep from sleep hypnosis.
Sleep hypnosis serves to distract the mind, taking you away from focused awareness so that you drift into an unconscious state through calming sleep music or guided sleep meditation.
A true sleep meditation, however, doesn’t lull you into a sleepy, fuzzy state during the meditation, but instead engages you in a concentrated meditation practice to process your day with gratitude and forgiveness and then fall into a calm sleep.
10-minute guided sleep meditation on gratitude and forgiveness
In our podcast episode on Mental Cause and Effect, we talk about how to train the mind toward its better nature, cultivating its natural qualities of kindness, patience, generosity, and joy. And we released a 20-minute guided meditation on self-forgiveness and gratitude to help you sleep well.
Now we’ve created a shorter 10-minute sleep guided meditation that you can listen to right here in your browser. It takes you through the following simple steps:
- Recall that your mind is changeable, that the thoughts and feelings that go through it are impermanent, and you can actively change your mind, steering it toward its best qualities.
- Recall all the good that you did today, rejoicing in how you helped others and made others’ days brighter, even through simple acts like smiling, cooking, or doing your job. Try and remember as many of these good actions as you can and see how they greatly outnumber your regrets.
- Recall all the kindness that others showed you today. And rejoice in the kindness you saw on TV or the internet or that you read about or others told you about: all the good you can recall that others did today.
- Bring to mind your regrets from the day. The things you would have preferred not to have said or done. Without feeling guilty, we can honestly regret those actions. We can understand that these actions are merely bad habits, and we can train away harmful habits like this through a meditation like we are doing right now.
- Imaging what you could have done, what you hope to do next time when faced with the same situation. How would you speak or act differently? How could you have diffused the situation rather than making it worse? How could you let go of anger or resentment and understand that others are also driven by their own bad habits, and forgive them.
- Visualize a bright light that forms above the crown of your head, and imagine that it is the embodiment of all the best human qualities of loving kindness and compassion and joyful enthusiasm for doing good in the world.
- Imagine that a glowing liquid light pours from that bright light at the crown of your head and melts into your body. As it does, all that you regret becomes like a dark goo that is pushed down and out the bottom of your body until you are filled with light.
- When your body feels completely filled with light, imagine that you are completely forgiven. You don’t need to be stressed or worried about these actions you regret. You may decide to take some action later that helps heal your conflict, but you can also be content with letting go of these problems and stepping into your better self right now.
- Resolve to act that way tomorrow, to be your better self while remaining patient and forgiving with yourself. Good things happen slowly.
- Now come out of the meditation. Let go of all the thoughts you went through during the meditation. Lay down, if you aren’t already, close your eyes, rest your head on your pillow, and continue to think of yourself as your best self, free from anxiety, worry, and regret.
- Notice how your body now feels lighter, more settled. You can now sleep peacefully. Become aware of your breath. Become aware of the parts of your body and how they make contact with your bed. With each breath you relax more and more as you drift into a deep, natural sleep.
Lifestyle changes for restful sleep
It’s important not to use a meditation like this to take on more stress and activity in life. And we also have to attend to the environmental factors and habits around routine and technology that support sleep. These good sleep hygiene habits support a night’s restful sleep:
- Put away technology at least one hour before bed.
- Keep a regular sleep routine going to bed at the same time, and not too late, so that you get enough sleep.
- Dim lights, a quiet room, and a cool room create an environment that supports sleep quality.
- Exercise regularly for restful sleep and high sleep quality. Even a 30 minute walk has a huge benefit on health and sleep, including boosting the immune system, stress relief, and improved concentration.
Restful sleep is only one of many benefits of guided meditation
You can see how these analytical meditation techniques not only help you sleep better, but become a better person. If you’d like to learn other techniques for bringing out your best qualities to create a happy, meaningful life, you can subscribe to our podcast. These are all the different ways you can listen.