Around half the world population suffers from sleep issues, including sleep deprivation. At least a third of all Americans don’t get the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep needed per night. Those numbers have only gone up since the pandemic. If you have sleep issues, you’re not alone. Many people experience chronic fatigue, exhaustion, burnout, and just not getting enough rest in general. In this article, we’re going to discuss why rest is so important to our health and well being, and some meditative techniques for how to relax your mind before sleep.
Getting Enough Sleep for Meditation
When we get enough rest, our energy and consciousness is improved, and we’re able to realize our true potential. This can have a profound impact on our spiritual practices. Many people fall asleep during meditation, and that’s OK. It just means that you’re tired and need sleep. If you find yourself falling asleep, let yourself take a nap. Sleep is more important than meditation.
You need sleep in order to be present and receive the full benefits from meditation. If your body needs rest first, give it rest. Some people use meditation to sleep better. This isn’t the primary intention of meditation, but there’s nothing wrong with listening to guided meditations to fall asleep.
The High Cost of Low Sleep
When we don’t get enough rest, we can experience brain fog, or the inability to think clearly. We’re not able to concentrate or to be present. You might feel only half there, like a ghost. It can affect our emotions, we can become angry or frustrated much easier. Our body begins to produce more cortisol, the stress hormone. Our metabolism slows down, we gain weight, maybe we eat more, or we feel like we have less energy for exercise. This can even affect every aspect of our life, including our relationships with other people.
Sleep deprivation represents not just a personal issue, but is a huge cost to economic output. It’s estimated that fatigue and lack of sleep costs the United States over $400 billion in lost productivity each year.
12 Ways to Relax Your Mind Before Sleep
Stress and sleeplessness are the top reasons many people search out meditation. But in order to experience the full benefits of a meditation practice, it’s important to be rested in order to be fully present while meditating. If you are experiencing sleep loss, there are a number of meditative techniques that you can use to help improve quality of sleep, so that you can get the most out of your practice.
1. Release Negative Emotions
If you’re angry or upset about something, it can be difficult to let go of that feeling. If you find yourself with negative emotions turning over and over in your head, that can prevent you from sleeping.
A good way to release negative thoughts and emotions is by practicing allowing yourself to feel them without judgement, and allow them to pass through you. Become aware that you have negative emotions and work on letting them go. Talking with a friend or counselor, or journaling, are all excellent ways to release negativity. Writing in a journal has a similar healing effect as talking with a friend to help process the experience.
2. Train Your Subconscious
Train your subconscious mind to slow down at least 1-2 hours before bed. The best way to do this is to have a routine, or a nighttime ritual, some activity you engage in which tells your body that it’s time to shift gears for sleep. This could include turning off the lights and turning on ambient music. It might be smelling essential oils like lavender for a calming effect.
If you do this every night around the same time, it signals to your brain that it’s time to slow down, to lower yourself into deep rest. It’s important to have a bit of structure and discipline in order to create consistency. Be sure to put some energy into developing and maintaining a nighttime discipline.
3. Play Ambient Music
Our normal brainwave state is known as the beta state, using the prefrontal cortex, or the thinking part of your mind. Many of us jump from a state of full activity to bed with our minds still racing in a state of hyper-arousal. This means that the stress response is still activated, ready to fight or flee at any moment.
By playing calming ambient music or sounds, such as nature sounds like rain or the ocean, we allow the brain to calm down, to enter a slower brainwave state. You can even enter a theta state, or a natural healing state, which is a very relaxed state of being. You can find lots of music and sounds online specifically designed to help you slow down.
4. Stop Stimulating Activities
Stop all stimulating activities at least 1-2 hours before bedtime. Working, talking, watching TV, consuming news, all these overactive things we engage in stimulate your nervous system, which makes it harder to calm down and slow your heart rate for sleep.
This includes technology. Shutting off the phone or putting it in another room is a great technique to help you relax. If you always have your devices nearby, especially when trying to sleep or meditate, it can be difficult to relax. Every time that notification sound goes off, it triggers a little dopamine rush, keeping you hooked to that device like a drug. Shut down those devices and mentally engaging activities before bed to create a sacred space for sleep.
5. Receive External Support
Make sure you are getting enough friend time, or connection time with your community. We are social creatures with a tribal past, and we all need these connections in order to feel supported. Without social activity, we can start to feel spiritually starved. By engaging in personal connections and community time, this provides support for that spiritual nutrition and fulfillment.
6. Find Time for Hobbies
Find time for the things you enjoy, like hobbies, every day or at least once a week. Engage in activities you are genuinely interested in or passionate about, or learn to do something new. Learning a new skill uses your brain in a different way, and creates new mental pathways along with new, fulfilling experiences. This will feed and stimulate your entire system, and you might be surprised by how fast you start looking at everything in different, new ways.
7. Practice Deep Relaxation
One of the best ways to practice deep relaxation before sleep is with guided meditations. Ideally this should be on a device where you won’t receive notifications and other distractions, so that you can focus and avoid that state of hyperarousal. Guided meditation helps by just listening to the voice of the instructor, so that you can let go and receive without having to be in charge of anything. You won’t have to think about relaxing, you can just do it. Check out the Insight Timer app to try some guided meditations for yourself.
Two other ways to relax include visualization and body awareness. Visualization just means imagining relaxing places, images, sounds, etc. that work for you. For many people this means visualizing images of nature. Body awareness works by mentally scanning through different parts of your body, moving your attention out of your head and into other physical areas of your being. This will help you decouple from any thoughts or mental processes which might be antagonizing your relaxation.
8. Let Go of Energy Drainers
Many of us have activities or people in our lives that we just don’t feel good after engaging with them. They might make you feel disturbed, chaotic, or exhausted. Try to consciously be aware of what gives you anxious thoughts, and make an effort to minimize your exposure to them. Give yourself permission to let go of things that drain your energy. Practice healthy boundaries. This might include family dynamics or family members, in which case the release may have to be more internal, or involve seeking out a separate physical space that you can spend some time in just to let go.
By shifting internally, you allow yourself to find a deeper center, become more autonomous and boundaried in order to stay balanced. Reflect on what helps to create a more even, peaceful vibe for you, and consciously seek those things out.
9. Receive Energy Healing
Energy healing has gained popularity through Reiki and similar practices, but there are many forms of energy healing. We all have the ability to tap into our prana, our life force energy, also known as chi. We all have this energy, and you can feel it just by rubbing your hands together and feeling the natural magnetism between them. That energy runs through your entire body like a superhighway system. And when that highway gets blocked, we can experience tension that keeps us from resting.
Relaxation helps tell our body that it’s safe to let go, to eliminate toxins, to return to balance or homeostasis. We know we’re entering deeper states of rest and sleep when we have regular digestion, for example, or when it becomes easier for us to mentally process negative feelings and move past them.
10. Practice Good Diet & Exercise
Make sure that you’re moving your body for at least 20 to 30 minutes every day. If exercise seems like too much of a chore, see if you can find an exercise program you enjoy that’s accessible for you. Like guided meditation, there are plenty of online teachers who offer a lot of content online for free that you can engage with. Also, try to spend time in nature, which is another way to receive that positive energy.
There are lots of foods that can disrupt and agitate your nervous system as well. If you’re drinking 10 cups of coffee a day, you might want to consider cutting back and seeing if it has a beneficial effect on your sleep. Be aware of anything you consume in excess, whether it’s spicy foods, alcohol, or whatever it might be. You don’t have to eliminate it completely, but consider moderating your intake and noticing the true effects for yourself.
11. Resolve Past Traumas
If you experience PTSD, or even chronic stress, you may experience constant, consistent disruptions in your sleep. It may be hard for you to relieve stress and resolve tensions, and it may even wake you up in the middle of the night at the same time like 3 or 4AM in the morning. Techniques like deep sleep programs, yoga, nidra, or sleep therapy can help with resolving these stressors.
Remember, always consult a medical professional first if you have real sleep problems.
12. Quiet Your Mind
Try to practice quieting your mind for at least 10 minutes a day. This doesn’t necessarily mean meditation, but just sitting still and defocusing your thoughts. You don’t always know how to quiet your mind, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Try looking out the window or watching people passing by outside. The more you practice relaxation, both physical and mental, the easier it becomes, and the easier it will be to restore and recover your energy, as well as develop emotional resilience and resilience to stress.
Use Meditative Techniques to Quiet Anxious Thoughts and Sleep Better
Follow your inner wisdom and let yourself integrate all the tools we have available to us. Use the ones that work best for you. Trust yourself; if you’re waking up at night, you might already know why, and what you need to do. For example, some people just don’t sleep as well with their partner or pets. You might need separate sleeping quarters, or to make the dog sleep on the floor. Chances are, you already know what you need for how to relax your mind before sleep.
Sleep is a deep and dynamic issue, because it reflects many different aspects of our lives. It could be that your home is in disarray, there might be family drama, or you are experiencing financial uncertainty. Practice creating sacred space around your sleep time. Purify your life and let go of old, heavy energy, and invite in light, peaceful pure energy in its place. Create those nighttime rituals and tidy up your physical and mental space. The peace of mind that creates is what’s going to help you fall asleep and stay asleep every night.