7 Simple Bedtime Meditations for Better Sleep
I look forward to going to bed at the end of the day.
I love climbing under the blankets, chilling out and drifting off to sleep. When I wake up the next day, I tend to feel refreshed and well-rested.
But it hasn’t always been this way.
There have been times when I’ve screamed into a pillow and cried with frustration because it was getting later and later and I couldn’t switch off. I’d check the time and count down the number of hours of sleep I was likely to get.
“If I fall asleep now, I’ll get 6 hours of sleep.”
“If I fall asleep now, I’ll get 5 hours and 50 minutes of sleep.”
“If I fall asleep now, I’ll get 5 hours and 30 minutes sleep…”
I’d created a cycle of stress and linked it to bedtime – and I had no idea how to break that cycle. It felt like everything I tried didn’t work.
When I learned about mindfulness, it seemed too simple.
I’m a planner and an organiser and I like to think a few steps ahead so I can be prepared.
Why would I deliberately bring my attention into the present moment? How could that help?
However, the more I practised mindfulness, the more I came to realise that I was planning things out unnecessarily. Most of the time, I was perpetuating a stress cycle and worrying about things that I didn’t actually need to worry about.
And this also applied to my bedtime routine.
I’d go to bed and think about everything I needed to do the next day. I’d make mental checklists and rehearse them so I wouldn’t forget. When I decided to actually go to sleep, I was fired up. My mind was racing and my body felt ready to spring into action – not relax and rest.
At first, mindfulness was really difficult to practise at night time because I was so used to a different way of thinking; planning, predicting, ruminating, problem-solving, reflecting and imagining. Anything except just being in the present moment, non-judgementally.
Trying to be mindful was frustrating at times. I struggled to focus on the present moment and it was hard to tell if my efforts were making any difference at all.
Things started to change when I realised that I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been staring at the clock at 2am after a few hours of tossing and turning. I thought “hey – maybe this is actually working for me!”.
A few years later, I studied my Advanced Certificate in Guiding and Teaching Meditation and I began finding other types of meditations I could incorporate into my bedtime routine.
I now have a range of meditations I love to use at night, whether I’m getting ready to fall asleep, if I wake up during the night or even when I’m resting in the morning for a few minutes after my first alarm has gone off.
Rather than feeling frustrated and hopeless, I look forward to using my mindfulness and meditation techniques to help myself fall asleep.
I don’t think mindfulness and meditation are “cures” or that these techniques should be used in tandem with other good sleep practices (which you can read about in my article about how to get the best sleep of your life). However, I’ve found these techniques have helped me settle my mind, break the stress cycle (for the most part!) and enjoy going to bed at night.
Let’s dive into seven of my favourite bedtime meditations for better sleep!
1: Mindful breathing
This technique is very simple and you will probably notice your mind wandering quite a bit. That’s okay! Gently re-focus your attention on your breath whenever you notice your mind has been distracted.
This is a great meditation to help you fall asleep when you’ve woken up during the night – it’s easy to remember and it doesn’t involve thinking or visualising too much.
How to practise: Invite your attention to your breath. Notice how each breath moves in and out of your body quite effortlessly. You don’t need to change your natural breathing rhythm – just notice it.
Observe the pause at the end of each exhale.
Feel your chest and stomach gently rising and falling.
Notice the journey of each breath, moving through your nose, throat and lungs (and back out again).
Simply pay attention to each breath and bring your mind back to this practice whenever it wanders.
2: Relaxing body scan
If you feel particularly tense in your body when you go to bed, this can be a great meditation technique to help you physically relax.
How to practise: A body scan involves paying non-judgmental attention to all the different parts of your body, from your toes up to the top of your head. For example, you might notice your toes, then the arches of your feet, your heels, the tops of your feet, your ankles, and so on. Basically, you just want to observe each part of your body for a few moments.
You can find an example of a body scan in my book, The Mindful Kind, or on episode 150 of The Mindful Kind podcast (called Types of Meditation).
To add the element of relaxation, as you complete the body scan consciously relax each part of your body. For example, as you pay attention to your toes, arches of your feet and heels, gently relax and release tension from those areas. Continue all the way up your body, focusing on areas where you tend to hold tension (such as your stomach, chest, shoulders, neck and face).
3: Listen to meditation music
This is one of the most effective ways for me to fall asleep. I have one particular 30-minute meditation album (True North by Sonesence) that I’ve listened to several times in bed and I’ve drifted off every single time so far!
I use this meditation practice when I’ve had a particularly tough day and I don’t want to do a self-guided meditation. It’s a great way to relax and I find that my thoughts just naturally slow down.
It might be worth experimenting to find meditation music that works for you. You might like to access meditation music via an app, Youtube, or a podcast.
On my meditation albums Self-Compassion and Good Morning, you’ll find a bonus music meditation track created by my partner, Declan O’Leary (the creator of the introduction music for The Mindful Kind podcast and The Mindful Kind video blog). The music is soothing and beautiful to listen to – we worked really closely to create a calming meditation experience.
How to practise: Pop some headphones on and press play on your favourite meditation music. Simple, but effective! Just bring your mind back to the music anytime it starts to wander.
4: Loving-kindness meditation
If you’ve been having trouble with a particular person (or persons) in your life, this might be a helpful meditation to try. Rather than sacrificing sleep time by focusing on how you’ve been hurt, planning out future interactions, or regretting things you might have said or done, practising a loving-kindness can be a great way to show yourself – and others – compassion.
How to practise: This technique involves sending kind sentiments and loving or compassionate feelings towards yourself, then someone you care about, then someone neutral and lastly, someone you don’t always get along with. It’s about practising loving-kindness towards all people and intentionally letting go of ill will.
Check out this great article about practising Loving-Kindness Meditation by Very Well Mind for some helpful guidance!
5: Breathing waltz
I learned this meditation during my time as a Helpline volunteer at the Anxiety Recovery Centre for Victoria. It’s a wonderful meditation to help you calm down at night before sleep because you’ll be counting your breath – leaving little room for your thoughts to continue down a stressful path.
How to practise: Inhale for 3 counts, hold the breath for 3 counts, exhale for 3 counts. Pause. Repeat. And that’s it! You can continue using this breathing meditation for as long as you like.
Try to keep your counting smooth and even and give yourself a few rounds to find a good pattern. Try not to breathe too deeply or shallowly – find a nice medium so your breathing pattern feels comfortable.
6: Relaxing visualisation
I personally find it quite difficult to do visualisations, but this is quite a simple meditation to help you relax before bed. If, like me, you find it tricky to “see” things, you can try tuning in to other senses (such as sound, smell and sensation). For example, if you visualise yourself at the beach, you might smell the salty ocean, listen to the birds and the waves crashing on the sand, or feel the sunshine on your skin.
How to practise: Choose a place in nature that feels relaxing to you. Perhaps, sitting beside a lake and surrounded by mountains, at the beach, or in a forest.
Close your eyes and visualise yourself resting in this place and enjoying all the different elements of nature around you. Notice what you can hear, see, smell, taste, or feel. Look at the different colours of nature, like the sky, flowers, grass, or water.
Explore this visualisation in as much rich detail as you can.
7: Self-compassionate meditation
If you’re feeling stuck in feelings of frustration, anger, irritation, guilt, or worry, a self-compassionate meditation can be a wonderful way to give yourself space to feel what you need to feel and be okay with it. Sometimes, when we fight against vulnerable or challenging feelings, we actually create more stress and unhappiness – which isn’t particularly conducive to a good night’s sleep!
Instead, try a self-compassionate affirmation and give yourself permission to process your emotions.
If you’re looking for more guidance with this, I created the Self-Compassion Meditation Album with two 20-minute guided tracks; one to help you feel challenging emotions with understanding and one to use self-compassionate affirmations. To find out more about my Self-Compassion Meditation Album, click here.
How to practise - Rather than ignoring or repressing the emotions you’re feeling, actually start paying attention to them. Notice how they feel, physically. Remind yourself that it’s okay to have emotions and that you’re in a safe space to explore them. Acknowledge your emotions, non-judgementally. Allow yourself the time to simply lie in bed comfortably and observe what you’re feeling. Perhaps, you’ll start to cry or breathe through the emotion. It might be challenging to let yourself be in that space. Be gentle with yourself and comfort yourself in the same way you would comfort a loved one.
After some time, you might notice the emotion starting to fade or become a little more mellow. Or, you might feel like taking some time to engage in self-care or talking with someone about your experience.
This might not be an easy meditation to do, but sometimes it can be necessary to acknowledge and feel an emotion, rather than bottle it up and cause it to manifest in other ways (like an interrupted night’s sleep).
If you’re looking for more guidance with this, be sure to check out my Self-Compassion Meditation Album (which also comes with a journal to help you record and further explore your experiences).