by Sarah Johnson of the Tuck Sleep Foundation

Everyday stress can interfere with sleep. The busyness and anxiety you face every day can build up and make it hard to relax at night. You may even stay up thinking through issues you’ve faced during the day, or feel like you don’t have enough time to get a good night’s sleep.

Unfortunately, sleep deprivation only makes stress feel worse. When you’re sleep deprived, you show greater signs of stress, and your body doesn’t get the rest time it needs to recover from a stressful day.

Practicing mindfulness meditation can relieve the effects of stress, and it can help you get better sleep. When you meditate, you trigger the relaxation response, which is known to counteract the negative effects of stress. It’s also able to help you make your mind and body feel calmer, so you’re better able to drift off into restorative sleep so you’re better prepared to face the next day.

How Stress Interferes with Sleep

When you’re feeling stressed, your mind and body are stimulated. You’re in a state of hyperarousal, which can induce anxiety, excessive thoughts, and make you feel easily disturbed, even when you’re sleeping.

Stress creates higher levels of cortisol and adrenaline, stress hormones that stimulate your mind and body. With excessive stress hormones, it’s tough to relax and drift off to sleep. At the same time, stress reduces production of serotonin, a hormone that helps you feel tired.

Meditation Promotes Healthy Sleep and Reduced Stress

When you meditate, your body triggers a relaxation response. With this response, your body benefits from reduced psychological distress and decreased oxygen consumption. This calming response can help to counteract the effects of stress on your body, and reduce the effects of depression, anxiety, and insomnia.

Regular meditation, particularly mindfulness meditation, can support healthy sleep habits. When you meditate regularly, you can benefit from less insomnia, fatigue, and depression, and see improvements in sleep quality.

Mindfulness meditation is especially helpful for sleep, as it is a calming, relaxing practice that requires little cognitive effort. The best meditation types for sleep are progressive muscle relaxation, mindful breathing, counting, and guided meditation.

How to Meditate for Stress Relief and Sleep

Regular mindfulness meditation practice can help you relax and drift off to sleep. Try these practices when you’re feeling stressed and sleep deprived:

  • Counting meditation: Just like counting sheep, you’ll work through numbers during counting meditation. Simply start counting to 100 or more until you fall asleep. Keep your focus on the count, gently acknowledging and then pushing aside any stressful thoughts that pop up as you’re counting and relaxing.
  • Mindful breathing: Mindful breathing focuses on your breath as it moves through your body. You’ll shift your focus away from thoughts and simply focus on the feeling of your breath as it moves through your nose, throat, chest, and belly. Consider the 4-7-8 mindful breathing method for calming before bed. You’ll inhale through your nose for a count of four, hold your breath for a count of seven, then exhale through your mouth for a count of eight.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation: With progressive muscle relaxation, you can practice letting go of tension. It’s best practiced in bed on a comfortable mattress. You’ll tense and then relax muscle groups one at a time, contracting your muscles for five seconds and then relaxing for 30 seconds. You should inhale before tightening and exhale during relaxation. Repeat the process if you’re still awake and want to continue to relieve tension.

Tuck Sleep Foundation is a community devoted to improving sleep hygiene, health and wellness through the creation and dissemination of comprehensive, unbiased, free web-based resources. Tuck has been featured on NPR, Lifehacker, Radiolab and is referenced by many colleges/universities and sleep organizations across the web.