What I Learned from Meditating Every Night Before Bed for a Month
Sleep has never come easily to me. In college, years before a therapist ever uttered the word "anxiety" to me, I found myself staring at the ceiling for what felt like hours on end before finally drifting off. Tired as I might have been, the moment my head hit the pillow, to-dos popped into mind, I worried about whether I'd been rude on the phone with my mom earlier, and I just could not get that random song I'd heard on the radio out of my head.
As these anxious thoughts spilled over into the rest of the day, I started seeing a professional to work through them—and hopefully reclaim my sleep in the process. I tried everything to help wind down before bed. I bought a pair of blue light blocking glasses and wore them religiously; I turned the temperature down in my bedroom; I spent a few minutes reading before calling it a night; I even set my phone to switch into "do not disturb" mode at 8 p.m. every night.
I liked to think my impeccable sleep hygiene helped—but I still tossed and turned before finally falling asleep each night.
As my anxiety intruded more and more on my daily life, my therapist suggested I start meditating. After all, the ancient practice has been associated with decreased stress, anxiety, fatigue, and even pain. After establishing a solid morning practice—working up to 20 minutes of mindfulness meditation before heading out for the day—I felt much more at ease through the daytime hours.
The second I got into bed, though, random thoughts and worries swirled right back up. I brought it up with my therapist. Her (unsurprising) response? Try meditating for a few minutes at bedtime. Research suggests that meditation can help you fall asleep faster, sleep more soundly, and even ward off insomnia—so I was more than happy to add a nighttime practice to my routine. I committed to trying it for the next month and track any changes in my sleep.
My plan: Every night before bed, I'd set a timer for five minutes and sit comfortably and quietly, eyes closed, focusing on my breath. (My therapist suggested I focus specifically on the sensation of air entering and leaving my nose, which would require extra concentration and ward off distraction.) Whenever thoughts crept into my head, I'd just return to my breath a soon as I caught them.
This type of meditation (typically referred to as "mindfulness meditation"), which I also practiced in the mornings, was one of the most helpful for calming the mind and promoting deep relaxation, my therapist told me. Considering the peace it'd brought to my days, I was eager to see if it would help me drift off more easily too.
My first few nights of meditating, I felt like I was constantly pulling myself back to my breath after getting completely lost in thought over and over again. I reminded myself that this was totally normal (my brain was wired to think at a rapid pace at this time of night) and that there's no such thing as a "bad" meditation, as my therapist often reminded me.
On these nights, though I spent much of my five minutes re-focusing, I felt the satisfaction of having done something positive for myself. My mind still wandered as I tried to sleep, running through my schedule for the next day and remembering some errands that had slipped my mind. However, I knew that meditation was an exercise in flexing my mental muscle—and that, like any muscle, it would need time and consistency to grow stronger.
Throughout the next two weeks, I kept up with my new nightly meditation routine pretty consistently—save for a few weekend nights, when I'd gotten home late and all but face-planted straight into bed.
Slowly but surely, as meditating became a normal part of my nighttime routine, I found myself quieting down more easily—and catching myself in thought and returning to my breath more quickly. The five minutes started to feel quicker, easier—but somehow longer and more enjoyable at the same time. I savored the quiet time. Though my mind still moseyed here and there when I got into bed, I could more easily identify rambling thoughts and focus on the present, my time to rest.
One month of meditation before bed
Another two weeks later, I found myself a month into my meditation practice. I'll admit, I wasn't 100% compliant on the weekends—but during the week, my meditations became sacred, my opportunity to leave the day behind and prioritize the here and now.
On many nights, my mind grew quiet quickly, as if grateful for the break from the busy day. On extra-hectic days, I took the advice of my therapist and added a few minutes to my practice to give my mind some extra time to calm down and become present. It worked like a charm. It was like eventually my mind gave up the fight, gave up on thinking, and settled into silence.
"Slowly but surely, as meditating became a normal part of my nighttime routine, I found myself quieting down more easily—and catching myself in thought and returning to my breath more quickly."
By my one-month mark, I spent half the time tossing and turning in bed before drifting off—and even noticed I woke up during the middle of the night less often. In the morning, I woke up feeling more energized and well-rested—a sensation I'd chased for so long with little success.
My increased energy and sense of rejuvenation carried over into my days. I felt more prepared and able to tackle busy mornings and recovered better from my workouts. Heck, I was a lot less cranky as a result of sleepless nights, too.
As grateful as I am for the impact meditating before bed has had on my sleep, I'm even more grateful for the perspective shift my practice instilled in me. It taught me that no matter what happened during the day (or how stressed out or anxious I was), I could always find solace in becoming present; I could leave anything behind and settle into the here and now. In short, none of my sleep-wrecking problems really had to be all that problematic—and that's a lesson I'll carry with me forever.
Here are more tips for relieving stress for better sleep.