As if COVID-19 hasn't ruined enough, research shows that the pandemic has greatly disrupted our sleep. The sheer stress has spurred an uptick in COVID-related anxiety dreams, straight-up nightmares, and people reporting a decline in their mental health, across the board. Meditation before bed can be a largely beneficial practice in the face of a sleep crisis dubbed "coronasomnia" by some researchers.
A February 2020 study conducted on Chinese residents (during the initial COVID-19 outbreak) illustrated just how heavy the pandemic's toll is on the population’s sleep. The survey exposed high rates of acute stress (15.8%), anxiety (18.5%), clinically significant insomnia (20%), and depression (24.5%). Symptoms of insomnia were the worst for Chinese folks in Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak. Insomnia was even more severe for healthcare workers and management staff on the front lines.
Especially if you don't have the privilege of working from home, meditating before bed can be incredibly helpful. We all, in fact, could benefit from some stress reduction before bedtime.
The reason why meditation is so peace-inducing is because the practice lowers heart rate. Cardiologist Dr. Deepak Bhatt, a professor at Harvard Medical School, says she recommends meditation to her patients to decrease their sense of stress and anxiety.
"[Meditation] can lower your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, oxygen consumption, adrenaline levels, and levels of cortisol, a hormone released in response to stress," Bhatt explains.
For context, deep relaxation and meditation reduce stress chemicals like cortisol, but also adrenaline and noradrenaline. This is crucial, neuroscientist Dr. Berit Brogaard explains, because stress chemicals send impulses to the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is what keeps the body active. When you meditate, you ignite the parasympathetic nervous system, whose function is the opposite. TL;DR: Meditation forces your body to relax on a chemical level.
Along with physiological benefits, meditation offers psychological benefits as well. It's a great way to re-program your thoughts as you lay your head to rest. And whether we talk about it openly or not, as online platform Headspace points out, those quiet moments right before bed can be rough. That's when you're suddenly confronted with the cold hard truth of your unfiltered thoughts.
Meditation for sleep is a specific, guided experience that offers a natural sleep aid all on its own, allowing us to let go of the day — everything that’s happened and everything that’s been said — so that we can rest the mind while simultaneously resting the body.
Along with movement-based meditation, retracing your day, and silence, some popular sleep meditation techniques Headspace highlights include breathing exercises and mindful body scanning. The first method "involves regulating your breath — counting breaths, for example — and eventually slowing your breathing down a bit," Headspace explains. "Which signals to the body that it’s time for sleep."
Lauren Ash, a yoga and meditation teacher, the founder of womxn’s wellness platform Black Girl In Om, and a notable sleep enthusiast, has some accessible tips on how to start meditating before bed. "When I get in the bed, I will prop a pillow behind my knees," she says in "Healing Power Of Sleep," a Black Girl In Om podcast episode. Sometimes, she preps for sleep meditation by propping a pillow behind their head.
"That tells my body, 'You can relax. You can let go.' And I will just for a while breathe while a particular [solfeggio] frequency is playing," she says. "I just allow myself to be transported to a different place, a different state of consciousness."
"At the end of the day, oftentimes, we just go and get into our beds without having allowed our consciousness and our bodies to transition," she explains. This is why they emphasize the importance of deep breathing and (guided) meditation: It offers your body and mind an opportunity to release the day and to give yourself permission to let go.
This technique can be paired with mindful body scanning, which, in the context of before-bed meditation, often looks like noticing your breath and the places where your body is touching the bed. "Then, starting at the toes, you can think of 'switching off' any effort in each part of your body, part by part," Headspace explains.
Not only does Headspace have a wealth of sleep meditation resources, but Ash has actually recorded a sleep meditation EP cheekily titled Beauty Sleep. So along with our sleep-inducing Dreamtech® PJs (P.S., did you try our Soothing Sleep Dress™ yet?), reduced screen time, and natural sleep aids, meditation honestly looks like an excellent addition to your sleep hygiene toolbox.