Amie Trewin Hutt

What is Sleep Meditation?

Words by Phoebe McRae

what is sleep meditation

The older I get, the more I realise just how important sleep is. Not only does sleep (or lack thereof) affect my beauty (read: skin), it also plays a huge factor in my day to day psychological state and mental health. Now that I’ve hit 30, I’m overly committed to getting my 8 hours every night and will go out of my way to get a minute or two more. So when I heard sleep meditation was a thing, I headed straight to the experts to get all the details.

What is Sleep Meditation?

As Dr Aubry Alvarez-Bakker, licensed, board-certified behaviour analyst and neuropsychologist, co-founder of MOVMNT, and Research Lead at YES SUPPLY, tells The Sports Edit, “Sleep meditation is a very deep form of non-REM, delta wave sleep, allowing us to blend awareness of our surroundings with elements of sleep.” Also known as conscious non-REM sleep or as yoga-nidrā, “[n]euroscience research shows that while sleep meditation increases brain wave activity associated with sleep, it does not actually reduce alpha wave activity in our brains.” This is significant as “alpha waves are associated with very alert states” (think engaging in conversation), allowing us to “gain completely conscious entry into the sleep states.”

What’s the Difference Between Regular Sleep and Sleep Meditation?

Like me, you’re probably wondering how exactly regular sleep and sleep meditation differ. As Dr Alvarez-Baker explains, “Sleep meditation is a form of non-REM sleep, or a series of lighter sleep phases during which our body settles into rest and physically repairs itself.” What’s REM? “REM – which refers to Rapid Eye Movement, because of the way our eyes quickly dart around during this state – is the state we are in when we are dreaming.” Basically, normal sleep evolves both non-REM and REM cycles, while sleep meditation only involves non-REM cycles.

The Benefits of Sleep Meditation

The benefits of sleep meditation are endless. “First and foremost,’ says Dr Alvarez-Baker, “the shift that occurs in our brain wave patterns balances our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, and releases mood-regulating hormones that calm the body and calm the mind.” She continues, “These shifts reduce our average number of thoughts per second from about four to eight to about one to four, and our body begins to slowly clear out built-up stress hormones like cortisol.” Ultimately, this helps to reduce anxiety and depression, improve our ability to sleep normally, and rewire our thoughts.

But that’s not all. According to Rachel Clarke, a registered Clinical Hypnotherapist who combines hypnosis, cognitive behavioural therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy and mindfulness to help those with anxiety and stress-based issues, sleep mediation also aids recovery from daily life and even has the potential to help you fall asleep faster at night. 

Is Sleep Meditation a Substitute for Sleep?

Despite its many benefits, sleep meditation is not a substitute for normal sleep. “Sleep meditation only provides a portion of physical rest and regeneration that we require during sleep,” Dr Alvarez-Baker says. However, Clarke is quick to flag that for those with insomnia sleep meditation can be particularly powerful. “If you are struggling with getting enough sleep or the quality of sleep is affecting you, sleep meditation will give you the rest in your day that your body and mind need.”

Guided Sleep Meditation for Beginners

If you’re keen on trying out sleep meditation, Clarke recommends seeking out a guided sleep meditation podcast or video, which walk you through a series of steps.

According to Dr Alvarez-Baker’s, all you need to do is concentrate your attention on the third eye (also known as the pineal gland). “When we bring focus to our pineal gland, our body releases the relaxation-inducing hormone melatonin,” she explains. “At the same time, we can focus on intentionally guiding our breathing patterns as both a means of relaxation and as a way to maintain awareness of our physical body, and singling out information from our senses as a way to remain connected to our surroundings.” By achieving this, you’ll soon be able to enter a state of sleep meditation. If you’re struggling, “focusing on rest and relaxation rather than sleep can help take the pressure off,” Clarke says.

Best YouTube Sleep Meditation Videos

Finding the best guided sleep meditation is no mean feat. What works for me, may not work for you, so it’s important that you don’t give up after your first few attempts. If you’re wondering where to start, the answer is YouTube. But if you don’t feel like sifting through hundreds of thousands of videos, check out some of the more popular channels below.

  1. The Honest Guys
  2. Jason Stephenson
  3. Tara Brach
  4. Headspace