Deep Sleep Meditation

deep sleep meditation

Just saying the words “deep sleep meditation” feels relaxing.

Next to a good workout (or love making), you can’t beat it for quality rest.

Over the past several years as I’ve deepened in meditation practice, I’ve noticed my overall anxiety levels drop dramatically even in the midst of life’s stressful events. The typical stressors of family, relationships, and work can often distract us and cause restless nights.

While those have increased for me in the past year, using meditation as a bedrock has allowed me to stay anchored in the moment with less anxiety. It has also gifted me many, much needed restful nights.

While my own anecdotal experience has been that meditation feeds into deep, restful sleep, scientific observation leads to measurable physiological data that backs it up [1].

We say it all the time here at MM: “The mind-body connection is alive and well.”

Through neuroimaging studies and research measuring hormone and autonomic activity, we are seeing why meditation leads to reduced anxiety, increased peace, and more regular sleep cycles.

Multiple studies over the last several years have measured brain activity during sleep cycles with mindfulness meditation practitioners vs. control groups.

These replicated studies have shown that practitioners experience greatly enhanced states of Slow Wave Sleep (Deep/Quiet Sleep) in comparison to non-meditating control groups [2].

Meditation has a positive effect on deep sleep for all age groups.

As we get older, the amount of time we spend in deep sleep decreases due to natural biological processes. But in these studies, it was found that mindfulness practitioners between the ages of 50-60 spent nearly the same amount of time in deep and delta wave sleep as non-practitioners between ages 30-39.

The control group (non-practitioners) between ages 50-60 spent less than half the time in Slow Wave Sleep when compared to their meditating counterparts. And for all the younger meditators out there, the meditating group spent 80 percent more time in deep sleep than their same age control group counterparts. [3]

The reasons that aging can lead to decreases in restful sleep are multifold. But one significant reason is the increase in sympathetic nervous system activity.

The sympathetic nervous system is your “Fight-or-Flight” system, the one that will increase your heart-rate and keep you alert when you are afraid, riled up, or stressed.

Conversely, the parasympathetic nervous system is our “Rest and Digest” pathway, which calms the heart rate, puts us more at peace, and also plays a large role in sexual arousal.

Researchers have found that experienced meditators are able to maintain higher parasympathetic activity as they age, leading not only to more restful sleep but also a reduced risk for cardiovascular attack and maintaining a sex drive later in life [4].

This effect also happens for those in younger populations.

In the increasingly “busy” world we live in, we are more prone to sympathetic activation and reacting to stressors. Being surrounded by a society that seems to always be in a rush doesn’t help.

But meditation and mindfulness practices that remind us to stay in the moment have repeatedly shown to keep an increased parasympathetic balance to counteract the “Fight-or-Flight” response and maintain steadier peace throughout life. [56]

In addition to experiencing deeper sleep, my dreams also have become more vivid. We dream in the REM sleep stage, which stands for Rapid Eye Movement. If you’ve ever seen a loved one fall asleep, when their eyes begin twitching, they are probably dreaming.

Deep Sleep Meditation and REM

In the same studies referenced above, mindfulness meditators have also been found to have more enhanced REM cycles, which may explain the increase in vivid dreams reported by many meditators.

This REM activity has also been linked to explanations on why experienced meditators exhibit more neuro-plasticity, or the ability to rewire and connect different, sometimes disparate parts of the brain. The brain is still working when we sleep, and meditation seems to make that a productive and restful time. [7]

If you’re someone who has trouble falling asleep at night, meditation before bed can lead to physiological changes that might help. 

Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate sleep, with higher levels in the blood easing us into sleep. In a study comparing meditators to a control group, night-time plasma melatonin levels were measured.

Meditators showed higher plasma melatonin levels at night following their meditation than non-meditators, with the implication being sleep would be much more likely to follow [8].

Furthermore, much attention in psychology has been focusing on using deep sleep meditation in conjunction with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to treat insomnia.

Indeed, a 2008 study showed promising results that patients who used meditation in addition to CBT experienced decreased pre-sleep arousal and decreased sleep dysfunction [9]. In short, they had an easier time falling asleep and sleeping well.

Deep Sleep Meditation for Beginners

Science is beginning to back up and give us greater physiological understanding on how meditation puts our minds in connection with the body. If you’re someone just beginning as a meditator and are having trouble sleeping, try this:

  • As you are lying in bed, close your eyes and begin to take deep breaths in through your nose and slowly out through your mouth.
  • Slowly visualize your body, part-by-part, starting with the feet.
  • Breathe into each body part and just feel it.
  • With the slow out-breath, just repeat the word “relax” in your mind, and feel as each body part relaxes.

Other Recommendations

Guided meditations provide structure. You don’t need to wait and pay for a teacher to get started with your practice. Start with my personal collection of some of the best YouTube guided meditations.

Deep Sleep Meditation Resources: