Most new parents spend months fantasizing about their babies sleeping through the night consistently. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean all parents will resume sleeping through the night as well. There are many reasons you may continue tossing and turning even when your little one snoozes for five or more consecutive hours.
Bringing a baby into the world often means napping more often but getting less sleep overall, and much of the sleep you do get is often far from high quality. One study conducted in Taiwan found that 87.5% of women experienced poor postpartum sleep quality. Some of the factors disturbing sleep included stress, physical discomfort, marital dissatisfaction, and disturbances from co-sleeping with a baby.
Those factors can continue once a baby starts sleeping through the night. That leaves many new mothers struggling with postnatal insomnia long after their little ones have given up nighttime feedings.
One of the most natural ways to combat insomnia is meditation. Anyone can learn to do this, and it’s completely free. If you now dream of yourself sleeping through the night, this is one skill that may help you without the side effects of sleep medication.
What is Meditation?
Meditation is the practice of focusing your mind on the present moment. We all have a jumble of thoughts that are constantly streaming through our minds. Those thoughts have a powerful impact on our mood and state of mind, even if we aren’t consciously aware of them all the time. Meditation teaches you to shut those thoughts down or at least ignore them long enough to calm your body and mind.
Once you master meditation, you have the ability to shut off thoughts that might otherwise leave you tossing and turning when you have the chance to sleep. You learn to focus only on the present moment, which eliminates emotions related to the past and worries for the future. Focusing your mind on steady, deep breathing is also soothing and can relax your mind and body for higher quality sleep.
How to Meditate for Improved Sleep
Find a quiet place where you can focus without disturbance. Even if you only have five minutes, you can benefit from meditation. In fact, practicing for short periods throughout your day is a great way to train your mind to focus on the present.
The easiest approach is to focus your mind on your breathing. Start by breathing in and out at a controlled, comfortable pace. Try to breathe deeply, feeling your stomach expand and contract. After a few breaths, bring your full attention to the breathing.
As thoughts enter your mind, gently push them away. Bring your attention back to your breathing.
If you have a busy mind with lots of interrupting thoughts, don’t get frustrated or assume you aren’t cut out for meditation. These thoughts are accustomed to interrupting without consequence. Meditation will teach you to put those thoughts in their place, but you have to give it time. There’s a learning curve for most people, so have patience with yourself.
Simply control your breathing and bring your mind back to that breathing over and over. With time, you will find that you have to redirect your mind less and less.
That is the basic idea of how meditation works. You train your mind to focus on some element of the present, like your breathing. There are some other types of meditation that may work well for someone suffering from postpartum insomnia, but don’t feel pressure to do anything but control your breathing and focus your mind. That’s often enough for parents struggling for higher quality sleep.
No Pose Required For Meditation
You don’t have to sit cross-legged with your palms open on your knees. You don’t even have to close your eyes. Meditation has come a long way and is easier to perform than you may imagine.
You can meditate in any position that is comfortable. Do it while resting in bed so that you can fall right to sleep afterward. Sit in your favorite chair with a breeze coming through the window. Any comfortable position will work.
You can start your meditation while pacing with your baby. There is evidence that walking meditation can ease stress even when performed just 10 minutes a day. The process is perfect for parents pacing the floor slowly to soothe a baby into sleep.
Find an area of your home that allows you to walk 10-15 steps. Start walking with a natural stride, back and forth, with no more than 15 steps in each direction. Before you turn to go back in the opposite direction, pause to take a few breaths. Those pauses can last as long as you need, so personalize the process.
While pacing, focus your mind on your breathing or on the physical process your legs are taking. If you’re holding your baby, you may even focus on their breathing or the sensation of their body against yours. Just find something to become your mental focus, and then start pushing away all intruding thoughts. Focus just on the moment.
This is a great way to start winding down for sleep along with your baby. You can make it a part of the nighttime routine so that you don’t think of putting the baby to sleep and going to sleep yourself as two separate events.
Using Apps for Guided Meditation
Some people find it easier to meditate when they’re guided through the process by a soothing voice. That is referred to as guided meditation. Many people once paid for cassette tapes or video recordings with soothing sounds and voices, but there are now some great apps that will help you learn to meditate with guidance. Some are free, while others offer more features for a paid subscription.
Some of the most popular guided meditation apps include:
- Calm – One of the best and most developed meditation apps with special features for users interested in improving quality of sleep. You can try it for seven days free, but then it costs $14.99 a month or $69.99 a year.
- Healthy Minds – Free guided meditation app that includes seated and active meditations. You can also listen to lessons on meditation if you want to grow into a healthy meditation practice.
- Insight Timer – There is a paid version of this app, but you can access thousands of guided meditations for free. There are many different meditation styles, so you will have many options to find what works for you.
All of these apps have features that you may want to play out loud while spending time with your baby. The soothing sounds will create a peaceful environment in your home, winding everyone down for a restful night of sleep.
One Proven Sleep Meditation Exercise
When you’re lying in bed and you just cannot fall asleep, there is a simple meditation strategy that can help. Get in your most comfortable sleep position, take a few deep breaths, and bring your full attention to your toes. Focus on relaxing each toe, one by one.
Then move your focus slowly up your body. Relax the bottoms of your feet, one by one. Then the tops of your feet, your ankles, your calves, and your knees. Move through your thighs, buttocks, groin, lower stomach, and ribs. As thoughts intrude, gently push them away and bring your attention back to your body.
Mentally relax each body part until you reach your head—if you make it that far. You can move back down through your body if you find it relaxing but sleep doesn’t come right away.
Can Meditation Really Help Improve Sleep?
There is no intervention that works 100% of the time for all people. That means there is no guarantee that meditation will work for you, but there is scientific evidence that exercises in mindfulness work for many people. You may struggle to get the active stream of thoughts running through your mind under control, but with consistent practice, you may find yourself drifting off to sleep much faster.
If your goal is to improve the quality of sleep or perhaps fall asleep faster, it helps to separate the ideas of mindfulness and meditation. Mindfulness is the act of focusing on the present without other elements of meditation included. You simply take care to notice the small details of life that you may otherwise overlook. You can do this all day long, and it may bring your brain to life and keep you stimulated.
Meditation involves more elements of controlled breathing and mental focus, so it goes a bit beyond simply noticing everything around you in the moment. Controlling your breathing and then focusing on that breathing brings these forms together, creating mindfulness meditation.
If you find that focusing your mind on an object around you or your present moment, in general, is too stimulating, try focusing only on your breathing. You can meditate with your eyes open, but closed eyes are often better if sleep is your goal.
Don’t Overthink It!
The best way to start meditating is to simply get into a comfortable position and start focusing on your breathing. You don’t need advanced techniques, special clothing, or complex breathing rules. Simply breathe and focus your mind. With time, it gets easier.
Meditation can help improve your quality of sleep and, in turn, your quality of life. If you’re spending more time fantasizing about your own sleep more than worrying about your little one’s sleep, it’s something worth trying.
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