With all the stress, worry, and concern caregivers go through during the day, it can be hard to fall asleep at night. The majority (77%) of veterans' caregivers cite sleep deprivation as an issue. Its also been proven that dementia caregivers experience shorter and poorer-quality sleep than their non-caregiver counterparts.
Like eating healthfully and exercising, sleep is critical to overall health, yet over a third of Americans aren't getting enough zzz's. According to the Sleep Foundation, when sleep is cut short, "the body doesn't have time to complete all of the phases needed for muscle repair, memory consolidation, and release of hormones regulating growth and appetite."
Adults require a minimum of seven hours of sleep a night. Any less and the CDC says you're increasing your "risk of developing chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and frequent mental distress." Additionally, not sleeping enough can lead to car wrecks and mistakes at work.
Our bodies crave consistency. Having a bedtime routine and regular sleep schedule--where you rise and go to bed around the same time every day--is part of good sleep hygiene. If you have lunch around noon daily, your tummy starts grumbling around the time you've conditioned it to eat. The same daily rhythm concept applies to sleep. A regular bedtime signals to your body that its time to relax and get sleepy. As such, turning on a bedtime meditation is like Pavlov's bell, signaling to the body that its time for some shut-eye.
A growing body of evidence suggests that mindful awareness practices such as meditation can remedy sleep problems and treat insomnia. We'll take meditation of medication any day, but improved sleep is just one of this mind and body practice's many benefits. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), meditation is historically used to increase calmness and physical relaxation, improve psychological balance, cope with illness, and enhance overall health and well-being.
Guided sleep meditation is one of many types of meditation, which all focus on interactions among the brain, mind, body, and behavior and incorporate these four elements (as per the NCCIH):
Meditation for sleep usually includes breathing exercises and mindfully scanning the body to relax tension. It may also include visualization and gratitude practices, counting, and silence. Generally, a soothing-sounding narrator guides you into this practice with relaxing music playing in the background to help calm your thoughts.
We've rounded up the top three guided meditations to help you relax for a restful night's sleep below.
Keep in mind that YouTube automatically keeps playing videos, so you'll want to set a timer on your device to shut down once the practice is over. However, if you find a meditation on YouTube that you like, it is likely available for download in MP3 format.
The Honest Guys have a whole channel dedicated to guided relaxation meditations to help you drift off to sleep and post new videos on Tuesdays. These guys have a whopping 930,000 subscribers, so they must be doing something right! Both Life Hack and Daily Caring recommend this relatively short Blissful Deep Relaxation video that's been viewed over 16 million times, so it's a good jumping-off point. The soft music provides a background for waves lapping against the shore, which kind of mimic white noise. A soothing narrator will "gently ease you into a state of blissfully deep relaxation" for about eight minutes, then the last couple minutes are just the relaxing sounds. If you like The Honest Guys' style, try their ~30min Guided Sleep Meditation Talkdown - Insomnia - Relaxation.
Sleep Easy Relax - Keith Smith's channel has 428,000 well-rested subscribers. This meditation for healing, insomnia, and relaxing sleep is just short of 45 minutes and is approaching 10 million views. Aussie Jason Stephenson softly guides the 30-minute spoken portion of the meditation, while composer and producer Jordan Jessep provides the ambient new-age-y soundtrack, reminiscent of an acapella choir singing in a church that has amazing acoustics.
We like how Stephenson refers to the brain as "your personal assistant, reminding you of appointments, keeping you on track, and sometimes even giving you a scolding" and invites us to give our personal assistant a break. This "sleep talk down" includes a full-body scan, where you are instructed to tense up and release your muscles one by one from head-to-toe. This video also includes a gratitude exercise at about the 17-minute mark, then moves on to a visualization that's akin to a dream-like state. It promises to be "ideal for insomnia and restless sleepers who wake up in the middle of the night." If you like this video, you can find it under the artist Sleep Ezy Tonight on iTunes or Spotify. And if you dig Stephenson's Australian accent, check out his hour-long galactic voyage, Floating Among the Stars.
Sanskrit for "yogic sleep," yoga nidra is the "state of consciousness between waking and sleeping." A yoga practice that requires no movement at all? Sign us up! This hour-long guided meditation is by Tripura Mandala of Tripura Yoga, the Tantric School of Yogic Arts and Sciences. First, it brings your awareness to the sounds around you, then to each individual body part, (even the neglected ones like the back of your hand), and we're not sure what happens after that since it really does help you "fall asleep fast and reliably" as promised.
Headspace has a whole app dedicated to meditation. Try this bite-sized one-minute exercise for a taste. Calm has been rated the #1 app for Sleep, Meditation, and Relaxation. Both Headspace and Calm are paid subscriptions but offer free trials.
You can also find guided sleep meditations on Spotify or wherever you stream. And remember, you don't have to be in bed to meditate. Check out our articles on mindful meditation and meditation for caregiver stress to bring this helpful mind-body practice to the rest of your day.