Often the key lies in calming down your racing thoughts, which can be tricky. But the good news is that one of the best tools for doing this is totally free: meditation. Don’t switch off just yet – while there’s an image many of us have in mind of meditation as sitting cross-legged and chanting ‘om’, with your thoughts instantly cleared, the truth is that there are easier, more approachable techniques that everyone can try.
“Meditation can be a helpful tool, as it can help to relax the mind and body and reduce stress and anxiety,” explains Sophie Elliott, a wellbeing and Reiki expert and the founder of Present Beings. “Meditation improves sleep, increases energy and brings clarity. Mental and physical health become more balanced, and self-confidence grows.
“Remember to keep your meditation practice simple and don’t worry if your mind wanders. The goal is not to clear your mind completely, but rather to create a sense of calm and relaxation that will help you fall asleep.”
Ready to give meditation a go? Sophie talks us through some simple sleep-boosting techniques ahead.
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“Sit comfortably in bed, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths,” Elliott advises. “As you inhale, pay attention to the sensation of the air entering your body. As you exhale, notice the sensation of the air leaving your body.
“Allow your mind to become still and quiet. If thoughts arise, acknowledge them but try not to get caught up in them. Instead, gently redirect your attention back to your breath.”
It can help to count the length of your breaths – try box breathing, where you inhale for a count of four, hold for a count of four, then exhale for a count of four. Or you might find a visualisation linked to your breath suits you better, such as imagining each deep breath as a wave on the shore, coming in, then drawing back out.
The body scan
This is a tool you can use every time you get into bed so that soon enough, the act itself signals to your brain that it’s time to snooze.
Elliott explains: “Lie down and focus on each part of your body. Begin by relaxing your body, face and jaw. Scan your body: where are you holding tension? Where can you release any tension?
“Relax your shoulders and take some deep breaths. Now bring your awareness moving down to your toes, feel into each body part and tap into any sensations that may come up. Slowly work your way up to the top of your head. Allow your mind to become still and quiet.
“If thoughts arise, acknowledge them but try not to get caught up in them. Instead, gently redirect your attention back to your body scan. As you focus on each body part, take a few deep breaths and try to release any tension or discomfort that you may be feeling.”
“Loving-kindness meditation is a special type of Buddhist meditation that aims to cultivate unconditional kind attitudes towards oneself and others,” Elliott tells Stylist. “As you lie in bed, silently repeat phrases of loving-kindness to yourself, such as: ‘May I be healthy, may I be loving, may I be at peace.’ You can also extend these phrases to others, such as: ‘May all beings be happy, may all beings be healthy, may all beings be at peace.’
“Imagine yourself experiencing complete physical and emotional wellness and inner peace, as you embody the positive words you are putting out to the universe.”
When you’re just starting out with mindfulness and meditation, it can be useful to have a guide playing in your ear. Have a search for apps, YouTube videos and podcasts to see which one works best for you – there are loads available and they’re super helpful for anyone who lies down to meditate and thinks ‘now what?’.
“Guided meditation helps calm the monkey mind if your head is overactive and you need clear direction,” Elliott agrees. “If you are just starting out with meditation, mindfulness meditation is a very good place to start. With mindfulness, it teaches the mind to remain stable and present, regardless of distractions that arise around us or within. Beginner mindfulness meditation often uses the breath as an anchor to which we tie our focus.”
“Mantra meditation is a form of meditation that involves the repetition of a mantra, which is a word or phrase that is repeated over and over again,” Elliott tells us. “The mantra is typically chosen based on its spiritual or cultural significance, and it is believed to have the power to focus the mind and bring about a sense of inner peace and clarity.
“Begin by repeating the mantra in your mind or out loud, focusing your attention on the sound of the mantra and letting go of any other thoughts or distractions. You can also try using a string of beads that can be used to count the repetition of the mantra.
“Some people find it helpful to set a specific amount of time for their mantra meditation practice, such as 20 minutes to 40 minutes. You could try repeating the mantra for a certain number of times or until you feel a sense of calm and clarity. It is important to be patient and not to worry about achieving a particular state of mind or reaching a specific goal. The goal of mantra meditation is to be present in the moment and to cultivate a sense of inner peace and wellbeing by letting go of a specific outcome.”
It’s key to find a mantra that really resonates with you, but if you’re in need of some inspiration, here are a few ideas:
- I choose calm
- I am getting stronger every day
- All I can do is my best
- I am on the right path
- I am calm and in control
- This too shall pass
- I am free
- I am worthy
Don’t beat yourself up if one of these techniques just doesn’t feel quite right. Everyone is different, and what feels great for one person will be uncomfortable for another.
“It’s important to find a meditation technique that works for you and to be patient with yourself as you practice,” Elliott notes. “It may take some time and effort to see results, but with regular practice, meditation can be a helpful tool for improving your sleep and finding more inner peace.”