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A Sleep Psychologist On The One Place You Shouldn't Meditate Before Bed

Emma Loewe
April 8, 2022
Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director
By Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director
Emma Loewe is the Senior Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of "Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us."
woman meditating
Image by RyanJLane / Getty
April 8, 2022
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Not falling asleep as quickly as you'd like? These days, there are plenty of guided meditations that promise to help out with that. But while meditating right before bed works for some people, psychologist and behavioral sleep medicine specialist Shelby Harris, PsyD, DBSM, has found that it isn't for everyone—and can actually rev up your brain even more in some cases.

Instead, the author of The Women's Guide to Overcoming Insomnia offers her oh-so-doable advice on when and how to meditate if better sleep is your priority.

The best time to meditate for better sleep.

If guided bedtime meditations haven't worked for you in the past, Harris has a few ideas as to why. For starters, many of them are done via smartphone, and any sleep specialist will tell you that clutching your cell before bed is a big no-no. It can make it too tempting to scroll through ultra-stimulating social media feeds and news articles, and all that blue light isn't so great for your circadian rhythm health.

Instead, Harris recommends meditating during the day or earlier in the evening—not in the lead-up to bedtime.

And if the thought of fitting yet another thing into your jam-packed days is too much, the good news is that your sessions can be short and sweet and still help out with sleep.

"I always think of meditation as a muscle that's getting strengthened," Harris says on a call with mbg. Slowly but surely, with time, you can build up your strength enough so that when the moment comes you need to do that heavy lifting, you're prepared. The same goes for sleep: If you can practice monitoring your mind every day, it'll become a lot easier to do it at night, when restless thoughts start to creep in.

"If you're someone who has that busy puppy-dog kind of brain," she explains, "the goal is that when you're stronger from your meditation practice during the day, you're going to get better at saying, 'let it go.'"

She recommends starting with just one minute a day. Find something to focus your attention on, and simply observe. Every time your mind starts to chime in with distracting thoughts (which it inevitably will!), gently come back to the object. Then, by the time night rolls around and you start thinking about everything except sleep, you'll already have plenty of practice coming back to the task at hand.

Her sleep-friendly meditation routine.

Ready for an example of what this looks like in practice? Here's Harris's daily meditation routine: After working out in the mornings, she'll tack a quick meditation onto her shower time. She'll sit in front of the big windows in her bathroom and simply look outside to watch the world wake up.

She'll spend the next one to three minutes taking in the details of the trees in her yard swaying, the weather brewing, the leaves changing. Every time her brain kicks in to judge what she's seeing ("It's snowing—I hope the roads aren't too bad," "It's much greener than it was this time last year—global warming?"), she'll reel it back in and continue just observing.

In addition to making it easier to quiet racing thoughts at night, Harris says this routine "refocuses me so that I can start the day... It's also just a nice reset every morning."

Peek around your space to see if you have a window that could serve a similar purpose. Bonus: This mindful activity can also help you become more aware of and connected to your nearby nature, which can only be a good thing.

The bottom line.

If meditating before bed is too mentally stimulating for you, push your practice to earlier in the day and see if it helps your sleep at all. Observing thoughts and letting them pass is an essential skill to practice anytime, and one that'll inevitably pay off on those nights when you run out of sheep to count.

Emma Loewe author page.
Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director

Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.

Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.