Back in the day when I was in elementary school, my friends and I practiced guided meditation for sleep and didn’t even know it.
We practiced it when we had sleepovers, only we called it “hypnotizing”.
After games and dancing and a TV binge, we’d go down in the basement with our sleeping bags and pillows. The host parents would warn us that even though it wasn’t a “school night” we still had to get up in the morning so no staying up too late talking!
As if that ever worked.
There’d be about twenty minutes of giggling. Jokes, a list of boys or bands with boys we had crushes on. Then someone would say “Let’s get hypnotized!”
The “hypnotizing” involved telling a calming story. “You’re lying on a beach. You feel the sun warming you and hear gentle waves on the shore. You feel so relaxed and sink into the sand.”
Sound familiar? It’s very close to a guided meditation for sleep or to relieve stress.
I was always the designated “hypnotizer”. My friends thought my stories and tone of voice worked. It was a lonely job. Everyone fell asleep leaving me the last one awake.
The thing of it is, I’ve been practicing guided meditation for sleep since I was ten!
Meditation of any sort works for sleep. This article in Psychology Today covers the reasons meditation is effective for longevity, blood pressure regulation, pain management and sleep.
Study after study support meditation is effective for total wellbeing, including sleep. Sleep time, wake time, sleep efficiency and deeper quality sleep, even the hormone melatonin all increase and improve with regular meditation.
There are several choices for those seeking a meditation practice that helps with sleep.
Mindfulness meditation frequently comes up as an all-purpose practice that helps with sleep, regulating emotions, and health maintenance.
David Black, Ph.D., director of the American Mindfulness Research Association, explains:
“Mindfulness practice is recognized by the National Institutes of Health and is considered an integrative health approach rather than an alternative approach.”
Which means, meditation isn’t just for cosmic questers anymore. Meditation is now incorporated into mainstream medical care.
Children can engage in mindfulness meditation, in fact there are several books for young readers and, of course, educators of young children.
At bedtime, though, nothing works quite like a good guided meditation. Guided meditations extend the bedtime story, incorporating affirmations, mindfulness in the form of body scanning, into a story.
But why does guided meditation work for sleep? Why did all those ten-year-old girls fall asleep when they heard a “hypnotism” story?
Our brains cannot really distinguish the difference between real and imaginary events.
Harnessing the power of our thoughts has been integral for performance psychology for decades now. It follows that if we can imagine excellence for achievement, it follows that having someone guide us to peaceful, safe, and pleasant environments will work for sleep.
Guided meditation supports reprogramming your mind – creating new and stronger neural pathways – through direct access to the unconscious. That part of the mind that steps back during waking hours but is beckoned forward for restorative sleep.
Guided meditation works for kids’ sleep because of the story involved. And kids love stories. It’s true that children can practice mindfulness with positive results, but at bedtime, you can continue the story.
A plus of getting in the guided meditation for sleep habit is…the practice becomes a habit. We wash up, get in our pajamas, have a story time with a parent or caregiver, and if there’s a bit of anxiety before surrendering to sleep, a guided meditation can be a healthy tool for children.
Habits formed during early years are the ones that last a lifetime.
While there are many excellent free guided meditations for kids and sleep available on line, there is a caveat for parents:
It involves bringing an electronic device in the form of a smartphone or tablet into the bedroom. Tempting, but don’t do it.
Set up healthy digital boundaries for a good night’s sleep: Shut off electronics for at least an hour before “lights out” and keep electronics out of bedrooms.
So, what’s a parent to do?
You can use a blue tooth speaker in the bedroom and keep the phone, tablet, or laptop in another room.
You can also download the Put the Day to Bed guided meditation for kids here. It comes with an illustrated printable booklet. That way parents and caregivers can go through the story and mindfulness practice in their own time.
It is empowering for a child to connect with a caring adult at bedtime. The exchange of communication will anchor in a better habit for years to come.