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Guided imagery & sleep meditation: How visualization helps you sleep

Healthy sleep is a vital part of physical health and overall wellbeing, and maintaining a proper sleep schedule plays a very important role in a good night’s rest. 

Many of us have dealt with sleepless nights that can make next-day functioning subpar (to say the least). Luckily, there are many ways to improve your sleep habits and ward off the all-too-common things that can keep you awake, namely, stress and anxiety.

We’re talking about some tricks you can keep up your sleeve for those times when stress won’t let you out of it’s clutches. Use some of these approaches to quiet your mind, manage your stress, and help you fall asleep. 

Guided imagery and sleep meditations are exercises that can help you relax and fall asleep more efficiently. They can even lead to better quality sleep. 

How does guided imagery for sleep work?

Have you ever counted sheep to fall asleep? This is a basic example of guided imagery, and you didn’t even know that you were doing it! Guided imagery is a well-known relaxation technique that focuses your thoughts on visualization and imagination.

Guided imagery is usually initially led by a therapist or sometimes comes in the form of an audio recording. With a bit of practice, you can do guided imagery by yourself. 

Although guided imagery is used for sleep, it is also used to help adults cope with chronic pain and other health conditions. Patients suffering from anxiety, depression, cancer, stress, and pain will often use guided imagery as a way to manage their pain and distress. Children can use this tool to help them overcome fear. 

Here’s why it works. Our subconscious mind doesn’t know the difference between real or imagined thoughts. In guided imagery, we can use soothing music, inspiring words, or relaxing images to help relax our minds. Since our minds respond to what they’re attending to, repeating these thoughts will create a more tranquil mind.

Guided imagery meditation tips 

Just like with any type of mindfulness exercise, the more you practice, the better you get. Trying these techniques might feel foreign at first, but they will feel more natural over time. 

First, make sure you’re in a comfortable position. You need to be as comfortable as possible to get the full effects of any type of meditation. It’s normal for your mind to wander when you first start guided imagery, and you shouldn’t get discouraged if this happens.

Try using soothing music or silence to see if it improves the process. Most experts say that just 10 minutes of guided imagery can produce benefits in this area. 

To start guided imagery, think of a pleasant memory from your past. It doesn’t need to be a long moment, just a fond memory. Next, dig deeper into the memory. Say, for example, your fondest memory is lying on the beach last summer.

How did you feel? Were there any smells? Did you taste anything? Was there any wind? Was it warm? What else can you remember from the experience?

Try to relive this moment and enjoy every aspect of it. If you find yourself drifting away from the memory, no problem — choose a different one. It can take some time before you find a soothing memory and feel comfortable using guided imagery. 

Once you have your memory, you can start to build upon it. Focus on healing elements of your body, or totally relaxing your mind. Sleepers can imagine stress, anxiety, and insomnia leaving their bodies. The mantra of guided imagery is: If you can feel it and see it, then you can become it.

What is sleep meditation?

Guided imagery is a form of meditation you can use to quiet your mind, relieve stress, and fall asleep. While you are awake, you can use sleep meditation to focus your thoughts. There are a variety of different meditations for sleep that sleepers use to get a good night’s rest. Here are a few others to try.

Mindfulness meditation 

Unlike some other forms of meditation, mindfulness meditation doesn’t require you to empty your head of your thoughts. This can be a good option for those that struggle with clearing their mind of thoughts. 

Mindfulness meditation involves an attentive curiosity to the present moment. Instead of paying attention to your thoughts, you bring your awareness to your body, especially the rising and falling of your abdomen with each breath. If thoughts arise, simply acknowledge them and bring your awareness back to your breath.

Eventually, you can widen your awareness to your entire body and “scan” through your body with your attention. You can even take ambient sounds in the room as objects of meditation to be mindful of.

Concentration meditation 

Concentration meditation is another form of sleep meditation. In concentration meditation, you focus on a singular thought or sensation. You can focus on a physical object like a feather, or you can focus on a peaceful thought, or a persistent sensation in your body. 

The first time you try concentration meditation, you might just want to pay attention to your breathing. Take a deep breath in, feel your lungs expand, and pay attention to how your body feels. Try to keep single-pointed concentration on the sensations of breathing. 

Guided meditation 

Guided sleep meditation is a form of meditation where you follow along with an instructor. There are many apps and audio recordings that you can listen to while you fall asleep. 

These guided meditation sessions can ask you to focus on your body or peaceful thoughts. Sleepers can choose from a variety of guided meditations, so it’s easy to find one that works for you. 

Progressive relaxation is another way to quiet your mind for sleep. It’s different than meditation but accomplishes similar goals.

What is progressive muscle relaxation?

Progressive muscle relaxation is a type of relaxation that has been used to relieve insomnia, as well as controlling stress and anxiety. Progressive relaxation was developed in the 1930’s and centers on mental calmness. Doctors recommend PMR for high blood pressure, headaches, cancer pain, and more. 

Anyone has the ability to learn progressive muscle relaxation, and you only need 10 to 20 minutes a day to do it. You start by inhaling and tensing an area of your body. You could start with your thighs. You tense for five to 10 seconds and then release them. Relax for 10 to 20 seconds and you move to the next muscle group. If you start at your thighs, then moving to your buttocks would be the next step. 

When you release the tension, you focus on the changes in your body. You can even include guided imagery in this process. Imagine that stress and pain are leaving your body like arrows. You will work your way around your entire body. 

Those that suffer from insomnia have seen improvement in their sleep through progressive muscle relaxation. Over time, you will be able to recognize areas of stress in your body and alleviate this tension. 

What is a relaxation script?

You can use a relaxation script to assist you in your guided imagery. There are many free scripts available online that you can reference. Practice a script that you like, and when you’re ready you can record it.

Start by reading your script in a slow and calm voice. You might find that it is easier for you to relax to your own voice, versus listening to someone else. You should take frequent pauses, because it is human nature to want to read through things quickly. 

When reading your relaxation script, really concentrate on what you’re saying. You can play soothing music in the background. You should do whatever makes you feel relaxed.

When you’re going to bed you can replay your guided imagery audio to get restful sleep. Stress is a common factor in everyday life, and guided imagery can be a highly successful stress management tool. 

What is deep relaxation?

Deep relaxation is a technique that is known to treat insomnia and other sleep problems. This technique can provide better sleep quality, increase the amount of sleep you get, and it makes it easier for you to stay asleep. This is one of the easiest relaxation techniques. 

All you need to do is lie down, breathe slowly, and focus on the sensations of breathing. You don’t need to follow any type of script or instructor. If you find your mind wandering, just focus back on your breathing.

You can start practicing deep relaxation at five minutes at a time. Once you’re comfortable with the technique, you can increase the duration.

Can breathing exercises help my sleep? 

Yes. There are several breathing exercises that will help you sleep better. Remember, closing your eyes and having a dark environment is also essential to relaxing and preparing your body for sleep.

Here are a couple different methods.

4-7-8 Breathing

Exhale normally, then press your lips together and inhale through your nose for four seconds. Hold your breath for seven, then exhale for eight seconds. Repeat this process four times. Try this for 8 full breath cycles.

Just like many of the above exercises, 4-7-8 breathing helps take your mind off daily stresses or 

anxiety you might be feeling and forces you to pay attention to the slow rhythm and method of your breathing.

Bhramari Pranayama

As the name suggests, this is a type of breathing technique for yoga. Breathe in and out while covering your eyes with your hands. Place your index fingers on a spot over your eyebrows.

Use the sides of your hands to apply pressure to your nose. Exhale through your nose and say “Om”. Repeat this five times.

These are some of the most popular breathing exercises you can try when you’re in bed. If you have trouble falling asleep, guided imagery can be the solution. Use this technique to fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer, and you’ll enjoy better quality sleep.  

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