A common question I hear every now and then is: Can I meditate in bed?
The short answer is, yes! You can meditate in bed. In fact, you should.
I do. And there are real benefits related to both the quality of your sleep as well as how you wake the following morning.
In this article, I detail those benefits, how to meditate into sleep, and the things to avoid so that meditating in bed becomes something you benefit from and enjoy.
The Benefits of Meditating in Bed
The reason I meditate in bed is to increase the quality of my sleep, as well as increase the quality of wakefulness the following morning.
You will sleep better in the initial deep-sleep phase of the night and increase the amount of REM sleep you get each night as a result of what I will show you in this article.
But to fully appreciate the benefits of meditating in bed and how this works from a neurophysiological perspective, you first need to understand how your physiology regulates the waking and sleeping states.
Autonomic Nervous System
The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is a control system that acts mostly unconsciously and regulates bodily functions, such as the heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, pupillary response, urination, and sexual arousal, as well as the system that is the primary mechanism in control of the fight-or-flight response. 1
The ANS is further divided into the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS). The SNS controls the fight or flight response, while the PSNS regulates the rest and digest response.
You can see from this division that one is related to wakefulness and states of increased alertness, and the other rest.
It is also worth noting that it is possible to get stuck in one or the other of the ANS. Stress, for instance, will likely place your ANS towards an SNS state of alertness.
Until recently, science believed the ANS was more or less a closed-system locked off from conscious control.
But the wisdom traditions of India and Tibet have methods for manipulating the subtle nervous system and have practiced these methods to increase health for well over a thousand years at this point.
Manipulating the ANS is done through special breathing techniques and focusing on certain areas of one’s physiology to manipulate the subtle energies throughout the body.
By regulating how you breathe, you can manipulate your ANS and place it into either an alert waking state or a restful state.
Learning to breathe in specific ways can increase the quality of your sleep by increasing the activity of the PSNS.
As with sleep, so too with waking. We can, through breathing in specific ways, increase our wakefulness by increasing the activity of the SNS.
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How to Meditate in Bed
Now I will show you the best way to meditate in bed as you go to sleep and as you wake the following morning. Both are important and couple together to create a healthy 24-hour cycle of restfulness and wakefulness.
The first part of this is to understand your posture.
The Supine Position
The supine position is where you lay on your back with your hands out to the sides of your body. The palms of your hands facing up, and your feet together without touching. Place a pillow under your neck for support.
Supine is the best position for non-sleep-deep-relaxation, a practice that correlates to the process of neuroplasticity.
If having your palms up causes any pain in your shoulders, do not ignore the pain. Just turn your palm in the opposite position to release the tension in your shoulders.
Autonomic Nervous Systems Check
Next, we want to check to know which branch of the ANS is dominating. We do this by closing off one nostril and breathing in and out through ONLY the other nostril. Then do the same in the opposite direction.
If one side is more blocked than the other, we know which of the branches is dominating. The left nostril correlates to the PSNS, the right with the SNS.
So if your left nostril is blocked, then we know your ANS is biased towards the SNS. And if your right nostril is more blocked than the left, then your PSNS is more active.
Once we do this systems-check, we can then balance out the ANS.
Meditating in Bed at Night
Before you sleep, you can place yourself into a parasympathetic state by regulating your breathing.
There are several ways to do this. One is to block your right nostril and breathe in through the left. This is fine to start with, but you will find it challenging to go into deep meditation with this method.
The method I suggest is to breathe in and down into your diaphragm through both nostrils while counting slowly to five. Then breathe out to the count of ten at the same rate as the in-breath.
The number is arbitrary; the point is to breathe out at half the rate, taking twice as long as the in-breath.
To enhance your meditation, imagine as you breathe out that you also breathe out any tension in your body.
Do this for at least three minutes. Then do a systems check.
Repeat as necessary.
Meditating in Bed in the Morning
As you wake and become conscious, the first thing you want to do is move into the supine position and begin breathing naturally.
Do not do a systems-check at this point.
Simply breathe naturally and become mindful of any dreams that may have occurred overnight. Do not move into analyzing anything at this point. But if you did dream, simply recall and replay the dream for analysis later.
Now, as you lay there, try to notice any breathing bias without moving. Is one nostril more blocked than the other?
(Simply take note of this, and over time you will begin to see patterns in your sleeping and waking states.)
Continue to breathe naturally as you become more conscious, and then when you are ready to get up, roll over and sit on the edge of your bed.
Then, place a finger over and close your left nostril and breathe in and down into your belly. While holding the breath, move your finger to close off the right nostril and breathe out sharply.
Repeat this three times.
Next, place a finger over and close your right nostril and breathe in and down into your belly. While holding the breath, move your finger to shut off the left nostril and breathe out sharply.
Repeat this three times.
Finally, breathe out through both nostrils at the same time with short, sharp, snorting breaths.
But, and this is vital, let the in-breath come naturally without sucking any air back in. Simply let the diaphragm do the work for you.
Do this three times quickly and then breathe naturally and go about your day.
The Pitfalls to Avoid While Meditating in Bed
When you meditate in bed, there is the chance you will fall asleep due to your habitual association of the two—bed and sleep.
Because it is so natural to fall asleep upon going to bed, not doing so immediately is something you will need to practice, particularly if you wish to learn how to meditate into sleep and practice dream yoga.2
To gain the benefits of meditation before sleep, you need to remain awake and aware as you relax more deeply, moving from beta, through alpha, to theta and delta brain states.
But more importantly than this, if you unconsciously fall asleep while in the supine position, there is the potential for sleep apnea to increase, and therefore decrease the quality of your sleep.
It is, therefore, crucial you do not create the habit of falling asleep as you meditate in the supine position. You can avoid this by rolling out of the supine position once you are ready to go to sleep.
So the answer to the question, can I meditate in bed? Is yes and you should!
What to do Next
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Photo by Kinga Cichewicz