The best sleep guided meditations for drifting off at night

Struggling to nod off? These sleep guided meditations will have you snoozing in no time...

woman wearing eye mask in bed
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Sleep guided meditations are designed to help you prepare your body and mind for a blissful night’s rest. 

As a mindfulness meditation practitioner, I’ve seen first hand how guided meditations have transformed my client’s sleep - not only helping them fall asleep faster, but also boosting the quality of their sleep and how long they stay asleep during the night. 

Like the best sleep aids, guided meditations are there to support your sleep but there are so many other factors that impact the quality of our rest and should also be considered, from our exercise to diet, and even our bedroom set-up. 

To help you discover the best sleep guided meditations to add to your night-time routine, we’ve got everything from sleep stories to breathing exercises and affirmation meditations. Plus, experts share how sleep guided meditations actually work.  

How do sleep guided meditations work?

Unlike some meditation practices and breathing exercises which may be created to boost your energy or slow a chattering mind, sleep guided meditations are specifically designed to help you nod off. 

Meditation encourages us relax by igniting the body’s rest and digest response in the parasympathetic nervous system. This is a direct neutralizer to the adrenaline-filled, fight-or-flight state. Sleep guided meditations do this through breathing techniques and visualization exercises that lower our heart rate and breathing rate, reduce our blood pressure and boost the production of the sleep hormone melatonin.

Stress and anxiety often stop us from falling asleep at night so sleep guided meditations encourage us to let go of the stress of the day to allow our body and our mind to relax.

It's not always easy and it's important to be kind to yourself in the process, says director of meditation at Headspace Eve Lewis Prieto, as it can feel tricky at the beginning. "The more you take the time to train the mind to be more present, more aware, more compassionate the more that is going to show up in your daily life," Prieto says.

One study from the University of California suggests that it's certainly worth it as sleep problems in older adults often go untreated, but mindfulness techniques like meditation can improve sleep quality and help you learn how to sleep better in the long term. 

However, it’s important to note that the secret to a good night’s sleep really comes down to determining the best time to sleep and wake up for you, combined with a healthy sleep schedule, good sleep hygiene and activities that help you relax and rest before bed.

Guided meditations for deep sleep

There are so many different techniques out there if you're wondering how to relax your mind at night. Here we share our top nine sleep-guided meditations and apps to use alongside your pick of the best sleep aids. The land of nod is just moments away… 

1. Mental Chatter Meditation by Headspace

For those nights you just can't stop your mind racing (or if you wake up after one of the most common nightmares), this sleep guided meditation should be your go-to. Using the analogy of a rollercoaster, the 10-minute meditation by Headspace gently encourages you to step back from your thoughts and observe them, allowing them to come and go, rather than focusing on them, worrying about them or getting frustrated by them. The practice will help you quieten your mind, lower your heart rate, slow your breathing rate, relax your body and get you ready for sleep. 

2. 10 Minute Guided Meditation For Sleep & Relaxation by Boho Beautiful Yoga

Poor sleep hygiene is one of the most common reasons why many of us struggle to fall asleep at night. If you don't allow yourself time in the evening to prep for bed, you're likely to have trouble getting to sleep and may find it difficult to stay asleep. Incorporating this 10-minute guided meditation, with ultra-soothing rain sounds, into your routine will have you nodding off in no time. Allow your body and mind to relax as the calming music takes you into a space that welcomes in deep sleep. This + a bedtime yoga practice = a dream combo for pre-sleep relaxation. 

3. Rainday Antiques Sleepcast by Headspace

Headspace's Sleepcasts are like bedtime stories for adults. In Rainday Antiques, using sound and visualization meditation techniques, you'll be guided through a cozy antique shop while the rain patters outside and lulls you to sleep. This is one of my favorite Sleepcasts to listen to when sleepless nights strike. It’s comforting and relaxing. The 10-minute sleep guided meditation is available for free on YouTube or you can access the 45-minute version on the Headspace app. 

4. Guided Meditation For Before Sleep by Great Meditation

Sink into your mattress and unwind with this sleep guided meditation that's been created for you to do in bed or just before your head hits the pillow. To fully reap the benefits of meditation, you'd usually have to sit in a comfortable alert position and stay fully awake throughout the practice. But, the beauty of sleep guided meditations is that you can allow yourself to nod off mid-practice if it feels right, and this 10-minute meditation is perfect for doing just that. 

5. Stephen Fry's Blue Gold Sleep Story by Calm

Calm's Sleep Stories tell tales, combining words, music and sound effects to create a dreamy visualization that will help you drift off at night. Narrated by Stephen Fry, Blue Gold is a 24-minute sleep guided meditation. This soothing practice takes you through the sleepy villages and lavender fields of the South of France. Another one of my favorite tracks to fall asleep to. 

6. Positive Affirmation Meditation For Sleep by Bob Baker

Ending your day with positive affirmations is not only great for helping you fall asleep, but it's great for your overall wellbeing too. Research from the University of Pennsylvania shows positive affirmation can improve a person's sense of self and overall health. Falling asleep to affirmations like "all is well in my world" and "everything is working out for my highest self" will help put you in a positive mindset, let go of the challenges of your day and relax your body and mind for good quality, deep sleep. 

7. Insight Timer

According to Insight Timer, it’s the number 1 free meditation app for sleep and it’s not hard to see why. With over 100k guided meditations led by the likes of Sarah Blondin, Russell Brand and Tara Brach, it features everything from sleep stories to 60+ minute guided meditations and yoga nidra practices. Sarah Blondin’s eight minute Learning To Surrender Meditation is a must-listen at the end of a challenging day, and this 15-minute Deep Sleep Guided Meditation from John Siddique was created for you to do in bed and uses elements of yoga nidra and body scan awareness practices to relax the body and mind. 

8. The Honest Guys

The Honest Guys create beautiful, guided meditations for sleep and practices for meditation before sleep. Available for free on YouTube, these practices combine soothing music with visualizations that gently guide you into a state of relaxation so you can effortlessly nod off. If you find having a video playing distracting (or are trying to avoid blue-light before bed), this Guided Deep Sleep Story With Rain Sounds is for you. It has a dark screen, so won't light up your room as you try relax and combines guided visualization with the soothing sound of rain.

The duo also create guided sleep stories that can be streamed on YouTube 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 

9. Alo Moves

From the team behind luxe activewear brand Alo Yoga, Alo Moves is not only one of the best yoga apps, but it’s also one of my go-to destinations for sleep guided meditations. Led by some of the best mindfulness practitioners in the world, you’ll find guided visualization meditations, breathwork, yoga nidra and sound practices that will lull you to sleep. Alo Moves also offers beginner-friendly sleep meditation courses that will help you identify any blocks stopping you from winding down, and help you discover restorative techniques that will have you nodding off in minutes each night. 

How to go back to sleep after a nightmare

  • Try not to stress: “It’s important not to get stuck in a cycle of feeling panicked about sleeping, as this will just make it harder,” says Jessica Sepel, clinical nutritionist, and bestselling health author who is also the founder of JSHealth. Instead, try to accept your situation without judgement and focus on what you can control - your reaction to your nightmares and what you do next to help you get back to sleep.
  • Get out of bed and do a gentle activity: “Nightmares can be distressing and even trigger our body’s fight or flight response which can make getting back to sleep difficult,” explains sleep scientist Theresa Schnorbach. “Do something that helps to calm you back down and settle your body ready for rest," Schnorbach, who is also an expert at Emma - The Sleep Company, adds. Try reading a book, journaling, stretching or breathwork. 
  • Meditate to relax: A breathing exercise or guided visualization will help to take you from that fight or flight state to the rest and digest state we’re in when we sleep. Take a few moments to breathe deeply and practice a body scan meditation to help you relax once again. 

Is guided meditation good for sleep? 

There are so many benefits of meditation, from improving focus to boosting feelings of joy and broadening our awareness. Meditation also mimics those early stages of sleep and helps to prepare the body to nod off by igniting the rest and digest response. 

Thanks to the physiological reaction that happens when we meditate, there’s an increase in the concentration of the sleep hormone melatonin that allows us to relax.  “Conversely, chemicals associated with stress such as adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol are reduced,”  explains Schnorbach. This also helps our body to stay asleep throughout the night too. (Wondering how many hours you should be in the land of nod? This is how much sleep people 38 and over really need). 

Schnorbach notes that if you’re listening to sleep guided meditations using a phone or laptop, you should be aware of the effect these devices can have on sleep.

“I would recommend turning down the volume and switching off any alerts as well as setting screens to ‘night mode’ so that the brightness does not impact negatively on your body’s ability to settle itself ready for sleep,” she explains. 

However, there are other factors that contribute to the amount and quality of our sleep and how quickly we nod off at night, from our exercise routines and diet, to our stress levels. If you are struggling with insomnia, speak with your doctor for further advice. 

Ciara McGinley

Ciara McGinley is a meditation practitioner and health journalist. She qualified as a meditation teacher with the British School of Meditation in 2020 and is the founder of Finding Quiet, a series of classes, workshops and retreats that combine meditation practices and mindfulness techniques to make mindful living realistic in an always-switched-on modern world. She is all about bettering that mind-body connection but believes wellness looks different to everyone.

Ciara is also the former Health Channel Editor at woman&home and has covered all things health and wellbeing for years, from fitness to sleep to relationships.