Try These Sleep Affirmations to Score Some Serious Shut-eye
Sleep can often be hard to come by. But during a perpetual pandemic mixed with cultural unrest, scoring sufficient shut-eye has become something of a pipe dream to many. So, if you can't remember the last time you woke up feeling well-rested, you can take solace in the fact that you're not alone — and that you're not necessarily stuck suffering through slumber-less nights forever. But if you've cut caffeine, tried meditating, even followed a snooze-specific yoga flow, and tons of tabs still seem to pop up in your mind the minute you hit the hay, you might be ready to wave the white flag.
Don't give up. Instead, consider another option you likely haven't tried yet: sleep affirmations or mantras.
What Is a Mantra or Affirmation?
A mantra is a word or phrase that's "thought about, spoken, or repeated as a form of meditation," says Tara Swart, Ph.D., neuroscientist and author of The Source. "It's used to over-write recurring negative thoughts and underlying beliefs that hold you back from reaching your full potential, and to boost confidence or calm you." (Related: 10 Mantras Mindfulness Experts Live By)
While historically they're chanted in Sanskrit, mantras today often take on a westernized form of "I am" affirmations. These "I am" statements — in theory — allow the person saying or thinking them to "step" into a new mindset, owning a new state of being. "I am serene." "I am relaxed," etc. You're affirming that mindset or intention to yourself with a statement.
And science backs this up. A 2020 study found that self-affirmations may help to decrease feelings of powerlessness and increase self-competence (think: if you believe you'll be able to sleep, you're more likely to do it). What's more, research also shows chanting mantras can quiet the area of the brain responsible for self-evaluation and wandering as well as improve mood (de-stress, reduce anxiety) and quality of sleep.
How to Use a Mantra or Affirmation for Sleep
How you "use" the mantra or affirmation is up to you — there's no right or wrong way to do this. You can repeat or "chant" a mantra in a traditional, spiritual style, which typically involves focusing on the "vibrational quality" of the words (which, again, are usually in Sanskrit), explains Janine Martins, a yoga teacher and energy healer. Mala beads are commonly used with mantra meditation; as you touch each bead, you repeat a statement, says Martins. "You could also meditate on the words of the mantra — inhale (think "I am peaceful") and exhale (think "and grounded")."
You can also repeat an affirmation in your head while you're, say, brushing your teeth or write it a mantra down in a journal before you shut off the lights. Just be sure to focus on the words (what they look like, sound like, and their message) to train your mind to believe them and on your breath to allow any other distractions to dissipate. (Related: How Using a Running Mantra Can Help You Hit a PR)
And need not forget, "repetition is key," says Martins. "The conscious act of repetition [helps to] create changes in our subconscious mind." While it might be difficult to stay present with the experience initially, "like most things, it's a practice," she notes.
So, How Do Mantras or Affirmations Help You Sleep?
The secret to catching some Zzz's? Getting into a meditative mindset — something that's achievable through repeating a mantra. Focusing on one sound, one word, or one statement allows for one point of focus, silencing the noise in the rest of your brain, which can help to ease anxiety and allow your body to slip into a calmer snooze-worthy state.
"It is quite common to experience increased anxiety later in the evening when we attempt to fall asleep," says Michael G. Wetter, Psy.D., director of psychology at UCLA Medical Center, Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine, Medical Stabilization Program. "Psychologically speaking, this period of time is referred to as a state of mental hyperarousal."
In other words, if you've spent the last few nights struggling to sleep thanks to the stress of, vaccine distribution, for example, you can start to get into a vicious cycle of not being able to sleep and strengthen this difficulty sleeping through anxiously ruminating about whether or not you'll be able to sleep, adds Swart. "The mantra can be used to replace the negative thoughts, calm the body and mind generally, and actually to induce sleep." (Related: How and Why the Coronavirus Pandemic Is Messing with Your Sleep)
Sleep affirmations or mantras can help you shift away from repetitive worry or rumination. "The key is to remember that the time you're trying to fall asleep is not the time to try and resolve your various problems, conflicts, or stressors," explains Wetter. "It is the time to allow your mind to rest so that when you wake, you are able to tackle those issues more effectively."
So, consider the practice of repeating positive statements as your gateway to the elusive meditative mindset, in which you can close the metaphorical tabs of your brain. By focusing your mind on the sleep affirmation statement, the sound, and the repetition, you're able to still your thoughts as well as strengthen the muscle that brings a buzzing brain back to the present moment, says Alex Dimitriu, M.D., double board-certified doctor of psychiatry and sleep medicine and founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine.
How to Choose a Sleep Affirmation
While a "sleep mantra can be very helpful in reducing nighttime worry and anxiety," it's important to remember that "there is no one singular mantra that will work for everyone," says Wetter. Instead, he suggests building your own toolkit of nighttime statements. "Develop a number of different mantras or routines that work best for you; [through] a bit of trial and error."
To build your personalized sleep affirmation "tool kit":
- Focus on positive ("I am calm") versus negative ("I am not stressed") affirmations. This helps you focus on what you do want, as opposed to what you don't.
- Try a few and see what works for you. If a traditional Sanskrit mantra doesn't jive with you, that's okay; try a statement in your native language that feels more comfortable or authentic. Sure, chanting a mantra is a spiritual practice with a storied history, but you have to find what works for your brain.
"Ultimately, give yourself permission to put aside all problem-solving at a certain time before bed, so that when you are ready for sleep, you have already entered a zone of relaxation," suggests Wetter.
6 Sleep Affirmations for a Restful Night
"Let it be."
Repeat "let it be" as you nod off. "Let things be for now," encourages Wetter. "Remind yourself: 'I'll be in a better position to address this in the morning.'"
"I deserve rest."
Tell yourself "my mind and body deserve rest at this time," says Wetter. Emphasize to your mind that you are worthy of rest, recovery, and some downtime — even if the thoughts in your head doing zoomies make you feel otherwise. This sleep affirmation in particular may help if you feel obligated to get more done or feel overwhelmed by your to-dos. One more time for the folks in the back: You do deserve rest!
"I think best when I'm rested."
If you're cramming another chapter, another unit exam, another PowerPoint, another email, Wetter recommends trying out the powerful mantra: "I think best when I'm rested." While you might still be at your desk (vs. in your bed), reiterating this sleep affirmation can help prepare your body and mind for sleep, which can be especially useful if you're struggling to wind down because of a never-ending to-do list.
"Sleep is power."
"'Sleep is Power' is what I tell myself as I look at the time and head for bed," says clinical psychologist Kevin Gilliland, Psy.D., director of Innovation360 in Dallas. "Work and life will always entice me to do a little bit more or watch one more episode. During these challenging days, I know sleep is vital to my physical and psychological health." (That's true: Getting a solid night of Zzz's can strengthen your immune system, boost your mood, improve your memory, and so much more.)
Expanding on that, Gilliland says his go-to sleep affirmation for when he actually gets into bed is "not now." This sleep affirmation could help silence any random thoughts that may pop into your mind and deter you from dozing off, says Gilliland. "The only thoughts I allow are ones focused on sleep — things such as breathing, relaxing my muscles and keeping out thoughts of work or worry or life," he says. Everything else? "Not now." By repeating this, the mantra "reminds me of what is important, why it's important, and keeps me gently focused on the task (sleep) and not on all the thoughts that may run across my mind," he explains.
"I am capable of falling asleep."
After a few rough nights of sleep — or of no shut-eye at all — you can start to doubt your innate ability to nod off. Sound familiar? Then consider chanting this sleep affirmation as you put your head on the pillow. As a positive "I am" statement, this mantra can encourage you to trust your body and help you avoid worry and agitation about past experiences to creep into your thoughts and put unnecessary pressure on you. (Related: Could Sleep Anxiety Be to Blame for Your Tiredness?)