Sleep Affirmations Help You Rest Better. Here’s How They Work

Follow these three expert tips to create the right bedtime mantra for slipping into sweet slumber.

Scrabble tiles that say breathe, calm, and relax

Sleep has never been more elusive than during the COVID-19 pandemic. Scientists even deemed the phenomenon “COVID-somnia” in a paper published in the journal Sleep and Vigilance.

In lieu of shelling out for fancy bedroom gear, many people are turning to sleep affirmations — short, calming statements meant to be read before bedtime. In fact, Pinterest searches for “night affirmations sleep” increased 100% year over year in 2020, the social media platform reported in December.

How Affirmations Can Help You Sleep

Generally, “affirmations are positive statements repeated daily to replace existing thoughts that may be untrue and negative,” says Chelsie Rohrscheib, Ph.D., a neuroscientist with a specialty in sleep and mental health. When used before bed, affirmations can short-circuit negative thoughts and help you set realistic expectations for the night ahead.

Affirmations are also a form of meditation — and various types of meditation have been shown to help improve insomnia and sleep quality even in people without existing sleep problems, according to research published in the journal Sleep Health. On a biological level, meditation slows your heart rate and breathing — signs your autonomic nervous system (the system that controls your body’s unconscious physiological responses) has shifted from a state of “fight or flight” to "rest and digest.” It also lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol, research published in the journal Explore reports.

“Studies have shown that expecting to get a poor night of sleep can actually make sleep worse,” Rohrscheib explains. “That’s because when we expect to get poor sleep, our level of stress and anxiety increases. And when stress is increased, we’re more likely to suffer from insomnia, mid-sleep awakenings, and reduced time spent in the deep, restorative stages of sleep.”

Using sleep affirmations, then, can reduce that stress, put you in a better mindset to welcome sleep, and help you sleep more soundly. They can also help you maintain a bedtime routine — the gold standard of proper sleep hygiene.

“Our brains thrive on routines and patterns, and this is especially true when it comes to sleep,” says Rohrscheib. “Following a consistent pre-bedtime routine is one of the best ways to signal to the brain it's time for sleep.”

How to Incorporate Soothing Sleep Affirmations Into Your Bedtime Routine

There is no one-mantra-suits-all sleep affirmation — for the best results, you should pick the one that feels right for you.

Make it about you. “Affirmations should be tailored to your specific circumstance,” explains Rohrscheib. “For instance, if the main reason you're having trouble falling asleep is [that] you keep thinking of the stressors you encounter at work, you might come up with affirmations that help you reframe how you think about those stressors: ‘I choose to release my work stress’ or ‘I can control how my work affects me.’”

Focus on now. Instead of putting conditions, like “I will relax when it's time to go to sleep,” Rohrscheib advises to keep your affirmations in the present tense.

Keep it light. This is the time to engage with your inner positivity and realism.

Not sure where to start? Rohrscheib recommends these sleep affirmations (but feel free to tailor them to make them unique to you!):

  • “I will sleep soundly all through the night.” 
  •  “I will enjoy deep, restorative sleep tonight.” 
  • “My bedroom is a place of relaxation and deep sleep.” 
  • “In my bedroom, my thoughts naturally detach and slow down.” 
  •  “I will get up as soon as my alarm goes off and feel fresh and alert.” 

If there are specific circumstances causing racing thoughts in your mind, you can also try:

  • “Right now the answer to my problems is restful sleep.”  
  • “I am opening my mind to peace and that is where I will find sleep.”  
  • “Tonight I am following my heartbeat, towards a good night’s sleep.”  
  • “I am grateful for today and this night, where I am going to get my rest.”  
  • “I deserve to sleep tonight so I am refreshed for tomorrow.”  

Don’t Forget to Set Up Your Environment for Sleep, Too

Like any sort of meditation, sleep affirmations require the right headspace. When you’re ready, “make sure your environment is quiet and free of interruptions,” says Rohrscheib. “Sit comfortably in your bed or lie on your back with your eyes closed. Slowly go through your affirmations in your mind. You may repeat your affirmations as many times as you'd like, and don't worry if you fall asleep in the process.” In fact, that’s kind of the point.

And if your new sleep affirmation doesn’t work on night one, that’s OK!

“Just like meditation, using affirmations to change negative beliefs and habits takes practice,” says Rohrscheib. “You're replacing long-term unhelpful patterns with new thought processes, and the longer you’ve had certain thoughts or habits, the more time it will take to change. Most people can expect to see a difference in their sleep quality after about a month of practicing their affirmations.”

The power of affirmations is compelling, but don’t prioritize affirmations over your sleep schedule. If you feel sleepy, it’s OK skip your affirmations for the night.

“Set a firm time limit to say your affirmations before bed and try not to let your affirmations cut into your sleep,” says Rohrscheib. “Allow yourself to accept some nights will be better than others, and you can always start fresh the next night.”

By the way, the best time to head to sleep and start your sleep affirmations is anytime between 8 p.m. to midnight. To resist the digital lures of doomscrolling and revenge bedtime procrastination check out this “tech tuckaway” project that allows you to be without your phone — without the anxiety of being without your phone.

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