Meditation For Sleep Apnea

Meditation can help you to get a good night’s sleep and can improve quality of life for people with sleep apnea. In this article, I’ll discuss the science and share several different meditations that can help.

But first of all, what is sleep apnea?

Sleep Apnea is a common condition that causes breathing to stop during sleep. [1] There are two types of sleep apnea. Firstly, obstructive sleep apnea [OSA], in which the upper airway becomes blocked [2], and central sleep apnea, which is when the brain stops sending the signal to breathe [3]

Sleep Apnea can have a significant affect on quality of life and mental health, causing sleep deprivation [4] that in turn can lead to stress, anxiety, depression, and other complications [5]. Plus, OSA is also linked to lowered serotonin levels. [6]

The go-to treatment for sleep apnea is CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) [7] and lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, exercising, and quitting drinking and smoking. [8]

Another promising treatment is meditation, which can help as part of a treatment plan, as well as improving quality of life. Do note that meditation is not meant to replace your existing healthcare system. 

How Does Meditation Help With Sleep Apnea? 

Meditation is the practice of directing our awareness to one or more things, such as the breath, in order to produce various mental and physical health benefits [9]. And many of these benefits directly relate to sleep apnea. 

For starters, meditation improves sleep quality. [10] It is one of many techniques that can be used to induce the relaxation response according to Dr Herbert Benson, director emeritus of the Harvard-affiliated Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine. Meditation quietens the mind and promotes alpha brain waves, which are brain waves associated with the early stages of sleep [11]. Meditating in bed, therefore, can be beneficial for those with sleep apnea, although this should not be your primary meditation practice (further explanation below).

Meditation can also significantly reduce stress. Sleep apnea is an incredibly stressful condition to suffer from, and so any exercise that reduces stress is highly beneficial for improving quality of life. And this is not to mention the many other emotional benefits that meditation brings. 

Finally, some people do find it uncomfortable wearing a CPAP mask, but meditation can help you to feel more relaxed while you have it on.

Overall, meditation can significantly improve quality of life for people with sleep apnea, so let’s discuss how to do it. And if you have never meditated before, start with my guide to meditating at home. 

How To Meditate With Sleep Apnea

For the most part, meditation is the same whether or not you have sleep apnea. There is no reason you cannot follow a traditional meditation practice. That said, you might like to follow these tips. 

The Best Meditation For Sleep Apnea

  1. Sit with good posture and a straight but relaxed spine.
  2. Close your eyes. Remind yourself that for the next ten minutes or so, the only thing you will be doing is meditating, and nothing else matters during this time.
  3. Breathe in through your nose to a count of four. Feel your  breath moving deep down into your abdomen.
  4. Pause for four.
  5. Pucker your lips like you are going to blow a whistle (I’ll explain why below). Breathe out for a count of four. While breathing out, make the sound of a bumble bee buzzing with your tongue, this is a yogic exercise called Ujjayi Pranayama  (again, I will explain this below). Breathe out for a count of four.
  6. Pause for another count of four.
  7. Repeat.
  8. While doing the above, observe your breath. (The rest of the meditation should be done in the regular Anapanasati style. 

Stick to breath-based meditations 

There are many different meditation techniques. However, to get the most help for sleep apnea, stick to meditation breathing exercises. Breathwork is ideal because it helps to train both the body and mind to draw the breath deep down into the lungs. Plus, breathing exercises in general have been shown to be beneficial for sleep apnea [12]. One small but helpful tip is to place a hand on your abdomen so that you can feel your breath going deep down into your body. This will encourage you to breathe deeply. 

Meditate With Pursed Lips 

Oropharyngeal muscle exercises (mouth exercises) have been shown to improve OSA by strengthening the airway and the tongue muscles. [12]. One simple example of this is pursed lips breathing, which is simply breathing out through pursed lips. You can combine this with any mindful breathing exercise. When you meditate, breathe in through your nose. On the out breath, pucker your lips like you are going to whistle, and breathe out through your mouth. Then close your mouth and repeat. 

Do Your Primary Meditation Practice When You Have Energy

Energy is a precious commodity when you have sleep apnea. That said, there is little point in meditating if you are too tired to focus. For that reason, it’s important to do your primary meditation practice when you have the energy to focus. Because you might wake up tired, do not meditate in the first hour of the morning. This is, ironically, when I usually recommend that my students meditate. However, a lack of energy will make it very difficult to meditate in the morning. Try to choose one time in the afternoon or early evening when you will be able to meditate, and ideally stick to the same time each day because this will help to make it a habit. 

Do A Gentle Meditation In Bed

It is best not to do your main meditation practice in bed because a) you will be tired, b) you will be lying down, and c) some meditations can lead to hypervigilance, which makes it harder to fall asleep. That said, you most certainly can do some basic, simple meditations when you’re trying to get to sleep. I recommend using these meditations for sleep. 

You can also listen to guided meditations in bed, such as our one below, which is based on Loving Kindness (Metts Bhavana).

Guided Loving Kindness Meditation For Sleep

Familiarize yourself with relaxation 

Above I mentioned that you should do your main meditation when you have energy, and then a simple meditation in bed. Now here’s a tip to maximize the effect of both of those meditations. The trick is to familiarize yourself with the feeling of relaxation during your main practice, and then recreate that feeling when you go to bed. Here’s how. 

When you do your main meditation in the day, as you get to the end of your session, when you are feeling very relaxed, truly explore that feeling of relaxation. Investigate it. Observe how it feels to be relaxed. It is as though you are saying to your mind, “Here, this is what relaxation feels like”. Doing this will make it easier to recreate that feeling of calmness later. Then, when you do your simpler meditation in bed, gently remind yourself of how that calmness felt. You’re not trying to force the calmness, you’re just saying to your mind, “Hey, do you remember what it felt like to be so calm?”. And after saying that to yourself, go back to observing your breath. 

Consider Pranayama 

Pranayama is the style of breathwork done in yoga and this has been shown to improve neck circumference, snoring frequency, daytime sleepiness and sleep quality[13].

Pranayama can be done while actively practicing yoga asanas, or as its own thing. For instance, exercises like kapalabhati (Skull Cleansing Breath), Ujjayi Pranayama (Ocean Breath) and Bhramari Pranayama (Humming Bee) can increase lung strength to help with sleep apnea. [14]. Many of these are simple exercises that you can do at the same time as your main meditation. For instance, you can do Anapanasati (mindful breathing) while breathing out through your mouth making the sound of a bumble bee (which is the technique used in Bhramari Pranayama).

Yoga Journal has a good guide to these exercises, which I have included in the Helpful Resources guide below. 

Aim For Self Discipline

For meditation to work you will need to be self disciplined. Meditation is not a miracle pill. It’s a practice. And for a practice to work, you need to… well… practice. But. And this is important. You don’t need to be perfect. It’s a fine line.

To start to develop the discipline to meditate:

  • Set small goals such as meditating for ten minutes a day
  • Ask yourself what obstacles are in your way, and find creative ways to overcome them
  • Take steps to actively distance yourself from anything / anyone that interferes with your discipline
  • Regularly remind yourself of all the good things that will happen if you stick to your practice
  • Use habit-tracking apps
  • If you spend a long time on the internet or on social media, set reminders to meditate. For instance, make your desktop / phone background an image of someone meditating, follow meditation groups on social media, make your username on different platforms something related to meditation etc.
  • Meditate with a friend / significant other and remind each other to meditate every day. This is a win / win. You help them. They help you.
  • When you slip off course, do not be hard on yourself, just remember why you want to meditate and do it again tomorrow.
  • If you’re one of my meditation students I can send you daily reminders. Just tell me that this is something that you would like.

Please Be Kind To Yourself

You probably want every meditation to be amazing. You probably want to feel serenity every time you meditate. And if you’re a devout meditator, you might even be aiming for enlightenment. Those are wonderful goals to have. But while you’re chasing those ambitions, remember to be kind to yourself.

There will be times when your sleep apnea makes you moody. There’ll be times when you simply don’t have the energy to meditate. And there’ll be times when you try to meditate but you’re just too tired to focus. All of that is completely fine. It’s natural. We are all human and imperfect. So while you are striving to do your best, also remember to be kind to yourself. Accept that some days you wont meditate. Accept that sometimes your meditation won’t be perfect. It’s all part of the human experience. So accept it all, and always be compassionate to yourself. 

Helpful Resources

Share This:

Get My Newsletter

Plus, receive our exclusive meditation coaching videos for free.

By Paul Harrison

Paul Harrison BSc is a qualified meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in teaching meditation and mindfulness both to individuals and to corporations.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

private meditation lessons (1)