Starting a new habit is never easy. The ancient art of meditation is no exception. After waking up, rushing to work, coming home, and knocking out a few episodes of TV, it’s hard enough to get to bed at a reasonable hour. Setting aside a few minutes to meditate? Forget it.
But this feeling—of being constantly rushed, overwhelmed, and short on time—could actually be the sign you need to start meditating. And the good thing about meditation is that you can do it whenever and wherever you want, as long as you’re comfortable and aware. Whether it’s a couple minutes of silence Mayo Clinic “Meditation: A simple, fast way to reduce stress” View Source and deep breathing or a full 20-minute guided session, the most important part is that you do it.
If that feels overwhelming, “start with increments of time that seem feasible,” says David Johnson, an assistant professor in the department of counseling at Wake Forest University. “If trying to meditate for 20 minutes seems unrealistic, then think of a number that feels realistic, and try for half of that ‘realistic’ number. Then, you can increase your time as needed.”
What’s the Optimal Time To Meditate?
There’s a lot of debate around whether one time of day is better for meditation than others. This is because experts have found significant benefits from meditating at many different times of the day.
But the general consensus is that the best time of the day to meditate depends on you, your lifestyle, and when you feel you need meditation the most.
“Meditation is subjective,” says Dr. Raffaello Antonino, a senior lecturer in counseling psychology at London Metropolitan University. “It’s a state of mind. And if you’re in control of your mind, you’ll be able to meditate anytime and anywhere.”
We’ve identified five great times for meditation. This may help you determine the one that’s right for you.
Benefits of Morning Meditation
If you think of morning as the ideal meditation time, you’re not alone. A 2019 survey found that of 2,000 Americans, 36% considered meditation essential to an ideal morning; more people would rather meditate first thing in the morning than read the news (31%) or do yoga (24%), and only 4% more would exercise (40%). (Note: This poll was done by Thermador, a luxury appliance brand, which likely affected the numbers.)
Committing to just five minutes Frontiers in Public Health “Effects of Mindfulness Exercise Guided by a Smartphone App on Negative Emotions and Stress in Non-Clinical Populations: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis” View Source of slow, intentional breathing can be pivotal in improving your focus and concentration. Adding this practice to your regular morning routine can help you approach the day with a little more awareness.
“Morning meditation comes with additional benefits because it sets the tone for the day and interruptions are less likely to occur,” says Allison Forti, an associate director of online counseling programs at Wake Forest University. “Since cortisol levels are highest in the morning, morning meditation can also soothe the mind and body.”
Starting your day with meditation may be especially valuable for those looking to make it a habit. Stacking habits within your morning routine is a great way to ensure you’re committing to the practice. For example, if you start every morning with yoga, try implementing a brief meditation within your regular yoga practice. If you’re not one for yoga, you can add it to another part of your morning routine—say, right after you brush your teeth and before you make coffee.
Don’t trust us yet? Ask Oprah, who ritualistically meditates at the same time every morning.
Benefits of Midday Meditation
While it may be tempting to take a five-minute lunch and get back to work ASAP, it’s not the healthiest approach. Your brain needs a break Cleveland Clinic “Why Downtime Is Essential for Brain Health” View Source in the middle of the day, and a short midday meditation can be the perfect way to de-stress from the morning and reset yourself before a busy afternoon.
A 2017 study found that employees who partake in relaxation exercises Journal of Occupational Health Psychology “Enhancing daily well-being at work through lunchtime park walks and relaxation exercises: Recovery experiences as mediators” View Source during their lunch break had higher levels of concentration and lower levels of fatigue in the afternoon. The study even found that employees who engaged in meditation during their lunch break had better well-being at the end of the day than those who took a leisurely stroll at lunch.
A midday meditation is an excellent way to create awareness and approach the remainder of the day with fresh ideas. Creating a habitual meditation routine may also better your relationship with work and prevent burnout.
Benefits of Meditation When Stress Arises
A “mini-meditation” may be a good alternative to starting a regular meditation practice, especially if you struggle to commit to long, scheduled mediation sessions.
When you feel stress coming on or you begin to feel overwhelmed, try a quick one-minute or even thirty-second meditation. Just take a step back and focus on your breathing—you don’t even need to close your eyes. This may help you get ahead of your fight-or-flight instinct and reset your nervous system before panic takes over.
Benefits of Meditation After Exercise
Healthy mind, healthy body, right? It checks out. Evidence shows that combining meditation and exercise has the power to reduce symptoms of clinical depression by 40% Nature “MAP training: combining meditation and aerobic exercise reduces depression and rumination while enhancing synchronized brain activity” View Source .
Beyond that, meditation has plenty of physical benefits alongside mental ones. Meditating after exercise has proven effects on stamina, recovery, muscle building, and reducing chronic pain Postgraduate Medicine “Comparative effects of meditation and exercise on physical and psychosocial health outcomes: a review of randomized controlled trials” View Source . A small 2016 study found that after six weeks of meditation combined with yoga, a group of 27 medical students reported having less fatigue and more stamina Evidence Based Complementary Alternative Medicine “Medical Students' Stress Levels and Sense of Well Being after Six Weeks of Yoga and Meditation” View Source . They also reported other benefits including less stress and better well-being.
Additionally, meditation and exercise both activate the orbitofrontal cortex PLoS One “Activation of the orbitofrontal cortex by both meditation and exercise: A near-infrared spectroscopy study” View Source , an area of the brain responsible for mental refreshment.
Benefits of Meditation Before Bed
Meditating before bed is an excellent way to reduce the effects of chronic insomnia Global Advanced Health Medicine “A Perspective on the Similarities and Differences Between Mindfulness and Relaxation” View Source and create a healthier sleep cycle. A 2015 study tested the effects of mindfulness meditation before bed on a group of 49 adults and found that practicing mindfulness before bed drastically improved JAMA Internal Medicine “Mindfulness Meditation and Improvement in Sleep Quality and Daytime Impairment Among Older Adults With Sleep Disturbances” View Source the group’s sleep.
Why is this? Meditation is thought to increase melatonin (the sleep hormone) and serotonin (a mood-regulating hormone). Other aspects of meditation, like decreased heart rate and blood pressure, are also direct contributors to better sleep.
Meditation can also help you de-stress and reflect on the day’s events. If you’re using meditation to practice gratitude, bedtime meditation is an excellent opportunity to remind yourself of everything you’re grateful for at the end of the day.
Tips for Better Meditation
Once you establish a time of day that makes sense for you to meditate, you may want to think about how to make meditation work best for you. For beginners, there are a number of ways to ease into meditation to ensure you’re having a well-rounded experience.
“Remind yourself to have self-compassion as you start a meditation practice,” says Forti. “Some people give up because they think they’re doing it wrong. Embrace self-compassion as you work through these challenges.”
Here are a few of our favorite tips:
Try a Meditation App
A 2022 study found that using a meditation app is a beneficial way to decrease negative emotions Frontiers in Public Health “Effects of Mindfulness Exercise Guided by a Smartphone App on Negative Emotions and Stress in Non-Clinical Populations: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis” View Source . Another study from 2019 found that the Calm app was particularly effective in reducing stress levels in college students JMIR Mhealth Uhealth “Efficacy of the Mindfulness Meditation Mobile App “Calm” to Reduce Stress Among College Students: Randomized Controlled Trial” View Source .
We’ve tested meditation apps too—and really like a few. Calm is our favorite all-around option. With an expansive library of guided meditations, sleep sounds, and relaxing music, it can serve as a resource for anyone looking to begin meditating for the first time or relax in general. It costs about $10 month. We think it’s worth it, but if you’re looking for a free option, try Healthy Minds Program.
Invest in a Comfortable Space
If you create a comfortable and welcoming space for yourself, you’ll be more likely to commit to the practice regularly. If possible, find a quiet, uninterrupted space—maybe close to a window with some greenery.
A big comfort factor is your meditation spot. We tested a bunch of meditation cushions to find the comfiest options, and have a couple of favorites. The Lotuscrafts meditation cushion ($34.95)and Brentwood Home Crystal Cove ($69) meditation cushion are two we’re particularly fond of.
Add Meditation to Your Daily Routine
The best time for you to meditate depends on, well, you. But you’re more likely to get into the habit if you incorporate it into your routine.
A routine that prioritizes healthy habits can be a great way to limit stress and accomplish health goals . If you’re a routine-oriented person, look for an opportunity to add meditation to your regular schedule. If you feel like your schedule is too packed for meditation, tack it onto another task. Remember, this could be as simple as two minutes a day at first. As you begin to get into a rhythm of meditation, you can build up your time as needed.
Breathwork refers to exercises that reduce stress WebMD “What Is Breathwork?” View Source and bring your breath to normal rhythm. It’s not the same thing as meditation, but can be implemented into a meditation practice or done on its own.
When stress arises, our breathing is naturally affected. Like guided meditation, you can also access guided breathwork sessions that help beginners get acclimated to different types and techniques. Check out a few of our favorite breathwork apps (we love Breathwrk most).
Making Time for Meditation
“Meditation is successful if you’re engaged with your intention for a set time—not whether or not you achieved a certain state,” says psychologist Daniel Paulus. “If you do a meditation and you feel calm, great. If you do it and feel anxious, also great. Because you still did it.”
You’re the master of your meditative ship, but there’s a world of resources that can help you. At Ness, we’re striving to make these resources more accessible for you. Get on the waitlist for our app so you can earn more with your wellness spend.
- Meditation is one of the fastest ways to reduce stress: “A simple, fast way to reduce stress,” Mayo Clinic (April 2022).
- 36% of Americans start their day with meditation: “This is how most Americans start their morning, according to a survey,” Ladders (October 2019).
- Five minutes of meditation can improve your focus: “What to Know About the Best Time to Meditate,” WebMD (October 2021).
- Stacking habits help you tie new habits into existing habits: “How to Build Healthy Habits,” The New York Times (February 2020).
- Oprah’s morning routine: “A Day in the Life of Oprah,” Harper’s Bazaar (February 2018).
- Taking breaks can improve your performance: “Why Downtime is Essential for Brain Health,” Cleveland Clinic (June 2020).
- Practicing mindfulness at lunch improves afternoon focus: “Enhancing daily well-being at work through lunchtime park walks and relaxation exercises: Recovery experiences as mediators,” Journal of occupational health psychology (July 2018).
- Midday meditation helps you destress: “Four Good Times of Day to Meditate (And One to Avoid),” Psychology Today (March 2012).
- Mini-meditations are quick ways to relax: “12 Quick Mini-Meditations to Calm Your Mind and Body,” Psychology Today (March 2017).
- Combining exercise and meditation reduces symptoms of depression: “MAP training: combining meditation and aerobic exercise reduces depression and rumination while enhancing synchronized brain activity,” Translational Psychiatry (February 2016).
- Physical benefits of meditation after exercise: “Meditation After Exercise: The Benefits to Combining Meditation and Workouts,” Declutter the Mind (July 2020).
- Meditation increases stamina: “How to Build Up Your Stamina,” Healthline (July 2022).
- Meditation reduces chronic pain: “Comparative effects of meditation and exercise on physical and psychosocial health outcomes: a review of randomized controlled trials,” Postgraduate Medicine (November 2017).
- Study shows meditation leads to better stamina and less fatigue: “Medical Students’ Stress Levels and Sense of Well Being after Six Weeks of Yoga and Meditation,” Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM (December 2016).
- Meditation and exercise both activate the orbitofrontal cortex: “Activation of the orbitofrontal cortex by both meditation and exercise: A near-infrared spectroscopy study,” PloS one (February 2021).
- Meditation reduces effects of chronic insomnia: “Mindfulness Meditation and Improvement in Sleep Quality and Daytime Impairment Among Older Adults With Sleep Disturbances,” JAMA Intern Med (April 2015).
- Better sleep from meditation: “A Perspective on the Similarities and Differences Between Mindfulness and Relaxation,” Global advances in health and medicine (February 2020).
- Meditation increases melatonin: “3 Ways to Meditate For Better Sleep,” Healthline (January 2020).
- Meditation apps help decrease negative emotions: “Effects of Mindfulness Exercise Guided by a Smartphone App on Negative Emotions and Stress in Non-Clinical Populations: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” Frontiers in Public Health (January 2022).
- The Calm app is effective in reducing stress in college students: “Efficacy of the Mindfulness Meditation Mobile App “Calm” to Reduce Stress Among College Students: Randomized Controlled Trial,” JMIR mHealth and uHealth (June 2019).
- Breathwork reduces stress: “What is Breathwork?” WebMD (June 2021).