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Breath, Mantra & Music: 3 Holistic Ways to Help Improve Your Sleep

The following is a special guest blog post by Maya Benattar, a music therapist and psychotherapist here in New York City. Her website is Thanks, Maya!


There are a lot of reasons why people may have trouble sleeping- anxiety, stress, too much caffeine, hormonal shifts. We live in a fast-paced society where lack of sleep is often seen as a badge of honor.

If you’ve ever had a sleepless night (or many!), you probably know all too well the feelings that arise when you can’t get back to sleep and you really want to! Sometimes we can do everything “right”- no caffeine after 2pm, less screen time in the evenings, warm milk, lavender- and sleep can still be elusive.

Here are 3 simple things you can try (either when your eyes pop open at 2am or when first going to sleep for the night).

1.Breathing– I always like to say that breathing is simple, but tricky. If you’re anxious or upset (and who isn’t at 2am when they can’t sleep?!) then your breathing may be the first thing to go. Give yourself a moment to just tune into your breath- notice the sensation of each inhale and exhale, the rise and fall of your belly and chest as you breathe. This simple mindfulness practice will help you focus more on your present experience of breathing, and hopefully less on the spinning thoughts that may be keeping you from sleeping. You can also try listening to the sound of your breath- really focus on the gentle sounds created by your inhale and exhale. This always reminds me of the ocean, or the faint sound you may have heard as a kid when you put a conch shell up to your ear.

2. Mantras- A mantra, sometimes known as a slogan or catch phrase, can be really calming when you find your self spiraling or anxious about sleeping. Try to make it something short that you can remember easily. Try taking a conscious deep breath in and out and reciting it out loud (or silently) to yourself. Don’t know what your mantra can be? Some ideas: Slow down, This too shall pass, I am okay. A few mantras that have worked for me at various points have been: Calm, confident, and collected and Everything will be okay. Find what works for you- make it simple but meaningful.

3. Music- Music may not be the first thing you go to at 2am, but why not? Find a piece that feels soothing and peaceful. If you know you sometimes have trouble sleeping, take a few minutes during the day )maybe during your commute or down time) and find a few options to have at the ready. Some things to think about- songs vs. instrumental pieces, the tempo (or speed) of the piece, what instruments feel soothing (or not) to you. I firmly believe that there is no one right answer and everyone responds differently to music- the key is finding what music feels soothing and peaceful to you. My latest, favorite, just to get you started, is “By the River” by Bela Fleck and Edgar Meyer. What music feels soothing to you? Leave a comment below and let me know.

Maya Benattar, MA, MT-BC, LCAT is a music therapist and psychotherapist in New York City. She helps women uncover and understand what’s holding them back, while nurturing creative self-care and powerful growth in relationships, work, and everyday life. Get Maya’s free guided relaxation audio track to help you pause and recharge: