For some, the best time to meditate is a sunrise session, while others make room for mindfulness before bed.
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No matter when you do it, meditation is one of the healthiest things you can do for your mind and body. It may help decrease depression, anxiety, stress and pain, reduce inflammation, improve the immune response and promote healthier aging, per Harvard Health Publishing.
But if you want to reap the benefits of mindfulness, does it matter what time of day you meditate?
We enlisted the help of Jodie Skillicorn, DO, a holistic psychiatrist and author of Healing Depression Without Medication: A Psychiatrist's Guide to Balancing Mind, Body, and Soul, to learn if there's an optimal hour for mindfulness.
There's no one best time to meditate. What's most important is that you find a time that works for you and then stick to it to build a consistent daily practice.
The Best Time to Meditate Varies
Spoiler alert: There's no magical hour when meditating is most beneficial. Yep, the best time to meditate is whenever you actually do it, Dr. Skillicorn says.
"I, for example, meditate in the morning before my family wakes up … because I know the rest of my day will be better for it," Dr. Skillicorn says. "But what time works best for me may not work well for you."
Everyone's schedules, preferences and needs are different, so, logically, the best time of day to meditate will differ depending on the individual.
"The key is finding a time that does work and then sticking to it," Dr. Skillicorn says. In other words, while timing isn't terribly important, consistency is.
"Keeping a consistent time for meditation makes it more likely it will become part of your daily routine," she says. "I don't need to stop and consider when or if I will meditate today; it is as much a given part of my daily schedule as brushing my teeth — I just do it."
Find the Right Time to Meditate
You might need to explore meditating at different hours to see which time slot feels best for you. Here, Dr. Skillicorn discusses the pros (and possible pitfalls) of scheduling your meditation session in the morning, midday and evening (as well as during moments of stress or anxiety).
1. Meditating in the Morning
Meditating first thing sets the groundwork for the day. "For many people, it is easier to create time in the morning before the day gets going and different activities, distractions and possibilities arise that were not expected," Dr. Skillicorn says.
"But if you're not a morning person, or your child wakes up super early crying and demanding your attention, then maybe this is not the best time for you," she adds.
On the other hand, this might be exactly why you should try a morning meditation. Spending even a couple minutes breathing before life becomes busy may make it easier to cope with those chaotic moments, Dr. Skillicorn says.
2. Meditating at Midday
Midday might be the perfect time to practice being present and push the pause button for a few minutes of mindful meditation.
"Many of my patients opt to meditate during their lunch break at work," Dr. Skillicorn says. "This provides an opportunity to clear the stress from the morning and create a clear space for the rest of the day."
However, this largely depends on your work environment. "Unexpected lunch meetings, for example, may disrupt this plan, or if you're like me, you may find yourself answering one more email, one more phone call, and find the lunch hour has quickly vanished, along with your meditation time," Dr. Skillicorn says.
3. Meditating at Night
"Meditating at night can be a great way to clear the mind and body of the stress of the day for a better night's sleep," Dr. Skillicorn says.
"I will meditate lying down for at least a few minutes every night before falling asleep by simply tuning into my body, thoughts and emotions, and noticing and acknowledging what is there until I drift off to sleep," she says.
But, once again, unexpected situations may pop up and nix your nighttime meditation plans. You might find yourself too tired to meditate after staying up late to finish a project, hanging out with friends or tending to a child, Dr. Skillicorn says.
4. Meditating When You're Stressed or Anxious
What about meditating when you feel stressed, anxious or frustrated? Because, let's be honest, we all encounter moments like this each day.
"Often people will use meditation to deal with a stressful trigger or issue that arises, which is, of course, totally fine," Dr. Skillicorn says.
However, "if you do not create time on a regular basis for meditation, it will become one of the many intentions most of us set that never actually materialize — right up there with exercising every day," she says.
What's more, meditating to mellow a bad mood misses the point of practicing mindfulness.
"The goal of meditation is not to get rid of emotions and thoughts, but rather to be curious about them," Dr. Skillicorn says. "Using meditation to vanquish uncomfortable emotions is just another form of resistance to the experience and will often lead to increased tenseness and frustration, making us think, 'It's not working.'"
All this to say, meditating to manage in-the-moment stressors should not be a substitute for a regular practice. Always aim to sit for a daily session (no matter your mood) and use those impromptu mood-motivated meditations to complement your regular mindfulness routine.
Mediation and Exercise
But is meditation best before or after a workout? Though it ultimately depends on your schedule and what works best for you, meditating before a workout or during activity could help you focus on your body and ground yourself in the present moment.
How to Make Meditation a Daily Practice
No matter what time of day you dedicate to meditating, here are Dr. Skillicorn's tips to help you make it a habit and stick to your daily practice:
1. Set a Realistic Goal
If you can only commit to a few minutes of mindfulness, that's OK. "Better to meditate every day for three minutes than once a month for an hour," Dr. Skillicorn says. "Although having said that, once a month for an hour is better than not at all!"
2. Take Small (but Consistent) Steps
Even if meditating for three consecutive minutes seems difficult, Dr. Skillicorn insists you can still find small ways to program a practice of mindfulness into your day. Try these strategies:
- Set an alarm on your phone and check in a few set times during the day (just for a minute) to notice what's happening within your mind and body.
- While driving, set
the intention that you will pause and just notice your breath at every red light.
- Pause before getting out of the car at work or when sitting down in front of your computer at the start of the day.
"There is always time [to meditate] if we set the intention and prioritize it," Dr. Skillicorn says.
3. Try an App
It can be difficult to start and stick with a mindfulness practice. So why not enlist the help of a meditation app? Depending on your app of choice, you can select guided meditations and even personalized programs to help you accomplish your mindfulness goals.