Dealing with Insomnia
Updated: Aug 2, 2021
Mindfulness tips for getting to sleep.
Sleep problems are extremely common.
If you’re reading this because you struggle with insomnia, you’re not alone. I’d like to share some of my most helpful mindfulness tips for sleep, including how to get back to sleep in the middle of the night, with various meditation exercises as well as mindful breathing.
Sometimes anxiety about getting to sleep just makes things worse. If you’re having intrusive thoughts about not being able to sleep, can you allow these thoughts to come and go, gently in the background of your awareness? For myself, I often need to take a little time acknowledging what I am feeling, what thoughts are keeping me awake, before I can settle into a relaxation exercise.
So starting with acceptance…
Can you bring acceptance to the fact that you are awake, and include any feelings you have about this. Rather than worry about how to get to sleep, or getting back to sleep, can you allow yourself to be as you are (ie, awake)?
You might not be asleep, but you are resting your body. By practising meditations like this, focusing on nurturing thoughts for your mind, you are giving yourself a restorative experience. Trying to be asleep when you’re actually awake just adds to our stress. You can’t force yourself to fall asleep, but you can choose what attitude you bring to the situation.
One of my tips for sleep is to try and treat yourself with compassion and patience - especially if you're awake at 3am when we can so easily get caught up in overthinking! Whatever you’re doing, see if you can bring self-compassion to your experience.
If you’re still feeling awake after practising these meditations for sleep, you might like to switch to other guided meditations like a Body Scan. However if you’re still awake, or perhaps still struggling with intrusive thoughts, it might be a wise choice to let go of trying to sleep just now. Perhaps get out of bed and do a few gentle movements, noticing sensations in the body; or get a warm drink and watch some relaxing TV.
I will continue to add to the sleep blog posts, as I continue to experiment myself with different techniques. Do let me know how you find any of these tips for sleep and the guided meditations, especially if you’d like the guided meditations to have longer periods of silence.
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Meditation Exercises to Help you Sleep
You can find recordings of three different meditations for sleep in our free resources. These include a 10-minute sleep meditation as well as two that last 20 minutes. If you’re not listening to a recording, you could experiment with the following mindfulness techniques to help with sleep difficulties.
Tips for sleep – how to start
1. Make yourself as comfy as you can to get yourself into your best position for sleep. If you’re feeling particularly tense, you might like to stretch out fully first.
2. Bring your awareness into physical sensations in the body. What does your head feel against the pillow? What parts of your body are most in contact with what you’re lying on? Take time with this to get your attention away from your head for a moment.
3. Consider your current experience. It might be that intrusive thoughts, over thinking or simply feeling emotional can be stopping you from letting go into sleep. It can help to acknowledge what is here before trying to sleep.
- How are your thoughts? Do you have racing thoughts or maybe just one is particularly strong right now?
- Can you note any emotions that might be present?
The invitation is to practise letting your experience be as it is, as best you can, without trying to change it. Don’t spend too long on noting your current experience.
4. Take a few deep breaths, maybe counting into 4 as you breathe in, and to 6 as you breathe out. With a sense of letting go, letting be on the outbreath.
Then let your breath return to normal.
Once you’ve got yourself settled, you might like to try some of the following meditation exercises.
10 Minute Sleep Meditation 1 – How to relax
1. Bring to mind something that makes you feel calm – a warm drink in a favourite mug, a special place you know or an imaginary one, crackling fire, warm bath, or simply a colour or some music.
Create the image for yourself.
Say to yourself, or to the image - Thank you for bringing me calm, I’m grateful you’re in my life.
Keep repeating the phrases, perhaps in time with your breath.
Thank you for bringing me calm, I’m grateful you’re in my life.
Allow any thoughts to ripple out through the body like ripples in a lake.
If you notice your mind’s wandered, it’s not a problem, it’s what our minds do - simply bring it back, again and again, with kindness.
And if your mind keeps going to the same thoughts or feelings, you could also practice the mindfulness technique of labelling: notice what type of thinking you keep being drawn to. Label it - ruminating, planning, worrying etc.
Or if there is a strong or unpleasant emotion, you could notice if there’s an echo in the body, maybe even placing your hand on that place, a gentle warm touch; and then breathe towards that place, sending a kindly breath.
Or take your attention elsewhere, perhaps down to sensations in your feet or hands.
2. Possibly choose a second thing that makes you feel calm.
Keep repeating the phrases in time with your breath.
Thank you for bringing me calm, I’m grateful you’re in my life.
10 Minute Sleep Meditation 2 – Letting go of intrusive thoughts
In mindfulness practice we lean towards our experience, and this might be intrusive thoughts. We can practise watching thoughts come and go. (Link to Thoughts med). And sometimes we might choose to take our attention elsewhere, such as in this meditation.
1. Imagine a stretch of beautiful sandy beach, imagine yourself sitting on the sand.
2. Hear the waves perhaps, rolling in and out gently.
Maybe in time with your breath.
3. Picture the sand, and imagine writing the word sleep in the sand. See your finger spelling each letter slowly, as slowly as you can.
S L E E P.
4. When you get to the end, start again.
You might like to continue this practise for longer, bringing your mind back whenever it wanders, which it will. It’s what our minds do. Not a problem. Just keep coming back to picturing your finger writing the letters.
S L E E P
15 Minute Sleep meditation – Finger Breathing
You can do this physically or you might like to stay lying still and simply use your imagination.
Stage one – Finger Breathing
If you want to move, open your left hand out so the fingers are gently stretched out.
With one finger from the right hand, stroke one finger at a time in the left hand, working your way along from the thumb to the little finger, in time with your breath.
Moving up a finger as you breathe in, then down as you breath out.
See if you can let the finger that is moving follow rather than control the breath. Try and reach the tip of the finger as you come to the end of the in-breath, and reach the palm at the end of the out breath.
If you’re staying still and using your imagination, see if you can picture your breathe going up and down the sides of each finger in turn, as above.
Stage two – Saying letters of the word as you breathe
If you have been moving, I suggest you stay still to do stage two; but you can of course keep stroking the fingers if this helps you focus.
When your focus is on each finger or thumb, say each letter of the word ‘sleep’, silently to yourself, as you move your mind’s eye up and down the finger.
For example, focusing on the thumb, moving your awareness up the thumb as you breathe in, silently say S to yourself, either just once slowly, or several times as you come down the other side.
Then on the next breath, move to the first finger, and say the letter L…. Middle finger, E ….. Ring finger, E ….. Little finger, P…..
And repeat, either with the same hand, or swap hands.
Just gently playing with this idea for a while. Or going back to just focusing on the breath.
If you notice the mind has wandered, (which it will), gently escort it back to spelling out the word sleep, either on your fingers or perhaps back to writing it in the sand.
You might like to experiment with other words such as peace, relax, rest or calm, or the name of a restful colour.
Either stay with spelling the letters, or return to picturing the breath up and down the fingers.
Or take the attention back to the body, and to the sensations in the body as it breathes.
Breathing in, breathing out.
Riding the waves of the breath, as they gently take you into sleep.
Breathing in, breathing out.
Remember that people are practising compassion awareness practices all around the world, right now. And that in this moment, many people you do not know are wishing you well.
See if you can hear their warm wishes:
- May you be safe and free from suffering, someone is silently saying to you.
- May you be happy and healthy.
- May you be at ease.
20 Minute Sleep Meditation – Compassion and Gratitude
1. Bring your awareness to different sounds (and silence) you can hear.
2. Expand further to become aware of others in the world who also struggling with insomnia.
Consider that many people everywhere are, like you, in this moment trying to go to sleep or get back to sleep. You are not alone. Some might be homeless and trying to sleep outside somewhere cold; others might be ill, or in places of danger or difficulty – and maybe you are in one of these situations Take a moment to send warm wishes and compassion to everyone who is trying to sleep – perhaps saying these phrases silently, or ones of your own:
– may you be safe, may you be calm, may you sleep with ease.
Repeat the phrases, this time including yourself:
- may we all be safe, calm, sleep with ease.
Allow any thoughts to ripple out like in a pond.
3. Bring a compassionate awareness back to yourself
Sense the body, noticing again the textures of the bedding.
See if you can find anything pleasant about your current experience – maybe warmth, physical comfort, quiet, parts of the body that are healthy or have no pain.
Focus on the sensations in your body as you breathe.
4. Bring a kindly awareness to parts of the body
Imagine you can send a soothing breath to the head – wishing your head well - may you be well, may you rest with ease.
Maybe focusing on specific parts of the head in turn - the eyes, nose, ears and mouth, or just focusing on the head in general.
Perhaps showing gratitude and thanking these parts – thank you for all you have done for me today, may you be well, rest with ease.
And then doing the same for the rest of the body:
- the neck, shoulders, arms and hands – may you be well, may you rest with ease.
- the back and front - may you be well, may you rest with ease.
Be aware of movements of the breath. Breathing in calm, breathing out letting go, letting be.
- the legs, feet - may you be well, may you rest with ease.
5. Self compassion
Expand awareness to sense the whole body, and wish yourself well – May I be safe, happy, healthy, live and sleep with ease.
Breathe in calm, breathe out letting go;
breathe in rest, breathe out letting be.
And to end with warm wishes from me:
may you find calm and rest,
may you sleep with ease.