Mindfulness meditation for sleep

Counting sheep

So you’re having difficulty sleeping? Trouble is, if that goes on night after night, then bedtime becomes a ‘try harder’ trial: you lie there awake and when sleep doesn’t happen you get in a tiz. Forget counting sheep. Your head gets cluttered with those gibbering thoughts… It’s happening again; if I don’t fall asleep soon I’ll be so tired tomorrow… What’s wrong with me: I used to be able to sleep so easily… Oh no, the other half’s started snoring… now I’ll never get to sleep!

Neither sleep routines nor mindfulness practice respond well to a heavy hand. If you set out to try harder, to force yourself into sleep, you’re less likely to sleep. If you strain for some picture-perfect mindset when meditating you’ll create more stress and uncertainty. So try to get yourself into the frame of mind when you think about mindfulness meditation for sleep that there’s nothing to force, and nothing to make happen. Set out to practise without specific expectations or goals. We cannot make ourselves sleep, but perhaps, by aiming to stay settled and getting less caught up in our thoughts, we fall asleep anyway.

For mindful meditation for sleep there’s no end bell or set of instructions. Just carry on with the practice for as long as you feel like it – hopefully you’ll enjoy a good night’s rest instead.

  1. Lie on your back, allowing your legs to rest in a comfortable position hip-width apart. Hands can be by your side or on your stomach.
  2. Notice your breath. Pay attention to the physical movement of your breathing, such as your belly rising and falling. Or you might focus your attention more closely on the air moving in and out of your nose and mouth.
  3. Yes, thoughts will pop up.  Your mind may rehash the day or gets caught up in worrying about tomorrow. Recognise those habits, and then practise letting them be. Breathing in… and breathing out.
  4. Notice if you get caught up in effort, or frustration, or fear, with compassion for yourself. Catch thoughts of self-criticism or frustration, and come back to just one breath, one more time. Thoughts are only thoughts. Breathing in… breathing out. There’s nothing you need to fix or change right now in this moment. Notice where your thoughts go, and label them ‘thoughts’. Come back to one next breath, over, and over again.
  5. Shift attention to sensations in your body. Start by moving your awareness to physical sensations in your feet. You don’t need to wiggle your toes or move your feet, just notice them – the temperature or the pressure of your heel against the blanket or the mat beneath you.
  6. From your feet move your attention into your lower legs, noticing whatever there is to see. Letting go of a sense of effort or needing to make anything happen. And then from your lower legs, through your knees, and into your upper legs. If you feel any sense of stress or tension, aim to relax and let go.
  7. Then through your buttocks and pelvis, and into your belly and abdomen. You might notice a sense of your breath moving up and down, or other physical sensations, or sometimes even reflection of emotion (perhaps an emotion like fear or anger reflects in the stomach in the form of tension or tightness). And as you move from your belly and now into your chest, note each time your mind gets caught up in thoughts of discomfort or distraction. And then gently and with patience, guide it back one more time.
  8. Move around into your back, a place many of us hold tension, relaxing your muscles as best as you can, lowering your shoulders from your ears. If you feel a need to make an adjustment, allow that to happen with intention, pausing and choosing your next action. Shift your attention into your hands and lower arms, again without actively needing to move or change anything, observing and letting go.
  9. Then moving through your neck and into the muscles of your face, perhaps noticing any locations of tightness or pinching, and then with gentleness, as best as you’re able, relaxing those muscles. And then for a few moments, have a general awareness of physical sensations throughout your body.
  10. And now, if you’re still awake, bring your attention back to the breath, each time the mind wanders into the past or into the future, or wherever it chooses to go. If it’s a useful anchor for your attention, you can count breaths, breathing in, one, breathing out, one, breathing in, two, breathing out, two… When you reach 10, start at one again.
  11. If counting becomes a distraction, then just stay with the sensation of breathing – wherever you feel the breath entering or leaving your body, or the rising or falling of your belly and chest. Continue counting breaths up to 10, patiently returning your attention whenever you become distracted. If you lose track of counting, that’s fine. Start again wherever you last remember.

To learn how to incorporate mindfulness into your everyday life, why not do our 8-week mindfulness course

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