5 Simple Mindfulness Techniques that Promote Sleep

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5 Techniques from Mindfulness that Promote Sleep

The topic at a glance

  • Insomnia is a common experience in early recovery, and it can be due to several factors such as withdrawal symptoms, unfamiliarity with natural sleep, and being in a strange environment (i.e. rehab).

  • One of the worst mistakes we can make is to try and force ourselves to go to sleep – this tends to just make us more agitated.

  • Mindfulness techniques such as the body scan (especially when it involves paying attention to physical tiredness) and focusing on the breath in the lower stomach can promote sleep.

Image by Daisuke Tashiro

Causes of Insomnia in Early Recovery

Insomnia is a common experience in early recovery. Usually, things improve once we get beyond our initial withdrawal symptoms, but if the problem persists, it can mean we turn into walking zombies, and this makes it hard to get the most from rehab. This inability to sleep well at night can be due to several causes such as:

  • Withdrawal symptoms.

  • Being in a strange environment (e.g. rehab).

  • Not having a regular sleeping pattern – we may be used to late nights.

  • It may be years since we have experienced natural sleep (i.e. sleeping without the help of drugs).

  • The ‘emotional rollercoaster’ of early recovery.

  • Guilt about the past and concerns about the future

  • Poor sleep hygiene (e.g. drinking coffee close to bedtime or staring at a computer screen in bed).

Mindfulness Tools for Insomnia

Here are five mindfulness tools that can make it easier to fall asleep at night:

1. Qigong – Bamboo in the Wind

A full qigong routine prior to bed could make you too energized for sleep, but there are certain individual exercises that can help you unwind and relax. Bamboo in the Wind is an easy technique to perform, you only need to do it for a minute or so, and it allows you to release stress from the body.

To practice Bamboo in the Wind, stand up straight with your feet together and your knees slightly bend. Put your hands resting across the stomach. You then close your eyes and allow yourself to gently sway from side to side like a bamboo being moved by the wind. The important word here is ‘allow’ – don’t make yourself sway, just allow it to happen. As your body moves, you will be releasing stress that has built up over the course of the day.

2. Body Scan Focusing on Tiredness in the Body

A body scan can be relaxing by itself, but if you focus your attention on those parts of the body where there is tiredness, you may find that this calms down a restless mind enough that you are easily able to fall asleep. It is like you are being pulled under by the physical tiredness.

To perform a body scan, simply move your attention through the different parts of the body starting at the feet. As soon as you notice some physical tiredness (e.g. tired legs), just keep your focus on this sensation as best you can.

3. Promoting Sleepy Thoughts

You may have noticed that prior to falling asleep, our thinking goes a bit irrational. This movement from normal thinking to nonsensical thinking needs to happen so we can leave the problems of the day behind and fall into sleep. If we are still thinking about our concerns and difficulties, our mind is unlikely to become calm enough for us to slip under.

It is an uphill struggle to get our mind to settle down once it has got its teeth into a juicy worry. So, rather than trying to stop these thoughts, we could try moving our thinking in a different direction. A good way of doing this is to generate random words and random images in your head, this can disengage your mind long enough to pull you down into sleep.

4. Focusing on the Breath in the Stomach

By focusing on the rising and falling of the breath in the lower stomach, we can access a state of comfort and security – it is almost like being held. Moving your attention to this lower part of the body makes it easier to slow down discursive thinking.

5. Allowing

Probably one of the worst things you can do when trying to sleep is to go to war with your mind. This only increases the agitation in the mind. If you have tried a few techniques, and you are still no closer to sleep, the best option may be to just allow your body/mind to do what it wants to do. Even if you don’t fall asleep, at least you can get some physical rest by lying still and allowing the mind to be calm (i.e. not worrying about your failure to go to sleep). This state of acceptance often opens the door for sleepiness to arise.

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