Mindfulness for insomnia comes in all shapes and forms. Pick the one that feels best for you so you can relax and sleep easy.

neon sign that says 'you are here on an article that focuses on mindfulness for insomnia.

Let’s start the lifestyle and behaviour tweaking discussion with mindfulness for insomnia.

Mindfulness is often presented as some esoteric thing that only new-agey types would engage with. However, mindfulness is actually quite simple: it is when you bring your attention to the present moment without judgement attached. What this means is, we get lost in our story-telling mind of thoughts and feelings much of the time without even realising it. When this happens, we don’t truly engage with our present environment. 

Not engaging in the present moment is an incredibly common mental state amongst everyone. I’m sure you’ve been reading a book and suddenly realise you didn’t really absorb what was on the last few pages. Or you were watching TV and zoned out thinking about your stress from the day. Or maybe someone is talking to you, and you’re not really hearing what they are saying – you are thinking of your response. 

Practicing mindfulness for a few minutes per day at least gives us a bit of space to fully experience what is happening, right now. And the more you practice it, the more you can fall into a state of mindfulness naturally. 

I covered some basics of mindfulness in week 1 including 4-7-8 breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and passive muscle relaxation. I included these because I find them to be the most useful to me personally. However, there are many other techniques, some of which may resonate more with you. Here are just a few others you can try.

5-4-3-2-1 Grounding

When your thoughts start to race or you start to panic, you need to bring yourself back to what is actually going on around you. That’s what 5-4-3-2-1 grounding aims to do – ground yourself in the present moment.

Here’s what you do:

  1. Name five things you can see. It doesn’t matter what they are, just pick. Focus on each object at a time and observe. Notice the colours, how the light reflects off of it, specific features, etc. For example, look at your TV. Notice the frame around the screen, and any sort of beveling it may have. Notice any words, lights, or buttons. 
  2. Now focus on four things you can feel. See how your pants feel on your legs, or the fabric on your shirt. Feel the couch or chair you’re sitting on, or your jewelry, or the pressure on your feet from having them on the floor. 
  3. Move on to three things you can hear. There is always something, even if it seems silent. Notice the slight hum of appliances, the fan on your computer, or a car driving by. Listen to what’s happening around you.
  4. Now focus on two things you can smell. Maybe you just had lunch, or there’s a coffee cup from this morning nearby. If you’re wearing a scent like perfume or cologne, notice it. If you’re outside, smell the air, grass, trees, or flowers. If you can’t smell anything, think of two scents that you enjoy like fresh baked bread, the ocean, or maybe even the lumber section of a hardware store. 
  5. Lastly, focus on something you can taste. Take a sip of a drink. If you have gum or a mint nearby, taste it. If you can’t taste anything right now, name something that you love the taste of.

3-3-3 Grounding

Just like the 5-4-3-2-1 exercise, you focus on three senses: sight, touch, and hearing. Do the same process as the first three steps above, but limit it to three per category. 

Guided Breathing – My Personal Go-to Mindfulness for Insomnia

Guided breathing is exactly what it sounds like – you rely on an external factor to help regulate your breath. I personally love Insight Timer (not affiliated) – they have a ton of options, and a few will surely resonate with you and your current experience. 

You can also find youtube videos or websites that have an animation that you watch and breathe along with. This can help you focus not only on the sensation of breathing, but on the imagery as well. Here’s one that you can try:

https://www.calm.com/breathe

Either option is a good way to ground yourself if you find yourself unable to disconnect from your thoughts.

Deep Belly Breathing

It is well documented that breathing and emotions are closely intertwined, and controlled breathing like deep breathing has been shown to reduce anxiety, stress, and depression1. This is because mood disorders, like the ones previously stated, affect the whole body and whole brain rather than specific parts of the brain. By the same token, breathing targets the whole body and brain, whereas medication targets specific neurotransmitters, thus treating only part of the problem2.

When we’re anxious, we generally breathe in our upper chest. Much of the time, we don’t even notice it. However, breathing in our chests can be quite shallow, sending an unconscious signal to your brain to continue breathing in a laboured way. This keeps you feeling anxious. 

To slow down your breathing, inhale by pushing out your belly. Fill it with air, and continue inhaling through your chest. Exhale. Do three sets of 10 breaths.

Equal BreathingThe Circuit Breaker Mindfulness for Insomnia

Equal breathing is when you breathe in and out for equal counts. It is a particularly useful technique if you are panicking. Because when we panic, we take shallow breaths and it feels like we’re not getting enough air. This leads to hyperventilating, making the panic spiral that much worse. When this happens, your body can feel tingly, numb, or suddenly begin cramping, causing parts of your body to lock, among other thing3. It’s an atrocious feeling where it feels as if you are having a heart attack or are about to die. 

To do equal breathing, simply breathe in for four counts (or five, or six) and exhale (vigorously) for an equal amount of counts. Like, really get the air out of your lungs. Do this until you find a natural rhythm with your breath. 

Drop Anchor

The term ‘drop anchor’ was coined by renowned psychologist Russ Harris who has written the most popular books on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)4. What it essentially tries to do is disrupt your pattern of thinking during an emotional ‘storm’. This can also be done at any time under any mood, and in fact is easier to practice when you’re not swept away.

Here, you follow the ACE principle: Acknowledge thoughts and feelings, Come back into your body, and Engage in what you’re doing. 

For acknowledging your thoughts and feelings, notice what you are feeling, thinking, and any memories that pop up, etc. Try to do so with an inquisitive mind, like you are something fascinating to be studied rather than getting wrapped up in the specific feelings, thoughts, and memories. 

To come back into your body, focus on things you can control. Stretch your arms above your head. Stomp your feet. Push your hands together. Touch your elbow. Anything. Move your body in a way that makes you focus.

When it comes to engaging in what you’re doing, this is where the 5-4-3-2-1 or 3-3-3 exercise comes in handy.

Pay Attention to Body Sensations

In this mindfulness for insomnia, you focus on what you are feeling and what you are doing is a way to ground yourself. A great time to practice this everyday is while you are in the shower. Focus on the feeling of the warm water hitting your back. Feel your fingers run through your hair. Concentrate and name what you are doing, for example “I am now shampooing my hair” or “I am washing my face – cheeks, forehead, nose, ears”, etc. 

Other ways to focus on body sensations include cleaning, exercising, getting dressed, putting on makeup, getting ready for bed, etc.

📍 Quest #1 – What is your choice mindfulness for insomnia?

What act of mindfulness will you do everyday this week? Pick one from the above list and give it a go. Most of these take no more than a few minutes, so set a timer and try to start a new habit.