Updated: Jul 11
By Dr. Phang Cheng Kar (M.D.), Consultant Psychiatrist & Mindfulness-Based Therapist at Sunway Medical Centre.
Insomnia is difficulty in falling asleep or staying asleep, despite having an adequate opportunity to sleep. It can lead to fatigue, irritability, poor concentration, mood disturbance, and decreased performance at work or school.
In a scientific review of 6 randomized controlled studies involving 330 participants published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research in 2016, mindfulness meditation was found to improve sleep quality significantly. Mindfulness practice can serve as a supplementary treatment to medication for sleep complaints.
Here are some ways (including mindfulness-based approaches) for overcoming insomnia:
1. Be aware of clinical anxiety or depression.
Besides medical causes, insomnia is often part of the symptoms of anxiety disorders and major depression. If you think you have any of the disorders, seek professional help, besides trying the methods recommended below.
Online screening of anxiety disorders with the GAD-7 questionnaire.
Online screening of major depression with the PHQ-9 questionnaire.
2. Remember to practice good sleep hygiene.
Sleep hygiene refers to habits that help us to have a good night sleep. A part of mindfulness practice often not emphasized is 'remembering.' In this context, it's remembering and recalling the habits that are useful for a good sleep:
For more information on sleep hygiene, visit the American Sleep Association (ASA).
3. Mindful Body Stretching.
Mindful Body Stretching is useful for reducing muscular tension, relieving headache, refreshing the body, relaxing the mind, and improving sleep. The practice involves progressively stretching and relaxing different parts of the body.
A combined mindful stretching and breathing practice is even more effective for relaxing the body and calming the mind for sleep.
4. Mindful Body Grounding.
Mindful Body Grounding combines the techniques of mindful breathing, body awareness, and simple self-hypnosis to induce sleep.
i) Breathe in through the nose (with your mouth closed)
ii) At the end of the in-breath, open the mouth slightly
iii) Breath out any tension through the mouth with a sound of relief, "Shiiiii..."
iv) As you're breathing out, imagine you're falling into the bed, comfortably falling, falling asleep. Pay attention to the heaviness of your body and the sensations between your body and the bed.
v) At the end of the out-breath, count in your heart, "10..."
vi) Repeat steps i-v and count downward (10 to 1)
vii) Good night, sweet dream
5. Body Scan & Kindness.
Body Scan & Kindness is useful for relieving body tiredness or discomfort, refreshing the mind, and having restful sleep. The exercise involves shifting our mindful attention to the sensation of the body and relating to the sensation with kindness.
6. Loving-Kindness Meditation.
Scientific studies have shown that Loving-Kindness Meditation (LKM) is useful for reducing stress and physical pain; increasing positive emotions, self-love, and empathy. In the Buddhist discourse on Loving-Kindness (Metta Sutta), there are 11 benefits of LKM, in which four are associated with having a good sleep - sleep well, wake up feeling well, less likely to have nightmares; relaxed body and joyful face.
This is how you can practice LKM:
You may also try the soothing Metta (Loving-Kindness) chant by Imee Ooi:
7. Sleep Wisely: Understand The Common Myths Related To Sleep.
We spend on average about a third of our lifespan sleeping. Yet, we know very little about the sleep state. So, let's try to understand more about sleep. Find out about the 10 common myths and facts on sleep by the National Sleep Foundation.
8. Upgrade Your Bedroom, Improve Your Sleep.
The bedroom environment has impact on our sleep quality. Adjust the bedroom design and environment (e.g., proper lighting, air temperature, color, aroma, mattress) to facilitate sleep.
9. Let Go - Don't Try Too Hard To Sleep.
One of the 7 attitudes of mindfulness taught by Dr. Jon-Kabat Zinn is 'non-striving.' When we try too hard to sleep, we'll be stressed out, and it will be even more difficult to fall asleep. When we take it easy, ZZZ.