Embracing Insomnia, Plus 8 Ways to Work with It

March 29, 2020

Not sleeping well these days? I know a little something about that. I’ve been battling insomnia for 20 years, and after trying everything from acupuncture and herbs to tea, hot baths, and therapy, I’m leaning into it.

I have much less fear of my insomnia now that I accept it. I have faced the scary monster in the bedroom and can smile, breathe, and reach out for support. 

Here are some ways to embrace sleepless nights.

Smile and accept being awake. Yes, lying there alone in my bed, I smile. The smile helps my face relax and also sends an important message to my brain: Everything is okay. Accepting “what is” is the key to transforming it. Tara Brach offers a wonderful 10-minute smiling meditation that helps you feel the power of smiling to shift your mood. 

Breathe and relax into being awake. My favorite exercise is counting to four on the inhalation and six or eight on the exhalation. Studies on the breath reveal that longer exhalations have a relaxing effect on the nervous system, helping the mind to quiet and the body to rest.   

Pray, and surrender the outcome. My form of prayer is to reach out to my beloved deceased grandparents or to dear friends who are on the other side, and invite them to be with me and to surround me with love. With practice, their presence feels real and supportive. We cannot do life—or insomnia—alone.

Practice tonglenAs you inhale, send to yourself, and to all others who are experiencing insomnia at this precise moment, one word: Awake. Exhale, and send to yourself and all others a remedy word for this state, such as Resting, Sleepy, or Acceptance. Repeat the words with each inhale and exhale. Practice without the expectation of falling asleep, simply offering compassion and kindness to yourself and all others who are lying awake.

Get cozy. I like to spoon myself between two pillows. A cool room makes for the best cuddling.

Try a guided meditation.One of my favorites is Insight Timer’s "Connect with Spirit Guides,” by Pura Rasa. 

Read. My mother, who also has insomnia, will often turn on her light and read until she is sleepy. Because she is retired, she can sleep in!

Get up and do things. Take a hot bath. Watch your favorite TV show. Do some yoga or seated meditation. Try the gentle yoga sequence I offer below.

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Evelyn Gonzalez, Kripalu Legacy Faculty, has been on the yogic path for more than 20 years and continues to gather wisdom and skill from inspired teachers, including Erich Schiffmann.

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