August 8, 2013

Help for Insomnia: Yet Another use for Mindfulness

(c) Tony Huynh
Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep is a very common complaint. Mindfulness can help but one must first radically revision the nature of the problem.

People tend to get into a negative feedback loop with insomnia: Not getting to sleep leads to worry, leads to further difficulty sleeping, leads to more worry, leads to…. What to do? One possibility is to start thinking about the night in a different way. This is a conceptual reframing, a profoundly different paradigm regarding the issue of sleep.

The normal paradigm is:
"I have to get a good night's sleep or I'll be a mess tomorrow".

The new paradigm is
"If I get a good night's rest, I'll be fine tomorrow".

Amazingly, it's possible to get a good night's rest without necessarily sleeping much or at all. Two things are required:

(1) that the body get rest by lying very still and corpse-like.
(2) that the consciousness get rest by engaging in a systematic focusing technique.

It does not matter which technique(s) you use, although something from the Focus on Rest technique family would probably be a natural first candidate to try—see Chapter 3 in the Five Ways manual. If none of those techniques work, you might consider Focus In (to “divide and conquer” the agitation), or Nurture Positive, or Do Nothing…whatever interests you most.

It may be hard to believe that you can be deeply refreshed after a night of little or no sleep (but lots of relaxation and concentration). Confidence in this truth comes with time and experience. You may also discover that letting go of the preoccupation with getting sleep ironically brings sleep.

In addition to using Mindfulness in this way, other factors should also be considered. Sleep scientists have a long, standard list of suggestions to facilitate a good night’s sleep. You can easily get this information from the Internet or consulting directly with a sleep medicine specialist. To the extent that their suggestions help, you can utilize them. To the extent that they do not help, you can utilize the mindfulness strategy described above.

Over the years, I’ve worked with many people who have sleep disorders spanning a wide range of intensities and causalities. My field experience tells me that the following formula almost always works.

  • Utilize the suggestions of sleep experts.
  • Stop worrying about staying asleep all night.
  • Get fascinated with learning to rest all night.
  • Train yourself in that skill by keeping the body deeply relaxed and maintaining a focus technique as continuously as possible.
  • Be patient. Skill deepens with time.


  1. Such good sense, so wise, so encouraging. Thanks.

  2. Interesting article. I started meditating years ago and have suffered from insomnia almost all of my life. I adopted a "mantra" a few years ago when I woke in the middle of the night as a way to try and deal with insomnia and found that my focus and concentration was pretty direct by this time. As I continued to observe I found that some nights I felt fully alert and not asleep but awoke feeling fully rested. I've developed this skill to the point where I no longer worry about the sleep as I've observed that the feeling of "I have to get to sleep or else" or "I CAN'T fall asleep!" are perpetual motivators to actually not sleep. It's only been that last couple of years that I've slept/rested the most peacefully in my entire life. I only wished I'd discovered this years ago.

  3. When I can not fall asleep I think great an opportunity to meditate. I begin with the deep physical relaxation of Yoga Nidra. Then I practice watching the watcher. It feels like lucid dreaming but the mind is still in the waking level of consciousness. I usually feel more rested doing this than actually sleeping.

  4. Great post as always, Shinzen. Thank you.

    I also wrote some about meditation, insomnia, and meditating in bed in a post on my blog a few months ago: .

  5. Well, as you probably recall Shinzen, I received a good deal of my meditation instruction from you for years in the middle of the night when I had relentless insomnia. It lasted for a good 7 years and then slowly became less and less and less of an issue. Now, age an hormones have brought the challenge back but to a much smaller degree. AND now, my skill set is in place. You helped me soooo much. Now I often just listen to Dharma talks in the middle of the night and find that that is enough to calm me back to sleep or at least deep rest. And if not......I know what to do. What a great opportunity you have given me to say thank you in a public forum. You really did save my life at that time. Marilyn

  6. A lot of people find that simply drinking warm milk before going to bed can be great for getting a good night's sleep. If you'd like to find out more cures for Insomnia, check out my blog at

  7. Thanks for sharing these valuable tips on getting back on track in terms of sleeping. Consulting sleeping experts will go a very long way. They can diagnose what exactly is wrong and why you can't sleep, then formulate a way on how to cure it.

    Enda Sharp @ TMJ Sleep Centre

  8. Thank you for listing these wonderful tips! They are a great help! While Drinking milk, warm showers, switching off mobile phones definitely help get a good night sleep! Sometimes its necessary to implement a Sleeping test to ensure a relaxed sleep! I found Canberra Sleep extremely useful

  9. Healing with sound improves and transforms a range of physical and emotional states. It is especially effective for those with chronic illness, Insomnia , compulsive behavioral patterns or who are recovering from trauma and grief. There are certain sounds of the nature which relieves and rejuvenate human mind and soul like sounds of river or sea waves, waterfalls, chanting of “OM” and mantras, wind chimes and bells. Healing sounds can be incorporated into many types of healing methods, such as meditation.

  10. Very Nice article and some good tips and useful information included.. I think insomnia lowers the quality of life of an individual, but as soon as you start to overcome it your life improves significantly and like meditation there are many natural insomnia remedies available which can be very helpful to individuals suffering from insomnia

  11. I'm only familiar with focus on breath and a little with mantra(tm). Are these also suitable?

  12. Google the term cranial electrical stimulation. Approved by the FDA for insomnia, very cost effective, and can be used at home!

  13. Great tips, here are a few more I can add -

  14. there are many best sleep tea available online which you can buy .This can really help you to sleep like baby.


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