Wide Awake at 2 AM?

Put your insomnia to rest once and for all with this simple tool.

Posted Aug 16, 2020

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Source: Unsplash

I love my gynecologist. Hmm, that does not sound right. What I mean is, having received attentive care over many years and through various stages of my adult life, I have grown quite fond of her. Her warm demeanor and familiarity render my obligatory annual appointment less unpleasant than it might otherwise be. During the past few visits, as I’ve moved squarely into middle age, she has begun inquiring about the quality of my sleep. “Any issues with insomnia?” she asks. I get the distinct impression she is just biding her time until it is my turn. Not that she wishes it upon me, of course, just that she seems most confident that I will eventually answer in the affirmative, finding my place among all the other middle-aged women suffering with sleep maladies. 

“Not if everyone lets me sleep,” I answer. Which is true. If the teenager is not clattering around in the kitchen at 11:00 p.m., if the 6-year-old is not dreaming about monsters, if the dog does not need to go out pre-dawn, then, yes, I can sleep. Falling asleep is never the issue. When I am awoken and remain so for longer than four seconds, however, all bets are off. I will surely see the clock turn a few hours before slumber returns once again.

Sometimes this stretch of sleeplessness is peaceful, my mind drifting along aimlessly in the silence of the night. Other times the mind-chatter game begins. Occasionally, the chatter picks up steam and takes on a life of its own, every tiny daytime worry magnified and sucked into the rapidly expanding sphere of anxiety and angst. Once I reach this point, no amount of reason can calm down the drama mama who has taken over my mind. This is when I pull out the Wide-Awake Mindful Break, otherwise known as the 4-7-8 breath, metaphorically leading the now frantic drama mama by the hand and eventually tucking her in to peaceful dreamland for the night.

If despite your best efforts, insomnia insists on disturbing your precious peaceful slumber, this mindful break can offer you some middle-of-the-night relief. 

The Wide Awake Mindful Break: 

  • First, take a moment to bring attention to the body, relaxing any tight muscles as you briefly scan through each part. 
  • Gently place the tongue against the back of the upper teeth and allow it to remain there. 
  • Now slowly inhale through your nose as you silently count to four. Hold your breath for the count of seven and then exhale gently through the mouth to the count of eight. Repeat this cycle as many times as you’d like. 
  • Periodically check in with the body, continuing to soften any tense muscles. 
  • Note that the 4-7-8 breath is not the equivalent of a prescribed sleep aid, sending you effortlessly off to dreamland within a few short minutes, but a simple way to calm down the busy mind that may have revved up your body as well. 
  • Once you have quieted your mind and body, you may choose to read a good book or practice a body scan lying down.
  • Remember that we cannot force sleep, as it will only result in frustration and further sleeplessness. Remind yourself that we are more resilient than we think and can operate reasonably well on much less sleep than is ideal. As best you can, set up the conditions so sleep can come to you.

Sweet dreams, my friend.

Excerpted from Breathe, Empower, Achieve: 5-Minute Mindfulness for Women Who Do it All (The Experiment Publishing, 2019).