“Of all the things we do on a regular basis, sleeping is one of the most extraordinary and least appreciated.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn (founder of MBSR)
Sleep is extremely important for our mental and physical health and yet so many people have trouble falling or staying asleep. We can’t force ourselves to go to sleep; it’s a state that we have to let go into. Everyone is different and each of us needs a different amount of sleep to be at our best. “Contrary to popular opinion, older people don’t need less sleep than the average person. In fact, adults require about the same amount of sleep from their 20s into old age, although the number of hours per night varies from person to person”. (WebMD).
Sleep plays a very important role in the development of young minds. Sleep directly affects our feelings of happiness, alertness and attention as well as cognitive performance, mood and memory. “Sleep also has important effects on growth, especially in early infancy.” (Sleep Foundation)
Mindfulness can help us enjoy deep and restorative sleep and the practice that encourages this is a “body scan”. In a body scan, we are guided to place our attention on the body, slowly and sequentially by noticing one area at a time. For children, this may be done with the aid of a visual, such as a butterfly that lands on the body and when it does that part of the body is allowed to relax. For adults, it may be just noticing each part of the body in turn, being curious of the sensations there and then breathing into the area.
I like using a recorded yoga Nidra or an MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) body scan. Mindful Frontiers has some on our Youtube channel as well as on our Insight Timer page. The following practice is one that can be done as a family at the end of the day or when a parent is helping a child fall asleep. When done together, a member of the family such as an adult or older sibling may read the script. Then, I suggest recording and reusing it so that everyone can relax together. If all members of the family fall asleep, that’s even better!
Body Scan Meditation for Restful Sleep
- Begin the meditation by noticing the sensations at the top of your head. Simply note what you feel. There may be itchiness, warmth or tension.
- Focus your attention on your skull as it makes contact with the bed or the pillow. Allow curiosity in the sensations present and breathe into them.
- Scan your face area, forehead, eyes and nose. Notice tingling, temperature, tightness; let it all be there.
- Now bring your attention to your upper body. Breathe gently, directing the breath and focus first to your shoulders.
- Notice your left shoulder and then your right shoulder. Notice how they feel.
- Allow your awareness to move down your arms and all the way to your hands and fingers. Allow all of this area to soften and relax.
- Let your attention now go to your back. Imagine a zigzag movement across your back as you breathe into this area and notice what’s there.
- Notice your upper back, your mid-back and the sensations in your lower back. Allow any pain or tightness to ease with the breath.
- Now, notice your pelvic area and the places where your body has contact with the bed. Feel whatever sensations are present and welcome relaxation.
- Bring this kind and curious attention to your legs, knees and calves. Notice whatever sensations are present: vibration, tingling, temperature, heaviness.
- Lastly, bring your attention to your ankles, feet and toes. Breathe deeply and let relaxation reach these body extremities.
Now that you’ve scanned your body once, you can start again. This time, you might start at your feet and go back up through your body until you get to the top of your head. Feel free to scan your body up and down as many times as is helpful for you to fully relax.
(Adapted from mindful.org)