Simple steps to wind down and fall asleep

Woman laying on bed with arms outstretched

How to stop tossing and turning and get some quality shut-eye.

When the body is tired and needs rest, it can seem as if the brain hasn’t caught up yet. Instead, it can be almost impossible not to think about an endless list of both important and mundane things while trying to fall asleep, such as reviewing the day’s events and tasks that need to be completed.

When we lose awareness of the present moment, the mind can get stuck in negative ways of thinking. For example, you might be trying to go to sleep, but your mind gets lost thinking about all the groceries you need to buy. Deep, relaxed breathing is forgotten. And once you realize sleep isn’t happening, your muscles tense and your thought process quickly shifts to “I’m not falling asleep! I have XYZ to do this week and I won’t be able to function tomorrow.” The body seizes up, breathing and heart rate can both quicken, and falling asleep becomes more difficult.

Newer models of insomnia treatment are beginning to incorporate mindfulness. Here’s a grounding exercise to help you get some quality shut-eye:

  1.  Dim the lights 1 hour before bedtime. Start winding down the brain and body by dimming the lights. Engage in relaxing activities outside the bedroom that pass the time quietly.

  2.  Avoid looking at anything with a screen. Stow away your tablet, phone, computer, and TV for the night — the light can keep you awake and alert.

  3.  Ten minutes before bedtime, begin a focused mindfulness exercise. Sit in a comfortable chair in the same dimly lit room. Imagine the outline of your body and slowly trace it in your head. Keep in mind the amount of pressure you’re feeling against the chair or the ground and be mindful of where there’s more pressure and where there’s less. Start with your head. Is it touching the back of the chair? How heavy does it feel against the chair, wall, or just the air? Then slowly move down to your ear, then shoulder, arm, and leg. Work down to your feet and then back up the other side of your body. Take about five minutes for this exercise.

  4.  If your mind begins to wander, notice that it wandered and get back on track. Try to avoid judging yourself — your mind will indeed wander; the skill lies in getting it back on track.

  5.  Get in bed and focus on your breath. If you are unable to fall asleep, try getting up, sitting in the comfortable chair again and repeat the exercise. Don’t get back into bed until you’re sleepy — and don’t sleep in the chair!



This copyrighted information is courtesy of and sleep psychologist Shelby Freedman Harris.


Reviewed by Kaiser Permanente Clinical Ambassadors, including Mark Dreskin, MD, Sharon Smith, LPC, and/or David Kane, LCSW. September 2018.

Mindful, healthy mind, healthy life

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor.

Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage, Summary Plan Description or other coverage documents. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.