Mindful Sleep Induction for Grieving Clients

Last week we talked about the role that dreams can play in the process of grieving the loss of a loved one. Dreams can complicate the process by disrupting the client’s normal sleep patterns. In his new book, Mindfulness for Prolonged Grief: A Guide to Healing After Loss When Depression, Anxiety, and Anger Won’t Go Away, grief expert Sameet Kumar, PhD, presents techniques that can help clients get more healthy, restorative sleep on a regular basis, which will facilitate the healing process.

One technique that is proven-effective and relatively easy to teach clients is the Mindful Sleep Induction technique, an evidence-based approach to improving the quality of sleep that may help make dreaming pleasant again. Kumar says that trying this, along with some basic sleep hygiene tips presented in the book, can be effective for clients to develop steady, restorative sleep patterns as they’re grieving. 

Mindful Sleep Induction

  1. Complete your bedtime routine. Brush your teeth, use the bathroom, and change into your pajamas. Do all the sleep hygiene techniques you need to do to let your body know it’s time to sleep.

  2. As you lie in bed, become mindful of your breath. Are you belly breathing? If not, take a few deep breaths centered in your belly.

  3. Notice the breath rising and falling in your body.

  4. Check in with your body. Notice any tension in your body, especially around your jaw and forehead.

  5. As you become aware of any potential areas of tension, bring your mind back to your belly breathing. Try to relax tension as you become aware of it.

  6. Bring your awareness to your eyes and your eyelids. Notice them relaxing.

  7. Begin counting exhalations, one at a time, as you might do in sitting mindfulness meditation. Try to keep focus on the numbers, letting all other thoughts come and go. If you lose count, remember that it’s no big deal. Start over again at one each time you lose count.

  8. If your body becomes tense, keep breathing through your belly slowly and steadily as you ease muscles in tight areas of your body.

  9. Most people will doze off before they get to one hundred breaths. But if you get to one hundred breaths, simply start counting down, going backward from one hundred to zero.

  10. If you get back down to zero and are still awake, go back up to one hundred again.

  11. Repeat as often as needed.

Most people are able to fall asleep using this simple mindfulness-based technique. Even for people who have count a lot of breaths before falling asleep, the night is much more pleasant when they try to maintain awareness of the breath, rather than ruminating and getting lost in thoughts and worries. Instruct your client to count her breath as many times as needed. If she wakes up frequently and can’t fall back asleep easily, she can use this technique every time. That’s one of the great things about mindfulness and breathing: You can never overdo it. 

Ensuring healthy sleep is an effective way to balance out the fatigue that can come from the chronic stress of prolonged grief. Another factor that can significantly enhance sleep quality is getting physical activity during the day. In our next post, we’ll talk about some of the empirical support for the importance of exercise in grief recovery.

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