Can’t Sleep? Try Smiling

For nights when stress + anxiety get the better of you, try this simple practice, with a smile, to peacefully drift off to sleep.

Photo: Unsplash

Most of us, at various times, struggle with sleep. In fact, more than a third of American adults are not getting enough sleep (at least 7 hours per night) on a regular basis, according to a 2016 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s study.

For quality, consistent sleep every night, it’s critical to develop a healthy bedtime routine, as well as lifestyle factors such as proper nutrition and physical activity — all of which affect our sleep patterns. That said, there are some nights where anxiety just gets the better of us despite all of our best efforts.

So, the next time you find yourself tossing and turning, and in ‘mind overdrive’ (incessant worrying, ruminating and thinking about such things as work and to-do lists), try the following technique. I like to call this practice The Smiling, Sleepy Buddha.

It’s one of my favorite methods (and it’s often a favorite of my clients!) to peacefully fall asleep or fall back to sleep if you’ve woken up in the middle of the night with anxious thoughts. It incorporates mindfulness, a breath technique, body temperature regulation, and a tiny smile!

The Smiling, Sleepy Buddha: A practice to help you fall asleep

Step 1: Position

Roll over onto your back (so you can effectively take long, deep full breaths) into Savasana (Corpse pose).

Step 2: Smile

Add an ever so slight and comfortable smile to your face. Use just enough pressure to gently engage the muscles around the lips, without straining or overly forcing. (If someone were to look at you, they may not even notice you’re smiling.)

The mind-body connection teaches us that the mind can influence the body, but the reverse communication linkage — body to mind — is also true. The body can inform the brain and, in this case, it’s a small brain hack used to signal to the brain/nervous system that everything is OK, that you’re safe and that you’re content. Your nervous system darn well knows you wouldn’t be smiling if you were in actual danger! The smile will help to enable both the brain and the body to relax. (And you’ll resemble a peaceful, happy meditating Buddha!)

Step 3: Breath Technique

Ok, picture a Buddha figure with a nice round belly. This breathing technique calls for soft belly, or diaphragmatic breathing, where the belly rounds, fills and puffs up on the inhale (imagine that Buddha belly!), and contracts/empties on the exhale (remember “e” for exhale/empties!)

A good majority of stressed, overworked adults simply aren’t breathing correctly. Adrenaline in the system often leads us to reverse the inhale/exhale process, where we take shallow, chest breaths (rather than full, belly breaths) — which isn’t as effective at oxygenating the blood. Additionally, shallow, sharp breaths from the upper chest area (and not from the belly/diaphragm) may lead to neck stiffness and pain over time.

When the body’s stress response has been triggered, engaging the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) — the “rest and digest” system that allows the body to reset and recuperate — signals to the brain that you’re OK and safe. One way to actively engage our PNS is through effective use of the breath.

Lying on your back, inhale (filling the belly) to a count of 3, and then exhale (emptying the belly) to a count of 3. You can experiment with 4-count and 5-count breaths as well. (And don’t forget to add that tiny smile!)

Continue breathing in this manner. Use the breath as the mind’s anchor. When you notice your mind wandering, recognize it’s drifted, detach from the distraction/thought (imagine it floating or passing by like a cloud in the sky), and return to the breath count. Every time your mind drifts, return to the breath again and again.

Step 4: Body Temperature Regulation

Anxiety and stress may have an effect on your body temperature. Normal body temperature is approximately 98.6°F, but bouts of stress or an anxiety/panic attack may cause the temperature to fluctuate 1°F in either direction (an increase or decrease in body temp, depending on the person).

To help regulate body temperature, you can use a slightly damp washcloth — using cool or slightly warm water depending on how you want to adjust your body temp — to place over your forehead while practicing this technique. Keep a bowl or tray on your nightstand, and when you find yourself drifting off to sleep, simply place it in the bowl.

Continue practicing this technique — The Smiling, Sleepy Buddha — until you peacefully drift off to sleep!


Founder of High Vibe Office, Shelby Wayte is a Holistic Health & Stress Reduction Expert for busy women who are ready to break the destructive cycle of stress + burnout — to live a more energetic, vibrant (high vibe!), happy and healthy life. Don’t you think it’s time you said buh-bye to the daily grind, and hello to the DAILY GROOVE?

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