For most of my life I was a "good sleeper." I'd go to bed when I was tired, usually around 10pm, and I'd drop right off, waking maybe once to go to the bathroom, but then not again until morning. Sleep was interesting (full of dreams) and restful. While I couldn't sleep in (being a huge morning person), there just wasn't ever a problem between me and sleep. Then, about 10 years ago, that changed. I was going through a very stressful personal situation, major surgery, and the Recession was hitting hard all around. At first I thought my not being able to sleep was just a passing phase, but when years passed I had to acknowledge it was actually chronic. My doctor gave me sleeping pills, and they worked great . .. for a few days.

And so began a journey of searching for sleep.

Years later, I was getting into a bad place, when I came across Mindfulness for Insomnia. I was daunted by the four week aspect of the program -- being exhausted I couldn't imagine having to wait that long to get a good night's sleep. Fortunately, it started to work right away.

"There is actually nothing you can do to “make” yourself sleep. If you’ve ever lain awake telling yourself, Go to sleep, go to sleep, or even conjured up images of nineteenth-century hypnotists waving golden pocket watches in front of your eyes intoning those same words, all to no avail, you know that to be true. In many ways, this is why insomnia can be so maddening. In fact, the more you try to bully yourself into going to sleep and tell yourself to do it, the more your mind and your body seem to rebel. If you’ve ever lain down with a toddler trying to wait them out at a scheduled naptime, you know. No amount of wishing, commanding, or pleading can “make” the child fall asleep. What you can do, however, is to create the conditions, internally and externally, to tip the scales and make sleep more likely to happen when you do lie down. You can allow sleep to come by working mindfully and compassionately with your mind and your body."

Week One establishes your meditation practice, including being present in the moment and focusing on the breath. The authors write that “the breath is a friend, and is also a teacher. It is always teaching us how we can receive, and also how to let go.” Week Two focuses on accepting and allowing sleep rather than trying to change it, and cultivating self-compassion. Again, breath plays a big role: “You are being nourished, rocked, and caressed by each breath.” Week Three shifts your intention to a place of letting be and letting go, of no longer trying to push away negative thoughts about sleep. The last week, Week Four builds your confidence in your ability to sleep. The first three weeks' daily practice is during the day, in the final week you shift to before bed at night, as “you are learning a new way of being in bed when sleep eludes you”. The last chapter has a summary checklist to pull it all together.

Overall, the program focuses on developing a practice of both Mindfulness and Self-Compassion throughout the day, with a daily meditation to set the frame. This changes our relationship with sleep from one of battle and frustration to an acceptance the day's stressors as affecting us, but not causing difficulty. It takes mindfulness-based stress reduction and mindful self-compassion, as well as other mindfulness and relaxation practices and applies them to your insomnia and sleep issues. Along with reading the book we can access guided meditations that can be used throughout the day, before bed, or even if we wake up in the middle of the night.

The writing style is approachable and you don't need to get into the science behind the practice if it feels overwhelming. But its there for those of us who want to know how it all works. I strongly recommend this science-based techniques to move past your insomnia and return you to a place of healthy sleep.

~review by Lisa Mc Sherry

Author:  Catherine Polan Orzech and William H. Moorcroft
New Harbinger Publications, 2019
pp. 224, $16.95