Bedtime Prayers and Self-Reflection to Treat Insomnia

Bedtime prayers consist of many different themes, but two concepts in particular may have a profound effect on the ability to fall asleep and stay asleep through the night. The first and more obvious feeling that might arise during your bedtime meditations is a deep sense of gratitude for the things you accomplished in your day. When you grow to appreciate even the “smallest” things, like your capacity to walk and talk and eat, there is a state of consciousness you may achieve in the quiet of your bedroom where you view these mundane actions as little miracles, especially if you were to take a moment to compare yourself to someone who cannot walk or talk or eat. Even without comparisons, when you give yourself a reflective pause from the daily grind, you may create an opportunity to see how walking or talking or eating is nothing less than a miracle. After all, when you look discerningly at these actions, it may strike you as amazing that you exist inside a body that engages in so many interesting capabilities: you could walk five miles; you could converse with other humans for hours; and, you certainly could prepare interesting combinations of food and drink to consume.

When a person learns to look back on the day and appreciate every little aspect of what it means to be alive, to feel alive and to continue to be able to maintain good health, the sense of gratitude can release a tremendous amount of emotional tension, the type of tension that might otherwise prevent sleep onset or prevent the return to sleep if awakened in the night.

This sense of gratitude is felt by nearly all adults after the experience of losing something and then regaining it. A broken arm leads to brushing your teeth and combing your hair with the “wrong” arm until you regain use of the “right” arm. A badly twisted ankle requiring crutches and then physical therapy makes you relish your natural gait weeks later . A bad cold, or worse a chronic sinus infection, prevents you from using your PAP device for a week or longer, and then the fatigue and sleepiness is lifted when you welcome your mask again. In each occurrence, at the point of resolution or return to normalcy, it would be very common to feel a keen sense of thankfulness that you can now use your arm or leg or PAP device as you had before. As Arya Stark, a young girl and character on the Game of Thrones series once said, “each pain is a lesson.” When we are able to see adverse experiences in this way, we usually come out the other end with a strong sense of gratitude that we not only survived the adversity but also re-experience this feeling of thankfulness for so many previously taken for granted aspects of our lives.

If you permit yourself to examine your life in this way, particularly at bedtime, it will soon dawn on you that you could spend the whole night appreciating the awesomeness of virtually all your waking hours. The list of experiences is countless, and each one has attributes of a minor miracle when you can put yourself into an open-hearted perspective about your life and the world you live in. Isn’t it amazing that you can laugh? Or cry? Isn’t it spectacular that you can work and someone pays you for your effort? Isn’t it unbelievable that there are so many different kinds of food you can eat?    

The list goes on forever…do you appreciate it? Every night before or at bedtime, just by paying attention to the amazing things in your life, this process of building thankfulness and gratitude into your consciousness can literally erase a great deal of distracting worries that otherwise prevent or interrupt sleep. It certainly takes a unique mindset to bring this perspective into your bedroom, but then this special room where you sleep is designed to elicit these thoughts and feelings by offering a space to feel peace, tranquility and serenity. Indeed, your mind actually would much prefer to go toward this mindset than the one that yields ruminations and racing thoughts about everything that went wrong with the previous day and everything that might go wrong tomorrow. There are many different ways to process worries, but one of the most powerful is to prevent them from emerging in the first place, and by generating feelings of gratitude, you have an excellent chance of creating the right kind of mindset that fosters sleep. Without even trying, the experience of heartfelt gratitude may cause you to doze off in the middle of your reflections or prayers.

The second emotion, forgiveness, in some ways can be viewed as more powerful than gratitude, because it works directly to resolve a problem with a specific worry that could not be suppressed or otherwise dissipated by feelings of gratitude. No matter how grateful you may be feeling, when something is worrying you at bedtime, the intensity of the emotions embedded within the worry may be too all-consuming to permit sleep. Thus, gratitude may not be able to displace worry. Instead, it is time for a reckoning, which almost invariably means an emotional reckoning targeting the real driver of your worries.

Worries by definition are linked to negatively perceived emotional experiences or states of mind. Although you can anticipate happy things with too much enthusiasm (an unusual form of worry) generated by fantasies of future events, the most common form of worry is about something unpleasant. The unpleasantness almost invariably generates an emotion such as fear, anxiety, anger, frustration, irritation, or annoyance, but in still more complex situations the emotion may be embarrassment, shame, or guilt. Nearly all the triggers for these reactions are some difficult or conflictual relationship with other individuals, be they friend, family, co-workers, or perceived “enemies.” Not infrequently, the triggers could also be about past or future events pertaining to how well (or not) an objective was attained or how well a task was performed. But, even these occurrences will usually relate back to how the task affected your relationships with friends, family, co-workers, employer or one’s “enemies.”

No matter whether the incident occurred the day before or will be upcoming in the days ahead, it is easy for any human to anticipate some problematic component that turned or will turn things sour. Even optimists worry about things, but their personalities may guide them more rapidly back to a place of greater acceptance by not only declaring “most things work out for the best,” but also because that outcome reflects their actual perceptions of daily living experiences.

For someone with a more pessimistic outlook and therefore more prone to imagining things not working out for the best, daily incidents or interactions may feel unfinished by the time the head hits the pillow. When entering that quiet space, it would seem so logical to forget about all your cares and woes, but in fact, it is the quietness that permits the vacuum to be filled with racing thoughts and related worries about whatever business is unfinished in your mind. 

If these worries are driven by negative emotional reactions about the past day’s interactions or anticipated events the next day, the bottom line is that you are holding someone accountable for this unpleasantness. Most of the time, we blame others for our problems. Other times we remind ourselves that it takes “two to tango.” Still, during moments of pure courage, we find fault lays at our own doorstep. But, whether the goal turns out to be to forgive someone else, forgive yourself, or forgive a group of people, this process proves extremely difficult to many people. To succeed, a person must arrive at the place where the feeling of forgiveness forges itself in your heart.

Sometimes, you may use words to say you forgive someone, for example, many bedtime prayers include phrasing of this sort. The real issue though is whether or not you arrived at the forgiveness, which usually involves the process of recognizing your disturbing emotions, working with these feelings to understand and process them, and finally learning some lesson from your emotional experience, which then permits you to imagine walking a mile in another person’s shoes. Such figurative journey’s often lead someone to realize that most interpersonal mishaps are not coming from a place of evil. Rather, they come from a place of someone else’s self-interest, which means the other person has feelings and emotions as well and therefore experiences the same capacity to feel hurt, injury or harm.

As this process comes to a conclusion, in the largest majority of instances, the individual lying in bed comes to the realization that a grudge that does not budge is likely to cause insomnia. Most of these unpleasant feelings, which have been driving the worry, can be confronted and directly vented, processed, or otherwise released. At such a point, it is possible to embrace one of man’s noblest tendencies—the power of forgiveness. When an individual works through this process at bedtime, he or she can supplant the insomnia-driven behavior of racing thoughts and worries with the heartfelt experience of forgiveness. Very soon thereafter, sleepiness will often seize the night.

Barry Krakow MD


Dr Krakow’s 27 years of sleep research have focused on the complex relationship between physiological and psychological sleep disorders. Dr Krakow currently operates private sleep medical center, Maimonides Sleep Arts & Sciences, Ltd., and serves as Classic SleepCare’s paid Medical Director.

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