Feet sticking out from under covers

3 Sleep Rituals That Will Help You Sleep Like a Baby Tonight

June 23, 2022

If you’ve been having difficulty falling—or staying—asleep, a calming bedtime ritual may be just the thing you need to get your body and mind in a more peaceful place. In Jennifer Williamson’s book Sleep Rituals: 100 Practices for a Deep and Peaceful Sleep, she reveals easy practices and activities to set the mood for more restful slumber. Try one of the following three relaxation practices tonight.

Progressive Breathing

Consciously elongating your exhale by just a couple of seconds ushers your body into a parasympathetic state—slowing, soothing, and synchronizing the neural elements in your heart, lungs, and brain, which helps your body get ready for sleep.

Try counting your inhale in seconds, then extend your exhale by two counts. Repeat this incredibly simple exercise to shower your entire being with healing vibrations. The benefits include relief from insomnia and anxiety, but you can practice simply for the peaceful, easy feelings. Incorporate this breathing ritual into your nightly sleep routine and you’ll find yourself dreaming in no time:

1. Begin sitting comfortably with a straight spine. You can eventually try standing, lying down, or even moving as you gain practice.

2. Close your eyes. Take a few deep inhales through your nose, exhaling out of your mouth. With each inhale, fill your lungs completely, feeling your belly expand. With each audible exhale (as if you were fogging up a window), empty yourself of air.

3. Inhale through your nose for a count of 3 seconds. Exhale through your nose for a count of 5 seconds.

4. Inhale for a count of 4. Exhale for a count of 6.

5. Inhale for a count of 5. Exhale for a count of 7.

6. Continue with this pattern—inhaling for 1 count higher than your previous inhale and exhaling for 2 seconds longer than the inhale—for as long as it is comfortable for you. Keep your breathing even and smooth.

7. When you reach your maximum capacity of inhaling and exhaling, begin moving backward. For example, if you could inhale for a count of 10 and exhale for a count of 12, your next inhale will be for a count of 9 with an exhale for a count of 11.

8. Once you reach a 3-count inhale and a 5-count exhale, release all effort. Return to normal breathing.

9. Repeat one more time, if needed.

10. Enjoy the newfound spaciousness in your mind, body, and evening.


On your exhale, slightly constrict the back of your throat as if you are fogging up a window with your mouth closed.

Hold the breath at the top of the inhale for 1 count and do the same for the exhale.

Gradually build your exhale up to double the length of your inhale.

Repeat each same count two or three times: 3-5, 3-5; 4-6, 4-6; 5-7, 5-7; and so on.

If higher counts are too demanding, there is no need to push yourself. More important than the absolute length of your breath is that the exhale is longer than the inhale.

Visiting Your Happy Place

Use this relaxation script to mentally transport yourself to a pleasant setting—where peace is the most natural thing in the world. Choose anything that pleases you: a private beach, castle in the mountains, field of wildflowers, enchanted forest, spa, temple, cave of crystals, favorite room, and so on. Spending a long moment in your “happy place” prompts your brain to release serotonin, which feels good and helps override old panic patterns, carving a more positive pathway. You’re not avoiding but learning to more gracefully cope with stress so that it doesn’t control your sleep. The practice can do wonders for soothing insomnia and restlessness.

Follow along to create the perfect place in your mind, where you can retreat before bed and evoke calm at any time:

1. Craft the most peaceful external setting possible. Sit tall or lie down comfortably. Support yourself with blankets and pillows.

2. Close your eyes. Spend a few moments focusing on your breathing, gradually relaxing every muscle. Alternatively, practice a calming meditation or a deep breathing exercise before continuing.

3. If you find it difficult to conjure up pleasing imagery right away, focus on the journey there: the climb up to the top of the mountain; paddling across the lake; anything that resonates with you. This journey takes real effort, but you understand its purpose: reaching your destination. Each step puts distance between you and ordinary life.

4. Imagine coming across a protective archway made of light. It keeps the outside world at bay and provides entrance to deep restfulness. Come through the archway, leaving the excitement of the journey behind.

5. As you come through, imagine yourself in the most beautiful, serene location, where everything is as you would ideally have it be: your happy place.

6. Immerse yourself in the sensory elements of this place. For instance, vividly imagine the warmth of the sun on your skin and the sound of waves rolling in to the shore. Feel the rich earth beneath your feet and the gentle breeze moving through your hair. Smell the incense in the temple. Hear the bird song. Run your fingertips along the crystals.

7. Remain in this healing space for as long as you like, whether just a few minutes or 30 minutes.

8. If thoughts from the day appear, gently return your focus to the visualization. You can imagine the thought being carried away in a bubble or by a bird.

9. Before leaving, assure yourself that you can return to this place whenever you wish. You know the way here and it will quietly await your return. Take a mental snapshot of your scene, capturing an image for easy recall after opening your eyes.

10. Gently bring your focus back to your breathing. Open your eyes when ready.

Emotional Landscape

Changing the way you see your internal landscape is a powerful way to alter it. This visualization summons your imagination to help you transcend and reinterpret those distressing stories that want to keep you up at night. By gaining an aerial perspective of your emotional landscape, you gain the freedom to discover some relief there. You are essentially rewiring your subconscious mind to observe emotions without giving them the power to set the course for your night. Course-correcting is an invaluable tool for peace. Read through this sequence before bed to rise above any disquieting emotions and set the stage for a night of real rest:

1. Sit in a comfortable seat and use relaxed breathing.

2. Select an uncomfortable emotion you would like to shift: uncertainty, failure, shame, regret, bitterness, self-doubt, unworthiness, and so on.

3. Imagine yourself sitting, barefoot and relaxed, on the top of a quiet hill or mountainside. Feel the earth beneath you.

4. Invite the discomfort to come forth and present itself to you as a landscape. With as much curiosity as possible, notice what you see from your neutral and elevated state: a dark forest, violent volcano, vast ocean, dry desert, abandoned building, or anything else. Let your intuition guide you—nothing is wrong.

5. Observe the details of the landscape. Is it indoors or outdoors, sparse or full of images? Seek without forcing. You may sense something instead of seeing it. In your mind, describe what grabs your attention: sights, sounds, shapes, colors, impressions. Everything (even blank space) is meaningful.

6. Notice that you are not the landscape. Recognize that the place presenting itself to you is an internal state of being that you have recently inhabited and are now observing. Feel the relief of detachment.

7. Walk down and explore the landscape—although you are standing in it, you are not the landscape itself. Discover details with interest: terrain, climate, colors, animals, vegetation, and so on.

8. To heighten your exploration, call in a friendly winged creature who is big enough for you to climb on. It agrees to safely bring you up into the sky. Alternatively, enter a hot air balloon or sit on your own personal cloud.

9. Soar up into the clear sky. You now see the landscape of your emotions from a distance. Notice every edge and design. See how different and small everything looks from up here.

10. When you are ready, ask to be safely brought back to the hill or mountain. As your guide leaves you, flying (or floating) smoothly away into the setting sun, close your eyes and sink into the earth. Your awareness is vast now.

11. Bring your focus back to your steady breathing and the present moment. Open your eyes when you are ready.

Excerpted from Sleep Rituals: 100 Practices for a Deep and Peaceful Sleep Copyright © 2019 by Jennifer Williamson (AimHappy.com) and published by Adams Media, a division of Simon and Schuster. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

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