The 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Technique for Improved Sleep Quality
Written by: Dr. Pamela Heilman, PsyD, LCP
Imagine this scenario. You have to be up early the next day. You head to bed, lie down, and when your head hits the pillow, you feel wide awake. Or, you’re sleeping soundly and then suddenly you wake up, look at the clock and see that it is 3:30am. Anxiety and worries about not falling back to sleep start kicking in. Once this occurs, it can be incredibly difficult to get back to sleep. Grounding exercises can be very useful for calming anxiety and promoting sleepiness.
A grounding technique refers to a coping strategy that helps an individual refocus on the present moment. It is often used to help people who struggle with issues such as anxiety, PTSD, and panic attacks. The 5-4-3-2-1 technique is a grounding exercise in which an individual is guided to use their 5 senses to focus on the present moment. For example, a person may be asked to do the following:
Identify 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch or feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste. Or you can take one slow breath in and slowly exhale. Although this exercise seems simple enough, it usually takes practice before an individual starts noticing the benefits.
The 5-4-3-2-1 technique can also be very useful for improving sleep quality. I often work with clients to identify specific ways to calm their senses before bedtime. This strategy can also be used for someone who frequently awakens. Here are some examples of how this technique is used.
Sight- Dark rooms or rooms that have soft, warm light can promote more restful sleep. I advise clients not to look at their clock once they are in bed. It can often trigger intrusive thoughts about not sleeping.
Sound: Some people prefer complete silence when they sleep. If this is the case, I encourage them to be still and focus on the silence in the room. Others find the silence unsettling or perhaps they are bothered by noises in their environment. Using a sound machine or tuning into the sound of a fan can be helpful.
Smell: Having a calming smell such as a lavender, vanilla, or jasmine can be useful. If this smell is reserved for bed time, your brain may begin to associate that smell with sleepiness.
Touch: Research suggests that keeping your room somewhere between 60- and 72-degrees Fahrenheit promotes the most restful sleep (Goodarzi, 2021). In addition, it can be helpful to focus on the weight of your body on the mattress, how your head feels resting on the pillow, the softness of your sheets, and the heaviness of your eyelids.
Taste: Certain foods and drinks have been found to promote sleep (Breus, 2023). Large meals should be avoided before bedtime. Nuts such as almonds and walnuts contain melatonin, which is a sleep-regulating hormone. Pumpkin seeds contain zinc and magnesium and are also a source of tryptophan. Warm milk contains tryptophan which can help induce sleep (Breus, 2023). A small cup of hot tea without caffeine can help produce a warm-soothing feeling. When used as a nightly ritual, it can signal to your brain that it is time for bed.
When the 5-4-3-2-1 strategy is practiced regularly it can help your brain to start reassociating calmness and relaxation with bedtime. This is just one of many effective strategies for promoting restful sleep. If you are struggling with insomnia, reach out to us at Oakheart.
Breus, M. (2023, February 10). The best foods for sleep. The sleep doctor. https://thesleepdoctor.com/nutrition/the-best-foods-for-sleep/
Goodarzi, N. (2021, September 28). This sensory grounding technique is a calming way to get ready for bed. Sleep.com. https://www.sleep.com/sleep-health/54321-grounding-technique
The 5 senses approach to a better night’s sleep. (2019, January). Threads. By Garnet Hill. https://www.garnethill.com/threadsbygarnethill/2019/01/08/the-5-senses-approach-to-a-better-nights-sleep
If you are interested in counseling for insomnia, call OakHeart at 630-570-0050 or 779-201-6440 or email us at Contact.OH@OakHeartCenter.com. We have counselors, psychologists, and social workers available to help you at one of our locations in North Aurora, IL, Sycamore, IL, and/or via Telehealth Online Therapy Services serving Kane County, DeKalb County, Dupage County, and beyond.
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