The 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Technique for Better Sleep
6 min read
Last Modified 12 July 2023 First Added 20 June 2023
Tired eyes, racing minds, and worries weighing us down – it’s normal to struggle to unwind, especially when we lead busy lives. But getting a good night’s sleep is vital for physical and mental well-being.
To help you shake off night-time anxiety, let’s explore the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique together and use it to get them much-needed Zzzs…
The 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique is a psychological approach to self-soothing, helping individuals navigate anxiety and prevent panic attacks. It asks you to acknowledge five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. By practising this emotional grounding, a form of mindfulness, you gain awareness of your bodily sensations and anchor yourself, preventing your mind from spiralling out of control.
You may have also heard of grounding or earthing as connecting with the Earth by touching or lying on the ground. Research into its physical health benefits claims that contact with the surface of the Earth aids in inflammation, circulation, and wound healing. But it still needs much more investigation to be sure. It can also be a beneficial mindful exercise if you are anxious or dysregulated. However, it’s not one to try before bed (unless you sleep outside!).
It’s a relatively simple exercise. You can use it any time when you are starting to feel overwhelmed, stressed, or unfocused…
Firstly, get comfortable. If possible, go somewhere quiet and sit down.
Next, direct your focus to your breath, noticing its rhythm. Embrace slow, deep, and extended breaths that guide you back to tranquillity.
Once you’ve established a connection with your breath, follow these steps to ground yourself:
Many therapists recommend practising this technique daily, even when you are already feeling calm. This way, you’ll be more likely to stay grounded when you have big feelings. It can also help you to get a better understanding of what helps to relax you the most.
If anxiety is disrupting your bedtime routine, take the principles of the 5-4-3-2-1 method and apply them to improve your sleep environment. Let’s uncover how you can do this:
5 things you can see
Low lighting is best for your nighttime routine as darkness stops melatonin suppression and starts to make you feel sleepy. Try a sunset lamp to mimic the gradual descent into darkness, or look into a Himalayan salt lamp with its soft, calming glow.
If you want to list 5 things you can see but it’s too dark, challenge yourself to picture items in your room. Where did you leave your favourite necklace? What is on your bedside table? What colour are your curtains? This will still distract you from anxious thoughts.
4 things you can feel
Here you can focus on your bedding, pyjamas, anything on your face, such as an eye mask, and even your bedroom environment. Treat yourself to soft, cosy materials to make getting into a bed a delight, and ensure that your room is at the right temperature to aid in falling asleep.
3 things you can hear
While a quiet bedroom is excellent for sleep, most of us don’t have the luxury of complete silence – or maybe you prefer white noise or relaxing ASMR to lull you to sleep. Try these sleep sounds to keep your mind off your worries and allow you to drift off peacefully.
2 things you can smell
Aromatherapy can help you relax and become sleepy. We recommend spraying your favourite nighttime scent as you get ready for bed. Not only is it an excellent way to make getting into bed a little more special, but it’ll also build an association with that scent and going to sleep, which can decrease your time spent trying to fall asleep.
1 thing you can taste
Having a big meal within 2-3 hours of going to bed is not recommended, but some foods and drinks can boost relaxation. A small snack naturally high in tryptophan, like milk, cheese, yoghurt, or a soothing herbal tea, can induce sleepiness. Again, if you consistently have these sleep-aiding snacks before bed, your brain will build a positive association with them and begin to quieten down whenever you eat them.
Mindfulness is about becoming aware of the moment and, more specifically, your body in that moment. It is used to bring people back from negative and unhelpful thoughts, which makes it an effective tool for those with stress and anxiety. Mindful meditation has been found to improve sleep quality as it can help your muscles relax, bring down your blood pressure, and quiet your unruly thoughts. This is why techniques like the military sleep method can be so effective at helping you sleep as they focus on quieting your mind and body.
Take a look at our meditation techniques for sleep – they take you through more ways to improve your mindfulness and slumber.