Take Back Your Nights – Techniques for Overcoming Insomnia

Insomnia – Matt Boisvert

Ask someone what brought them to learn meditation and the response is often one of the usual suspects: stress, anger management, focus issues, depression, anxiety and the source of my own explorations into this area: insomnia. When I hit puberty I started getting nightmares and sleepless nights, restless tossing and endlessly cycling thoughts of regrets and possibilities. To counteract my sleepiness in the day, coffee became my lifeblood, then cigarettes too. I worked part-time at a movie theatre—often until after midnight—participated in musical theatre productions three times a year and somehow managed to still make my classes and get good grades. This was all while functioning on minimal sleep. I rarely reached the deepest and most restful phase of sleep. Eventually, I realized that the stimulants were treating the symptoms and not the cause. I became obsessed with finding forms of meditation that could help me sleep and I have been living insomnia-free for over a decade. Many of the following techniques now happen unconsciously for me and going to sleep is often as easy as lying down and placing my hand on my heart.

Body Awareness

This was where it all started for me. Though all a part of the whole, each body part has their own personality and needs. In my experience, once each part is acknowledged, it has a way of “tucking itself in for the night,” like saying goodnight to all your children. Starting from the toes and moving upwards, bring your attention to each body part and then allow it to relax. I like to physically flex or tense each body part and then relax it. Continue upwards through the body and arms, finally ending with the neck, face and crown. In the beginning, it will take longer to go through this process but eventually it becomes like a slow electrical wave that passes through you. This is a wonderful base for any relaxing meditation, journeying or for those whose insomnia comes from out-of-control thinking, as it commands focus.


I first came across this technique in Buddhist group meditation and eventually coupled it with another technique I encountered while lecturing on heart-based meditation, because they are both expressions of the same intention. This technique is especially useful for out-of-control thinking and what Eckhart Tolle calls “mind movies.” The mistake most people make—myself included—is to engage with the thoughts that arise – especially trying to push them away. Instead, gently diffuse the thoughts away through either swiping or ballooning.

Swiping: Imagine you are a car and your mind’s eye is the windshield, then turn on the wipers. Gently wipe the thoughts away, side to side, and allow them to disappear.

Ballooning: Place a balloon around the thought and then let it float off into the distance. If needed, physically lift your hands to set the thought free.   

Heart-based Meditation

Heart-based meditation or Coherence was developed by the Heartmath Institute after years of studying meditation techniques and the heart. This method stimulates optimal communication between the heart and brain, which produces over 1,300 biochemicals, most of which have healing and mind/body balancing effects. There are three simples steps to this meditation:

1. Heart Awareness: Bring your attention to your heart by placing your hand or a couple fingers on it.

2. Heart Breathing: Take deep, comfortable breaths—nothing forceful— while picturing the breath entering through the heart and going up to the top of the head then back down and out the heart again.

3. Heart Feeling: Generate a feeling of thanks or appreciation. This is a feeling and not a thought form, so what you want is that fluttery feeling in your chest when you experience gratitude. Good keywords to help generate this are: Gratitude, Appreciation, Thank You or simply picturing one of those adorable ‘cat befriends turtle’ or ‘hamster eats tiny burrito’ videos. Put your hand on your heart, breathe and feel. If you get lost or distracted, just do the three steps over again.


This is an incredibly simple and potent method for easing into sleep that comes from Jonathan Goldman and the hardest part about it is not feeling silly. A sustained hum actually stimulates your body to produce natural melatonin, the hormone we produce in response to darkness (and which many people take in synthetic form as a sleep aid). You will be shocked at how well three comfortable, sustained hums will help your body relax.

Declaration/Request of Intent

Sometimes the body is unsure of what to do, after being pulled in so many directions all day. Stating your intent for a restful sleep, where you wake feeling refreshed and energized, is a great technique – especially if you have an important day ahead. It can be formed as a request to your guides and spirits, or directly to the body itself. The body responds to whichever paradigm as long as the intent/request is stated clearly.

Above all, don’t overwhelm yourself! Pick one of the techniques to start with and build from there. You’ll be sleeping easier in no time.

Finally, just like the old shop owner in the classic film, I offer three other simple rules to help keep your Mogwai from turning into a Gremlin: 

  1. Avoid stimulants. Caffeine stays in the system an average of 10 hours, so avoid having it within 6-8 hours of bedtime. The same goes with cigarettes, vapes and energy drinks. If you are truly battling insomnia, consider scrapping these altogether.
  2. Don’t eat after 8pm. Your digestive system also has a sleep cycle and it takes a while to get to sleep as well. Eating too late confuses this system. What you end up with is bad dreams and partially digested food.
  3. Put the phone down. Not only does the light from your screen affect your body’s natural rhythms, so does those dopamine hits from social media/mobile games/doom-scrolling the news. Put your phone away at least 30 minutes before bedtime, and keep it powered down in a different room from where you sleep.

This article was originally published in the Healing Connections Wellness Centre January 2023 newsletter. To subscribe to this newsletter visit here.

Matt on Nightbird Radio

I was recently this week’s special guest on a great podcast called Nightbird Radio with Timothy Sailor. We talk about meditation, magic in real life, consensus reality, mandela effect, and so much more. I even tell a couple of spooky stories from my own life. Check it out here: Nightbird Radio.

Spirals of Influence

I returned home on Friday after a six hour drive across Alberta to my beautiful wife and baby daughter. Being away for the few nights I was felt like an eternity and it was an immense relief to be in the same room as them again. I spent the last two week giving lectures to some of the Alberta teacher’s conventions. I gave five lectures in total this year, speaking at: NETCA, CCTC, SWATCA and SEATCA which took me from Edmonton to Calgary to Lethbridge to Medicine Hat. In total, I spoke to about 200 teachers about Heart based meditation and its application in a classroom setting. I felt that it was my most successful tour yet, but even still one finds themselves coming home and wondering if it was worth it. How many of them did I actually reach? Will they continue to practice? Will it actually make it to their classrooms? Having attended many of these types of conferences myself, I know that there is a big difference between the excitement you have during the session and the actual application of the methods in your classroom. It was especially difficult in my first year of lecturing where I had some grumpy teachers with arms-crossed in both of my lectures. Unfortunately my attitude at the time led me to focus on them and completely forget about the 150 other teachers who attended that were taking notes and asking questions.

Fortunately, I have developed a different attitude now that enables me to leave each session with a feeling of satisfaction. Whether it is a lecture hall of 100 or a classroom of 8, I focus on one person. It is not any specific person really, it is more the idea of that person. I believe that in each lecture there is at least one person in the room whose life will be changed by learning the heart based meditation method as mine once was many years ago. Chances are it is a higher number as the teachers get to pick their own sessions so something drew them to the room in the first place, but I just focus on one. Apparently that is all I needed to feel confident and satisfied with the lectures. I think the reason for this is something I realized years ago while working with children. I was in the schoolyard as the busy scatterings of children flocked to take their busses home. I overheard one of the children from our daycare teaching a child from the school something that I always said to them. Of course my heart beamed with pride that one of my mantras had not only been learned but subsequently applied and taught to another but then a profound thought occurred to me that has changed me forever. We often talk about our Sphere of Influence, the tangible circle of people and institutions in which we can affect but it suddenly struck me that this is not really an accurate description, particularly if you are someone who works with children in any capacity. What we really have are Spirals of Influence and from each individual or institution we teach another spiral forms as they continue the teaching and from their student another and on and on. What we then have is a vast network of overlapping, ever-growing spirals. Change made on any scale spirals out.

So now when I return home from a lecture, exhausted from the driving, tired from speaking and ecstatic to be home and I am confronted by that little doubt monster that lives in all our heads asking ‘was that really worth it?’, the answer is always yes. Even having an impact on a single person is enough because I know that they will teach someone else and the spirals will grow.