Body Sensing Meditation for Help with Sleep

Anxiety around bedtime is a struggle for many people of all ages. Whether the challenge is to fall asleep or stay asleep, worry doesn’t make getting enough zees any easier. Here is a strategy for calming that uses a body scanning strategy combined with breath awareness.

Parents might share this practice out loud to help a child go to sleep. The child also might learn to use all or parts of the technique on their own. Once you understand the basic strategy you can adapt the wording to meet your own needs or the needs of the person you are sharing this with. Some might even fall asleep before you get through the whole practice!

If you or another person experiencing this practice do not have all of their body parts you can ask whether it feels good to imagine those body parts while doing the body scan or whether it feels better to include only body parts that are present. For a person who is deaf or hard of hearing or for people who respond well to sensory touch, there is the option to gently touch parts of the body while moving through the practice. Once learned, the practice can be silent, internal, and personalized. Be creative about how to make it workable and useful for any person who might benefit.

To help with sleep, body sensing starts with the feet…

Please make yourself comfortable in bed or another space where you can relax and listen to the 10-minute meditation provided in this video.

When you are finished listening, if you are not yet ready for sleep, you may wish to begin again with the body sensing, always starting with your feet and traveling awareness up through the body, noticing the breath throughout your own journey into rest.

The Meditation Script

If you prefer to read this script aloud to someone else or to yourself, here are the words from the video:

Notice that you have two feet. On your feet there are toes, big toes, second toes, middle toes, fourth toes, and baby toes. Notice your feet and toes. Notice what your feet and toes are touching. Is it soft or hard? Cool or warm? Are your toes and feet relaxed? Notice that you have ankles. Your legs have a lower part. You have two knees. Your legs have an upper part. You have hips. Notice what your hips, legs and feet are resting on. Is there anything you could change to be even just a little bit more comfortable?

Notice your tummy. Notice that as you breathe in your tummy goes up. As you breathe out your tummy goes down. Notice what it feels like to breathe in and out of your tummy. As you breathe in, you are noticing that your tummy is filling up. As you breathe out, you are noticing that your tummy is getting empty. What does breathing feel like? Just notice.

Notice that behind your tummy is your back. You have a lower back, a middle back, and an upper back. Inside your back there are ribs, and your ribs have a back part, two sides, and a front part. Your front ribs meet at your chest.

Notice that when you breathe in, your tummy fills up and so does your chest. Your ribs get a little wider. When you breathe out your chest goes down and so does your tummy. Your ribs settle in. See if you can notice what it feels like when your tummy and chest fill up with breath and when they empty of breath. Notice how long it takes for a breath to come all the way in and to go all the way back out again. Your body knows how to breathe all by itself and does this all day long. Notice how it feels to pay attention to your body breathing.

Notice that your chest is in between your shoulders. Your shoulders are connected to your arms.  Your arms have an upper part. You have elbows. Your arms have a lower part, and you have two wrists. Notice your hands. You have fingers. Each hand has a thumb, first finger, second finger, third finger and a baby finger. Your hands have a back part and a palm. Notice what your shoulders, arms and hands are resting on. Is it soft or hard? Cool or warm? Are your arms, hands, and fingers relaxed? Is there anything you could change to be even just a tiny bit more comfortable?

Notice that your heart is beating inside your chest. You are breathing, and your heart is beating. Your body is taking care of its basic needs to be healthy and alive. Notice that right now you are safe. Notice the room you are in and whether there is lightness or darkness or some of both. Notice any sounds that are near or far. Notice that your body is breathing. Your chest and belly fill up each time you breathe in and empty each time you breathe out. Make any little changes that you need to be slightly more comfortable.

Notice that you have a neck and a head. Notice what the back of your head is resting on. Your head has a top part and two sides. You have eyebrows and two eyes. Your eyes can close so that your top eyelashes and your bottom eyelashes touch each other. Imagine that there is a color behind your closed eyes that is a soft dark blue. Notice how you feel when you peer into this deep blue space behind your eyes. Notice if there are any edges to the dark blue or if it seems to stretch forever, like the night sky.

Notice that you have a mouth. Inside your mouth there is a tongue, and you have teeth. Your mouth has a right side and a left side. Your mouth is resting.

Notice that you have a nose with two nostrils. Air comes into your nostrils and goes out through your nostrils. Notice that air traveling into your nostrils moves down into your chest and tummy. After the air empties from your tummy and chest it leaves through your nostrils. Notice the long journey that your breath takes through the body, from the nostrils to the chest and belly. Out from the belly, the chest, and the nostrils. What does it feel like to watch your body breathing?

Notice the shape of your whole body and what your body is resting on. You have feet and legs. You have a tummy and a back. Your arms and hands are resting. Your whole body is comfortable and resting. You are breathing with your nose, your chest and your belly. Your eyes are closed, and there’s a dark blue color behind your eyelids. We’re breathing in and breathing out through our noses. We are safe and resting. We are noticing what it feels like to rest.

Download the meditation script

Mental Health Education and Support at School can be Critical

A Brief Overview

  • Alarming statistics indicate the pandemic has worsened behavioral health outcomes for young people. Governor Jay Inslee on March 14, 2021, issued an emergency proclamation declaring children’s mental health to be in crisis.
  • Students eligible for special education services through the federal category of Emotional Disturbance are more than twice as likely as other disabled peers to quit school before graduating.
  • These outcomes make adolescence a critical time for mental health promotion, early identification and intervention. Read on for further information and resources.
  • Seattle Children’s Hospital has a referral helpline. Families can call 833-303-5437, Monday-Friday, 8-5, to connect with a referral specialist. The service is free for families statewide.
  • Help is available 24/7 from the Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK.
  • Text HEAL to 741741 to reach a trained Crisis Text Line counselor.
  • For youth who need support related to LGBTQ issues, the Trevor Projectprovides targeted resources and a helpline: 866-488-7386.
  • A place to connect with other families is a Facebook group called Youth Behavioral Healthcare Advocates (YBHA-WA).

Full Article

Alarming statistics indicate the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened circumstances for young people who were already struggling to maintain mental health. Washington’s most recent Healthy Youth Survey, from 2018, revealed that 10 percent of high-school students had attempted suicide within the year. Governor Jay Inslee on March 14, 2021, issued an emergency proclamation declaring children’s mental health to be in crisis.

The governor’s order requires schools to provide in-person learning options and directs the Health Care Authority and Department of Health to “immediately begin work on recommendations on how to support the behavioral health needs of our children and youth over the next 6 to 12 months and to address and triage the full spectrum of rising pediatric behavioral health needs.”

The Children and Youth Behavioral Health Work Group (CYBHWG) was created in 2016 by the Legislature (HB 2439) to promote system improvement. CYBHWG supports several advisory groups, including one for Student Behavioral Health and Suicide Prevention. The work groups include representatives from the Legislature, state agencies, health care providers, tribal governments, community health services, and other organizations, as well as parents of children and youth who have received services. Meetings include opportunities for public comment. Meeting schedules and reports are posted on the Health Care Authority (HCA) website.

A press for more school-based services

Advocacy for more school-based mental health services comes from the University of Washington’s SMART Center. SMART stands for School Mental Health Assessment Research and Training. The SMART center in 2020 provided the legislative work group with a report: The Case for School Mental Health. The document includes state and national data that strongly indicate school-based behavioral health services are effective:

“Increased access to mental health services and supports in schools is vital to improving the physical and psychological safety of our students and schools, as well as academic performance and problem-solving skills. Availability of comprehensive school mental health promotes a school culture in which students feel safe to report safety concerns, which is proven to be among the most effective school safety strategies.”

The statewide Student Behavioral Health and Suicide Prevention advisory group has recommended widespread implementation of Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS). Through MTSS, schools support well-being for all students through school-wide programming and offer higher levels of support based on student need. Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is a key component of an MTSS framework, which also creates a structure for providing Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) at various levels of need.

The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, the guidance agency for Washington schools, prioritized 2021 budget requests to Empower all Schools to Support the Whole Child, including through MTSS. In January, 2021, OSPI was awarded a five-year, $5.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to build regional coaching capacity to support districts in their MTSS implementation. As a local control state, Washington districts determine their own specific policies and procedures.

TIP: Families can ask school and district staff to describe their MTSS framework and how students are receiving support through the various levels/tiers.

Special Education is one pathway for more help

Students may access mental health support through the special education system. Emotional Disturbance is a federal category of disability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Appropriate support can be especially critical for these students: According to the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), students eligible for school-based services under the ED category are twice as likely to drop out of high school before graduating.

Note that a student with a mental health condition could qualify for an IEP under the category of Other Health Impairment (OHI), which captures needs related to various medical diagnoses.

In Washington State, the ED category is referred to as Emotional Behavioral Disability (EBD). If the student’s behavioral health is impaired to a degree that the student is struggling to access school, and the student needs specially designed interventions, then the student may be eligible for an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Keep in mind that academic subjects are only a part of learning in school: Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is part of the core curriculum. 

An educational evaluation determines whether a student has a disability that significantly impacts access to school and whether specially designed instruction and/or related services are needed for the student to receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). FAPE is the entitlement of a student eligible for special education services and an IEP team determines how FAPE/educational services are provided to an individual student.

Behavioral health counseling can be part of an IEP

Counseling can be written into an IEP as a related service. When included in a student’s IEP as educationally necessary for FAPE, a school district is responsible to provide and fund those services. School districts can receive reimbursement for 70 percent of the cost of behavioral health services for students who are covered by Medicaid and on an IEP.

A student with a mental health condition who doesn’t qualify for an IEP might be eligible for a Section 504 Plan. A disability that impairs a major life activity triggers Section 504 protections, which include the right to appropriate and individualized accommodations at school. Section 504 is an aspect of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a Civil Rights law that protects against disability discrimination. Students with IEPs and 504 plans are protected by Section 504 rights.

Behavioral Health encompasses a wide range of disability conditions, including those related to substance use disorder, that impact a person’s ability to manage behavior. Sometimes students with behavioral health disabilities bump into disciplinary issues at school. Students with identified disabilities have protections in the disciplinary process: PAVE provides a detailed article about student and family rights related to school discipline.

Placement options for students who struggle with behavior

IEP teams determine the program and placement for a student. In accordance with federal law (IDEA), students have a right to FAPE in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) to the maximum extent appropriate. That means educational services and supports are designed to help students access their general education classroom first. If they are unable to make meaningful progress there because of their individual circumstances and disability condition, then the IEP team considers more restrictive placement options. See PAVE’s article: Special Education is a Service, Not a Place.

Sometimes the IEP team, which includes family, will determine that in order to receive FAPE a student needs to be placed in a Day Treatment or Residential school. OSPI maintains a list of Non-Public Agencies that districts might pay to support the educational needs of a student.

A precedent-setting court ruling in 2017 was Edmonds v. A.T. The parents of a student with behavioral disabilities filed due process against the Edmonds School District for reimbursement of residential education. The administrative law judge ruled that the district must pay for the residential services because “students cannot be separated from their disabilities.”

Strategies and safety measures for families

With the release of the Healthy Youth Survey in Spring, 2019, the state issued a two-page Guide to Mental Health Information and Resources to provide more detail about the survey and to direct families and school staff toward resources for support.

Included is a list of factors that help youth remain resilient to mental health challenges:

  • Support and encouragement from parents/guardians and other family members, friends, school professionals, and other caring adults
  • Feeling that there are people who believe in them, care about them, and whom they can talk to about important matters
  • Safe communities and learning environments
  • Self-esteem, a sense of control and responsibility, and problem-solving and coping skills
  • Having an outlet for self-expression and participation in various activities

The handout includes tips for parents and other adults supporting teens who feel anxious or depressed:

  • Bond with them: Unconditional love includes clear statements that you value them, and your actions show you want to stay involved in their lives.
  • Talk with teens about their feelings and show you care. Listen to their point of view. Suicidal thinking often comes from a wish to end psychological pain.
  • Help teens learn effective coping strategies and resiliency skills to deal with stress, expectations of others, relationship problems, and challenging life events.
  • Have an evening as a family where everyone creates their own mental health safety plan.
  • Learn about warning signs and where to get help
  • Ask: “Are you thinking about suicide?” Don’t be afraid that talking about it will give them the idea. If you’ve observed any warning signs, chances are they’re already thinking about it.
  • If you own a firearm, keep it secured where a teen could not access it. Lock up medications they shouldn’t have access to.

State options for behavioral health services and support

For Washington children and youth with Medicaid insurance, the highest level of community-based care in behavioral health is provided through Wraparound with Intensive Services (WISe). The WISe program was begun as part of the settlement of a class-action lawsuit, TR v Dreyfus, in which a federal court found that Washington wasn’t providing adequate mental-health services to youth. WISe teams provide a wide range of therapies and supports with a goal to keep the young person out of the hospital.

Young people under 18 who need residential care to meet medical needs may be referred to the Children’s Long-Term Inpatient program: PAVE’s website provides an article about CLIP.

If a person ages 15-40 is newly experiencing psychosis, Washington offers a wraparound-style program called New Journeys. This website link includes access to a referral form.

The Family, Youth and System Partner Round Table (FYSPRT) provides a meeting space for family members and professionals to talk about what’s working and what isn’t working in mental healthcare. FYSPRT groups provide informal networking and can provide ways for families to meet up and support one another under challenging circumstances.

Federal parity laws require insurers to provide coverage for behavioral health services that are equitable to coverage for physical health conditions. The National Health Law Program (NHLP) provides information and advocacy related to behavioral healthcare access and offers handouts to help families know what to expect from their insurance coverage and what to do if they suspect a parity law violation:

Family Initiated Treatment (FIT) is an option in Washington

Youth older than 13 have the right to consent or not consent to any medical treatment in Washington State. Parents and lawmakers throughout 2018-2019 engaged in conversations about how that creates barriers to care for some teens struggling with behavioral health conditions. The Adolescent Behavioral Health Care Access Act (HB 1874), became law in May 2019. PAVE provides an article about the law and its provision for Family Initiated Treatment.  

Places to seek referrals and information

Seattle Children’s Hospital in 2019 launched a referral helpline. Families can call 833-303-5437, Monday-Friday, 8-5, to connect with a referral specialist. The service is for families statewide. In addition to helping to connect families with services, the hospital is gathering data to identify gaps in care.

PAVE’s Family-to-Family Health Information Center provides technical assistance to families navigating health systems related to disability. Click Get Help at wapave.org or call 800-572-7368 for individualized assistance. Family Voices of Washington provides further information and resources.

Key Resources

For information, help during a crisis, emotional support, and referrals:  

  • Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK)
  • Text “HEAL” to 741741 to reach a trained Crisis Text Line counselor
  • Trevor Project Lifeline (LGBTQ) (1-866-488-7386)
  • The Washington Recovery Help Line (1-866-789-1511)
  • TeenLink (1-866-833-6546; 6pm-10pm PST)

Further information on mental health and suicide: