Are you experiencing difficulties with your sleep? Do you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night and struggling to return to sleep? Perhaps you’re having trouble falling asleep initially, or you find it challenging to wake up in the morning?

Before diving into a plethora of techniques, gadgets, apps or medications to address your sleep issues, consider taking a step back to track your personal sleep cycle over the course of a week or two.

I’ve had the privilege of working with several students who faced regular or occasional sleep challenges, and what we discovered was a common thread: they weren’t fully aware of their sleep patterns. So, we embarked on a journey to better understand and visualize their individual sleep cycles.

One particularly creative student, an artist, offered invaluable insights. Together, we devised a simple yet effective method using a familiar symbol: the clock face. We realized that most of us are so accustomed to reading the time, even in a groggy state, that it could serve as an intuitive tool for tracking sleep.

We implemented an inner dial to represent actual sleep time (approximately) and an outer portion to indicate periods of wakefulness. The artistic student found that adding colors to represent different phases of sleep greatly enhanced her understanding and engagement with the process.

For example, on one night, she went to bed at 11 pm (indicated by a down-arrow) but didn’t fall asleep until midnight (depicted in green). She then slept until 2 am, when she briefly woke up (perhaps to use the bathroom) before returning to bed. After lying awake until 3 am, she finally drifted off to sleep again until 7 am, when she got up for the day.

Despite feeling like she hadn’t slept well that night and had spent “hours” awake in bed, she discovered through the visual representation that she had actually enjoyed a solid block of sleep from 3 to 7 am.

This newfound awareness allowed her to recognize a consistent pattern of waking up around 2 am each night. Armed with this knowledge, she was able to approach her sleep routine with greater understanding and flexibility. She began planning meaningful yet relaxing activities for those early morning hours, such as knitting, and utilized the period before falling asleep to engage in calming practices like listening to self-help recordings, spiritual content, or gentle Feldenkrais lessons.

Within just a month, she experienced a remarkable transformation, embracing a newfound sense of vitality and purpose in her daily life.

Click to download your copy of sleeptracker.

There are many kinds of sleep disruptions, some of which are helped through applying principles of the Feldenkrais Method. Three that are particularly interesting to me are anxiety (that is, feeling like there are squirrels running about in your head); secondly, those disruptions resulting from (or associated with) the very specific experience of limited breathing; and the third is general tonus issues.

Maybe you wake up with a lot of thoughts or emotions. I’ve been there. When I was a young man, I began waking up in the middle of the night, staying awake for seemingly hours, with many thoughts about things happening in my life. A friend called it her “squirrels running around”. She identified it as a kind of anxiety, and described it as part of my consciousness/brain was concerned that I would miss something important and so I had to wake up. The solution for me was surprisingly simple and had two steps. The first was to have a notebook at the side of the bed upon which to write the concerns. The second was a bit of a surprise: each night, I had to teach myself (verbally and even imagining doing it) that if something important needed done, that I would wake up, write it down, and deal with it in the morning. Thus I learned a new process for effective sleep.

Almost all Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement® lessons reduce anxiety because we are attending to ourselves directly, and doing so in the moment. Both are important for dealing with anxiety (that is, thoughts that are separate from our sense of ourselves, and relating to the past or future). After 10 to 20 minutes of sustained attention to oneself in the present seems to be sufficient for most people to allow the sensations of sleep to be recognized. But also, it is in this state that you can make powerful intentional statements to yourself.

The artist mentioned about found knitting helpful for she was doing something concrete in the present that, with every stitch, increased her sense of aesthetics, of beauty for the coming days.

Now into my seventh decade, I am also finding that I wake up during the night because my breathing is obstructed. That is, one or both of my nasal passages are blocked and I struggle to breathe. When the nasal passages are blocked, the body will naturally find an alternate air pathway via the mouth. Consequently, there is an associated increase in snoring or other heavy breathing. Apart from disturbing my wife, this also leads to a variety of consequences, not the least of which is a dry or even sore throat. My system is actually trying to expel carbon dioxide, but is blocked in full or partially, and so it wakes me up in order to deal with the problem at a conscious (groggy) level. If this has happened to you, you probably recall the sense of confusion when you have woken up from this. At the same time as my system is adjusting the breathing to be through the mouth, the system may also be trying to find an optimal position for the rest of me… and that also leads to additional discomfort.

The best solution I have found has to do with understanding the rhythm of breathing, which is clearly and simply outlined in the best selling book, Breath by James Nestor.

The simplest solution would be to effectively breathe out through the nose.

But the nose is blocked, and so we appear to have a problem. Yet, if I persevere, the breathing begins to ease within a minute or two. Here’s what I do:

  • First, select your position – would you be more comfortable sitting upright, or lying on your back, or on your side (and which side?)
  • Select the nostril that is easier to breathe through. You will continue to use it.
  • With your thumb of the hand on the less easy-to-breathe side, close the nostril that is not responding. I find it is best to cover the entrance of the nostril, not squeeze the nose.
  • If breathing is difficult through either nostril, then, of course, breathe in through the mouth.
  • Keeping your mouth closed, breath slowly but effectively out. Count how many seconds that could be.
  • Breathe in, but a shorter time. (For example, if you breathe out 6 seconds, try breathing in 4 seconds).
  • Reduce any sound of breathing. This makes a big difference.
  • After a few minutes, you will find that your breathing through this passageway has improved substantially.
  • Now take a big breath in, hold it, and proceed to the other side.
  • Holding the nostril of the easy-breath side closed, breathe out to the best that you can. Not a lot comes out initially. That’s important. Count how many seconds…
  • Remember, you already have a lot of breath stored in your lungs.
  • And then breathe in with minimal struggle or effort, even if it is a small amount.
  • And breathe out again. Repeat this cycle, always reducing any struggle or effort; keeping any breathing sounds to a minimum. Soon you will discover both parts of the cycle become more free.
  • Do it a few more times and you will realize how sleeping you are, and before you know it, you will drift off into a much more pleasant sleep.

This leads me to the second aspect of application of the Feldenkrais principles, having to do with general tonus. By “tonus” I mean the degree of tightness of the musculature. You can sense a localized tonus by flexing a finger. Or, if you flex the whole hand, the tonus is a little more general. Interestingly, by flexing both hands, there is a generalized tonus that begins and by releasing, a sense of relaxation (which is used by various relaxation techniques). Awareness Through Movement lessons invite you to move in particular ways, hence requiring increased tonus, and then releasing the movement, hence reducing the tonus, producing a sense of relaxation. Thus, many people find that their general tonus is significantly decreased. And they then go to sleep.

But another aspect, that is not as well known, is that the intention of ATM® is for a person to be ready to act – as opposed to the vigilant state they might have been in, and in contrast to being so deeply relaxed so as to inhibit action. But to be ready to act implies an optimum level of tonus, not loss of tonus. This touches the surface of a whole body of understanding of the needs of the human systems sufficiently to get a glimmering of the implications for some sleep problems.

People who sleep so deeply that they lose almost complete tonus, often are awakened by aches and pains. Other people may experience acid reflux due to their digestive system slowing down. These people find that standing up, moving around alleviate these difficulties, but then they are wide awake… and maybe feel anxious about the problem returning if they fall asleep (you can see the pattern). Thus, doing ATM before sleep with the additional intention of being ready to act can help you not only fall asleep easier, but your body will learn to sleep in positions that are less likely to produce stiffness or acid reflux.

When you sleep, your mind and your body sleep, yet we often separate these two. The Feldenkrais Method brings together a congruence of the mind and body so that, as you ponder your sleep challenges, you also begin to bring together awareness of your psychological needs and the needs of your body. Through applying the principles of the Feldenkrais Method, you can begin the process of learning new ways to improve your sleep – through increasing your understanding of your sleep cycle, and doing Awareness Through Movement lessons through which you learn to reduce any anxiety and also modulate your overall muscular tonus.

About Rob

Rob Black has been practicing the Feldenkrais Method for over 30 years. He loves helping children and adults find new ways to feel more alive and energetic in their lives. Rob’s website provides many ideas for you. Come to: and also visit his library of online courses: (