I Tried the ‘Savoring’ Technique of Using a Happy Memory To Fall Asleep—Here’s What Happened After 3 Weeks

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The idea of mindfulness activities promoting healthy and restful sleep isn't novel; in fact, there are numerous mindfulness methods that are both poised to improve mood and get someone in the space that invites restful sleep. Some hinge on breathing exercises; others focus more so on meditation; and others still ask you to practice mental exercises, like cognitive shuffling. Another option to add to your bedtime toolbox? Savoring, a mindfulness technique that involves concentrating on positive thoughts and basking in the joy and peace such thoughts bring you as a means to ease into sleep.

Research on savoring has positively connected it to well-being in general, and a recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Gerontology and Geriatrics examined its effect on sleep. According to the findings, "higher levels of savoring were significantly associated with lower levels of sleep-related impairment." On the flip side, rumination, or dwelling on thoughts and memories that aren't happiness-inducing, was associated with higher levels of sleep impairment and disturbance.

Experts In This Article

While more research is needed to connect a causal relationship between A+ sleep and savoring, we can still deduce that putting yourself in happy state before bed stands to help your case when it comes to having sweet dreams. Given that stress and sleep have an adversarial relationship, it make sense that putting yourself in a positive mindset absent of stress would help your case.

“Having positive, relaxing, happy thoughts as part of a routine before going to bed is useful,” says Raj Dasgupta, MD, pulmonologist and sleep medicine specialist with Keck Medicine of USC, of the promise that savoring—essentially the opposite of ruminating—for sleep. “People ruminate because they think they’ll get more insight into their problems, but it’s associated with things like anxiety and depression and we know those unfortunately lead to insomnia and sleep difficulties.”

"Having positive, relaxing, happy thoughts as part of a routine before going to bed is useful."—Raj Dasgupta, MD, pulmonologist and sleep medicine specialist

A caveat, though: According to Dr. Dasgupta, savoring may not be helpful for people who suffer from chronic insomnia (he defines this as having difficulty initiating and maintaining sleep at least three times a week for three months). He suggests folks in this camp seek cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia.

Furthermore, to keep savoring useful, Dr. Dasgupta advises making it part of a pre-bed ritual and to avoid doing it in bed, because part of good sleep is training the body to associate the bed with sleep only; thinking about a memory in lucid detail could easily get the mind revving, he says, so it's best to do this before tucking yourself in.

As someone prone to bedtime distractions and mental meandering, the savoring technique for sleep intrigued me. So, I decided to try savoring for five minutes three times a week for three weeks in order to give my mind enough time to fully consider the happy memory without giving it enough slack to wander. Not practicing it every night allowed me to compare how my sleep quality fared with and without savoring. Read on for what happened to my sleep.

How the savoring technique for sleep worked when I tried it

Before the experiment:

Before testing out the savoring technique for sleep, my pre-bed ritual went as follows: brushing my teeth, following my skin-care routine, putting away any clothes or things I’d tossed on the floor, spraying my lavender-scented spray on my bed, and settling in to read for about 20 minutes. At this point, I’m usually ready to strap on my satin eye mask and drift to sleep.

Since Dr. Dasgupta suggests savoring before actually getting in bed, I decided to savor while I tidy my space instead of what I usually do, which is listen to music. I also dimmed the lights in my bedroom earlier to give myself a better chance of nodding off easily.

As for which memory I would savor, I settled on a beautiful dinner I had on a recent trip to Turkiye with my family over the summer. Gathering over food is an essential part of Turkish culture, and we were at my grandmother's house in Osmaniye in southeastern Turkiye for a feast of lachmacun, a deliciously-thin flatbread topped with minced meat and vegetables. This memory is an olfactory delight filled with chopped onions, parsley, and warm meats mixed with the sweet scents of a hot and humid summer night. It's also emotionally fulfilling because we don't get together that often, and this dinner allowed uninterrupted time with my cousins and siblings to catch up on the lives we live in what feels like a world away from each other.

For the purposes of the savoring technique for sleep, I decided to focus on the laughter and happiness I felt in that room that night with my family to put me at ease before bed. With parameters in place, I was ready to test this practice.

Week 1:

My first week trying out the savoring technique for sleep required some trial and error. Despite Dr. Dasgupta's recommendations, I tried it both in and out of bed. (I was simply too curious not to!) When I savored in bed, I felt relaxed for a couple minutes, but then my mind raced to when I would be able to go to Turkiye next, and since I'm not sure when that will be, it spurred some anxious thinking. The two times I savored in bed actually kept me awake later then when I didn't savor at all, because they both resulted in mind-wandering thoughts.

When I tried the savoring technique while I tidied my room before bed, I found that five minutes felt short, so I decided to increase the time slightly. Even so, I liked how I felt when I afterward, and I found myself in a relaxed mood. When I got in my bed, my next visit to Turkiye (whenever that may be) was on my mind, but in a sense that felt positive and put me at ease.

Week 2:

Savoring felt especially poignant this week because my chosen memory was being altered. Because of the devastating earthquakes in Turkiye, the actual location of my memory and the people in it were in danger (my family is safe, but the general region has a long road to recovery ahead). When I tried to think about the dinner in question and being with my family, it kicked off a cycle of fear and rumination that led me to stay up and actually fall back into my doomscrolling the news habit to get the latest earthquake updates.

It was difficult to use this specific memory without going into an anxiety spiral, so I switched gears and chose a different one to experiment with for the next instance of savoring during week two: I envisioned my brother’s wedding from last fall. Taking place at a cozy bed and breakfast set high on a cliff in Marin, California, the wedding weekend was a lovely affair that brought my whole family a lot of happiness. I got to spend extended time with my siblings, get to know my now sister-in-law and her family and friends better. I started the mornings by walking along the brisk beach that hugs the Pacific Ocean. Staying in an adorable bed and breakfast for a couple nights didn't hurt the positive vibes, either.

To reset, I homed in on the specific sights, smells, and sounds of the memory. For instance, I envisioned the mossy freshness of the Molton Brown's Coastal Cyprus and Sea Fennel shower gel I used in the shower each morning. And because it was October, the piney scent of the trees mixed with the fresh air and sea salt was really calming, too.

Week 3:

I practiced savoring for sleep three times this week for about five minutes with the memory of the wedding weekend. As I finished putting away my laundry and rearranging my room, I found myself calmer and more at ease than when I had started. I did have a bit of a slip up, but I quickly reset—scent and memory are closely linked, so I even walked into the bathroom and smelled the shower gel when I felt my mind wander. I also increased my savoring time to 10 minutes, which felt appropriate to fully immerse in the memory.

The takeaway

I got the most benefit out of savoring when I did it as part of my pre-bed routine. That said, I found it difficult to totally concentrate on the task of imagining this memory so vividly when I did other things. If I do this again, I'll try to think of a better way to integrate it into my routine so I can focus entirely. But in general, I found the savoring technique for sleep calming and helpful for facilitating quality shut-eye. On nights when I'm particularly stressed, I think turning to this lovely method will be a great salve.

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