Waking up in the middle of the night and trying to fall back asleep, often, seems like an eternity. (Especially when we know we need to be fresh next morning for that VIProject!) You’re not alone. Worldwide 51% of us have sleep woes. And it’s not just adults, more and more kids struggle with sleep issues. Practicing Yoga for better sleep improves our sleep and ensures we feel fresh when we wake up.
Sleep issues include trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, not refreshed upon waking, or insufficient sleep. Yoga for better sleep can relief or completely alleviate all these issues. Yoga for better sleep uses simple practices to calm the nervous system, integrate our body, mind and emotions to ensure we sleep soundly. Here are some funny facts of common places we fall asleep during the day due to lack of sleep- -10% of people fall asleep while at work -7% while driving- OMG can you imagine! -7% in church -6% on public transport -and 1 % on the toilet, oops On a more serious note, let’s look at our sleep woes and the havoc it can wreak for body, mind and emotions.
Sleep, our Foundation of Vitality
We all know sleep is vital to our physical and mental health but very few know how really important it is to our quality of life. Continued insufficient sleep disrupts all our bodily systems. Causing energy levels to swoon and soar, cascading into fatigue, brain fog, depression, anxiety, nervousness, accidents, mood swings, hormonal changes and other physiological shifts. Inflammation increases, immune function becomes impaired, and inhibits muscle, organ and tissue repair and recovery from trauma, injury or stress. Chronic sleep deprivation leads to deep seated physiological changes such as; obesity, diabetes mellitus, septicaemia, hypertension, heart conditions and vascular changes leading to strokes. Let’s look at our human sleep history and understand what constitutes healthy sleep in reality.
Sleep History & Reality
So, what’s healthy sleep and how can we contribute to creating better sleep patterns to not fall asleep on the toilet? A million years ago, every night our foremother naturally woke up just before the dawn, between 3-5am, when the air was at its’ coldest, to tend the fire, check everyone’s still alive and well enough, before getting back into the warmth of her bed. We rarely slept much more than 6-7 hours at a stretch in our short human history. That might come as a surprise with the constant myth of 8 holy hours. News flash- We’ve had this pattern till the arrival of electricity and artificial light… No wonder some of us more sensitive souls still wake up between 3-5am. In Yoga we call this the hour of the Creator, or Brahma Muruhta, 90 mins before sunrise. It’s the best time to practice meditation, Yoga and contemplation on our existence. So, the next time you wake early in the morning, or in ‘middle of the night’, know that you’re completely healthy. It’s a totally natural rhythm. Waking up in the wee hours of morning actually means your still in-tune with nature and our old cycles. And one of our worst sleep thieves are thoughts like, “I’m not getting enough sleep.”
So, What’s Healthy Sleep?
Really, it depends! Healthy sleep and sufficient sleep depends on many things. Your goals, your present health, your age and responsibilities, your levels of stress, and your physical and mental constitution or nature. Long before becoming a mother and having adult responsibilities, I spent 10 days at a Vipassana meditation centre. For the life of me, I couldn’t sleep more than 4 hours a night. While awake I just lay there bringing my awareness back to breath again and again and again, thousands of times. And I got up feeling as great as a Gladiator ready for my next day of mental demons. The reason was because I wasn’t physically very active, and mentally I was focusing and then calming the mind; not ingesting lots of mental impressions. This meant very little exertion of mind and body, and therefore needing less sleep. Since having a child and running my own business, I definitely need 7 and a half hours. And when I do it in one go, which isn’t often, I’m healthy as a hummingbird amongst the flowers all day. If not, I come back to my breath again and again. And most mornings, even if I only get a few hours of broken sleep, I still feel refreshed because I didn’t stress out about being awake. Now we know we don’t need those holy 8 hours let’s look at some Fascinating Falling Sleep Facts. Reminding yourself of these when awake next time will ease your mind.
- 6-7 hours sleep a night ensures longevity, more so than 8hrs!
- Most of us wake up 6 times a night but just don’t remember!
- Don’t count sheep, it activates the Left-brain hemisphere = wakefulness. Instead, imagine you feel the sheep’s soft wool, it activates the Right brain hemisphere = rest
- It’s very natural to wake up between 3-5 AM, think cave-mum/dad
- Our circadian rhythm determines our sleep pattern, and is controlled by the stress and sleep hormones, adrenalin and melatonin. These both respond to daylight and darkness, levels of stress during the day and moments we allowed ourselves to de-stress through yoga, meditation, prayer, journaling or contemplation
- Every 90 minutes we’ve been through a complete sleep cycle of sleep, dream sleep and deep sleep. Between these cycles and during dreams we tend to turn and wake up
So, don’t get your knickers in a knot if you ‘only’ get 7 or 6. Maybe that’s all you need. Some people live their whole lives with just 5 hours and feel fresh, alive and fit, when they get up. So, the most important is how you feel upon waking.
4 Sleep Robbers
So what steals your sleep? 1. Irregularity causes our nervous system to be active until there is some form of routine. Check your schedule, eating habits, sleeping habits, and daily routine for irregularity, if more than 2 are irregular, start creating more routine and rhythm will bring calm to your nerves 2. Poorly timed activities & exercise will raise the heart rate, release adrenaline and disturb sleep. Spicy food, coffee, sugar, intense exercise. Remember the adrenaline and melatonin. Stressful events in the early part of the day gives us time to rid our body of excessive adrenaline by moving it out of the body. If we don’t have that time to be physically active in the afternoon, Yoga can really help. But doing an intense Yoga practice will only increase adrenaline. 3. Technological stimulation before sleep disturbs our melatonin release. Strong lights, sounds, or screen before bed. Best to avoid any screens 90 mins before sleep. Artificial light and not honouring our body’s natural cycle of melatonin and adrenalin, sleeping and waking, is a huge contributing factor. Excessive screen time, and/or being exposed to the screen too soon before going bed, exacerbates our woes. Add to that our present sedentary lives, now you understand why your body is a all of tension when you go to sleep. You already were, but you might not have noticed with all the days busy-ness. 4. It’s worth repeating, the worst thief of our sleep is the thought, “I’m not getting enough sleep.”
Simple Yoga Steps for Better Sleep
First, be happy when you wake up after 6 hours and forget fretting! Even if you only sleep 3 or 4 hours and feel you need more rest, just remain in bed, don’t turn the light on. Feel your body lying there. Let go of that tyranical ideal of 8 hours and ‘I must sleep more’.
- Begin to feel a soft, slow, belly breath, for about 2 minutes. Then tell yourself it’s completely natural to wake up and allow yourself to let go of any tension you might be holding onto in the back body.
- Do some soft gentle movement of the pelvis and hips with pelvic tilts, until you feel more embodied.
- Then roll the shoulders gently, calmly in circles 3 times one direction, then 3 times the other direction, release any tension from neck shoulder and head.
- Then slowly lift the hips up of the bed coming into a bridge, and roll them back down. Do that very slowly and smoothly like waves rolling your body up and back down for 1-2 minutes.
- Then allow your body to become soft and heavy. Release any tension and come back to the slow belly breaths for another minute.
- Let the mind become calm.
Let your mind rest in the body. Even if you wake up in the middle of the night. Don’t worry, don’t even try to get back to sleep. Just say to yourself you’re ok, in rhythm and restoring by not doing anything. Just be. And know that by not doing any activity your body, mind and soul are getting the rest and integration they need. In my Yoga for Better Sleep I teach you body awareness and effective, specific and simple yoga sequence to ensure a deep letting go of any unconscious holding. You learn to turn of the active Nervous System, NS, and moving our physiology into the restorative NS, the parasympathetic NS. We release excess stress from the back body, which often holds all our unconscious stress of the day, preventing us from going into a deeper state of rest. When you learn to work in tune with your natural cycle, your body, mind and emotions, you can use Yoga as a tool to regulate and integrate your day, your tensions and even your stress. In my classes and Courses, I teach you to feel what your body, mind and emotions need, and how to use Yoga’s practices and teachings as tools. I would love to hear from you. Please share your experiences in the comments below. With rhythmic love,