Sleep helps us heal. We all know that. Rest is prescribed for any ailment from a cold to cancer. But even for healthy people, getting a crap night’s sleep is never fun. Just this morning I snapped at my flatmate, neglected to clean up my dishes, and put off writing this blog post for as long as possible. Even if you are a perfectly healthy person, losing out on sleep can put a damper on your day or your week. Because of some cruel joke, those with chronic illnesses often have trouble sleeping. For those living with illnesses, missing out on snooze time means your body isn't going to be doing much healing.
An overactive sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system is the cause of most poor sleep.
Imagine you are taking a stroll up the Bianca Peak. You are nearing the top of the mountain when a grizzly bear stalks it’s way out of the bushes 10 feet in front of you. What would you imagine is happening in your body at this point? Could you go down for a nap? No! Your adrenaline is pumping, your brain is on hyper mode trying to decide what to do. Stay still? Run away? Back away slowly? Pull out your pocket knife and fight? You’ve only got a split second to make the decision and your brain is on auto-pilot calculating the risks for you.
It’s pretty cool that your body is prepared for a situation like this. But here’s the problem: your body is not prepared for situations such as: disagreeing with your boss, fighting with your spouse, choosing your major, etc. These are ‘new’ kinds of stressors, and most people need to put in an effort to manage without their body automatically falling into the ‘bear scenario’.
But we face these kinds of problems every day. And what if you add another huge stress on there like having a chronic illness? Or losing a job, moving to a new house, or even positive things like getting married or having a baby. Your cavewoman/man brain isn’t going to know what to do.
It’s great that we have our instinctual systems for dealing with stress in tact. Without them, the species would not have survived until today. But when it comes to sleep, this whole fight a bear skill is not so helpful.
Creating a regular yoga and meditation practice can help lower stress levels.
Yoga and meditation lower your levels of Cortisol. Cortisol is that pesky hormone causing your nervous system to stay over aroused in stressful, but non life-threatening, situations. Following a balanced yoga practice with a variety of forward bends, back bends, twists, and inversions can help balance these hormone levels. Reducing this hormone will help you sleep better each night.
You’ve heard the advice that if you haven’t fallen asleep in 15 minutes, you should get out of bed and do something else.* While this is generally true, it can cause some problems. First of all, some of us don’t have the luxury of getting out of bed. If you are suffering from chronic pain disorders or chronic fatigue, getting out of bed to do something else is no easy task. Secondly,Standing inhibits sleep, while reclining and inverted positions promote it. So think twice about getting out of bed to watch TV, or cook tomorrow night’s dinner. According to Dr. Roger Cole , the best thing you can do if you are having a restless night, is roll yourself onto the floor and do a yoga pose. Putting your legs up the wall, or a forward bend resting on your pillow are two that I find helpful, but you can experiment for yourself! Once you start to feel sleepy, climb back into bed.
If this amount of movement is not going to happen, there are breathing exercises you can do in bed. Even if you don’t fall asleep from these breathing exercises, practicing meditation on it’s own has benefits similar to sleep.
Interested in giving it a try? Explore the most helpful poses with my FREE yoga video for sleep. It’s a little taster routine to help you get ready for bed and into that healing state. Head over here and let me know what you think!
Most of all, trust your gut
“Words fail to convey the total value of yoga. It has to be experienced”. - B.K.S Iyengar
Yoga and meditation are starting to get studied by scientists. We are seeing more and more benefits that yogi’s have known for years also hold up in scientific study. In my video, and this post, I’ve shared some of the best tips and practices. But yoga is about learning to listen to your body. If a cup of coffee before bed puts you straight to sleep, then don’t listen to anyone who tells you to ditch the caffeine! When you are trying yoga, experiment with some of the poses and see how your body reacts. If it energizes you don’t do it before bed. If it makes you sleepy then add it to your bed time routine. Your common sense is your most valuable tool- use it!
Good Night! Sleep Tight! And share your sleepy experiences with me here!
* You haven’t heard this? Are you sure you’re an insomniac?