by Dianne Holliday Fish MA, LPC
When you get a good night’s sleep, you are better prepared to handle the challenges and stressors of the next day. Stress, anxiety, anger, and an over stimulated mind all work against your desire to have a good night’s sleep. In turn, when you don't get enough sleep, stress symptoms can become amplified creating an unending cycle of fatigue, irritability, fuzzy thinking, and ongoing anxiety. Yogis consider sleep to be a special, sacred time. Below are some simple steps to create new sleep habits to help your rest be refreshing and rejuvenating.
1) CREATE A SLEEP SANCTUARY
2) ESTABLISH A SIMPLE ROUTINE
Choose 4-5 actions you repeat every evening before going to bed. For example: brush your teeth, close the blinds, stretch your body and shake out your arms and legs, and perhaps try the meditation and foot treatment described below. We are creatures of habit. Creating a consistent ritual of activities signals to your mind and body that sleep is coming next. Experiment with the right combination of actions that you can keep up over time.
Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening. A typical body takes 6 hours to process caffeine, some bodies take longer. Remember that alcohol disrupts sleep patterns, especially REM sleep. If you drink, do so in moderation and allow at least 2 hours before bedtime for your body to process the alcohol before you go to sleep. Try a banana, warm milk, or chamomile tea before bedtime. Avoid heavy meals later in the evening.
4) TREAT YOUR FEET
Run cold water over your feet before going to bed. The water cools down your body temperature which helps induce deep sleep. Then massage your feet with oil or lotion using firm pressure.
5) PRACTICE SPECIFIC MEDITATIONS BEFORE BED
Yoga traditions offer many kriyas (sets of exercises designed to have a specific effect) and meditations that assist sleep. Below is one to try from kundalini yoga. It is easy for beginners to use.
Position (easy pose): Sit in a cross legged position with your back straight.
Mudra (hand position): Pinkies and thumbs touch along the whole edge; bottoms of hands touch; other fingers fan away from each other like a flower; hold your hands in front of your chest (heart center) with the fingers pointing away from your chest.
Eyes: look past tip of the nose to a spot on the floor.
Breath: Inhale through the Nose; Exhale through the Mouth; Inhale through the Mouth, Exhale through the Nose.
Continue for 3 minutes and gradually build to 11 minutes.
6) REPEAT A PHRASE TO CALM THE MIND
Often when we get into bed and there is no more external stimulation, our mind will gear up and race faster with thoughts of the day, regrets about yesterday, and worries about tomorrow. Rather than try to fight your anxiety or racing thoughts, try inserting a calming phrase as often as you can into the mind’s chatter. Choose a phrase that is comfortable for you such as “All is well” or “Relax, release, let go”. You can also choose a one-phrase prayer from your spiritual tradition to repeat. From kundalini yoga you could use a phrase such as “Sat Nam” which means, “My real name or essence is Truth”. Try linking the phrase with long, deep breaths.
7) FALL ASLEEP ON YOUR RIGHT SIDE
Lie on your right side and use your finger to close off your right nostril. Breathe only through the left nostril for 3-5 minutes. The left nostril is associated with the right side of the brain which is nonlinear and nonverbal and is also associated with relaxation.