Monday, April 16, 2012

Why Can’t Sleep be More like Savasana?

I used to be the girl that could sleep anywhere. From cars to planes to movie theaters, I was a tried and true lover of my sleep. I believe it actually reached an all-time high when junior year of high school, I was able to peacefully sleep during a break at cheer camp, with five thousand highly-caffeinated cheerleaders screaming “GO-BIG-BLUE!” all around me. Then, somewhere between pulling all-nighters in college and entering the stress-filled real world, my unrivaled ability to fall asleep anywhere and everywhere had suddenly dissipated.

Luckily, my love affair with yoga has introduced me to the sweet surrender of Savasana (the delicious “Corpse Pose” that is given as a gift to you at the end of a vigorous class) thereby transcending my occasional insomnia, allowing me to finally find some peace around bedtime. However, as the days have drawn longer and my restlessness around bedtime increases, I find myself asking, “Why can’t sleep be more like Savasana?”

Here are five simple ways to harness the benefits of Savasana and improve your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep through the dog days of summer:

1) Plan your meals – What we put into our bodies during the hours leading up bed dramatically affect our bodies’ ability to fall into meaningful sleep. Make lunch your biggest meal of the day, followed by a light dinner at least three hours before bed. This allows time for proper digestion to set it. Also, alcohol and caffeinated drinks like tea, coffee and sodas are stimulating to the body and mind, so stop drinking those at least 2 hours before bedtime. Remember, it takes about two weeks for these new habits to positively affect your sleep, so if you are not noticing results at first, be patient and stick with it!

2) Unplug – For better sleep, make an effort to unplug from all technology for at least an hour before your desired bedtime. In this overly-stimulated and technology-driven society, our senses are on full alert all day long, being constantly bombarded by phones, computers, news feeds, notifications, etc. No wonder the prevalence of insomnia has rise so highly in the past decade! Allow yourself a reprieve from the incessant stimulation by “unplugging” at night – that means turning off the TV, laptop, cell phone, and any other unnecessary devices – and allowing yourself to enjoy some uninterrupted peace and quiet.

3) Ambiance – Envision your bedroom as your sanctuary. Remove any unnecessary clutter that is distracting and invite in tranquility. Ask yourself: What does your ideal sleep haven look like? Visualize it, then create it. Relax and soften your senses of sight, sound and smell – dim the lighting, light some candles and play classical, jazz or opera music, any style without lyrics will do. Also, explore the wonderful world of aromatherapy. The following aromas are proven to ease sleeplessness and invite in the zzz’s : chamomile, frankincense, jasmine, lavender, marjoram, rose, sandalwood and ylang ylang.

4) Yoga for Better Sleep – “Legs-up-the-Wall” pose is arguably the most restorative yoga
posture around. Lying still in this pose for 15 minutes before bed is believed to have the same benefits as four hours of deep REM sleep. Another powerful insomnia-eradicating tool is listening to a guided meditation in bed. The “Yoga Nidra” guided meditations are famous for their ability to put you in a relaxed state of unconsciousness lingering somewhere between being awake and being asleep, allowing you to gently float into a sweet surrender. Here is a good one I found on Youtube:

5) Journaling – In summary, there are two essential ingredients to successful sleep: an exhausted body and an exhausted mind. Without the combination of both, you will find yourself tossing and turning all night long, either wrestling with your thoughts or wrestling with your extremities. Make sure that your body has had enough exercise throughout the day, so that you are physically tired by the end of the night. If that has been accomplished, the next barrier to preventing you from sleeping well is an active, racing mind. After trying Steps 1-4 and you still cannot turn off your thoughts, stop fighting them and start expressing them! Take up the habit of journaling before bed every night. And no - typing on an unnecessarily stimulating laptop or iPad does not count. Pick up an old-school piece of paper and a pen and start getting those thoughts out of your head. Allow yourself time to scribble, cross things out, doodle and sketch – believe me, after ten to fifteen minutes of creative expression and wrangling your thoughts out of your head and onto paper, your mind will be begging for a peaceful, sweet slumber.

Here’s to a beautiful summer filled with lively, energetic days and deeply restful nights. Namaste!

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