Sleep. It’s such a basic and important part of life, we could fill volumes with all there is to say about it. The whys and wherefores behind sleep disorders are often highly individual and tied in to one’s own personal history. But for today, let’s keep it basic. This list of do’s and don’t’s applies to everyone and is a good place to start.
- To the best of your ability, go to bed at around the same time each night. This can be difficult, but it’s worth it! Half the battle of good sleep is establishing a routine that you and your body can count on.
- Engage in regular exercise, which helps the body to relax more deeply and sleep more soundly.
- Disengage from cell phones, television, computers, etc., before you sleep. Try to unplug at least one hour before bed, or more if you can manage it. Take up quieter activities and soothing topics of conversation. No news reports or horror flicks!
- Establish a bedtime routine. Physically performing the same task night after night signals to your body that now is the time to sleep. Your routine can be as simple as inhaling a particular soothing scent, lighting a candle, massaging your neck and shoulders, etc.
- Set aside the events of the day and consciously prepare for sleep. Mentally (or on paper) catalog and resolve your day, its ups and downs, challenges and gratifications.
- Drink a cup of warm liquid, be it milk, herb tea, or hot water. Feel the warmth spread through your body, relaxing your muscles. Drink more water throughout the day, as well. Dehydration can contribute to sleeplessness and anxiety.
- Sit on a chair or the edge of your bed and practice deep breathing for a few minutes, working your way up to 5-10 minutes at a time. Simply focus on slow, deep, even breaths. Or try this exercise: With your spine straight, inhale for four seconds, hold for four seconds, exhale for four seconds, and hold for four seconds. Do what you can and work your way up. Even the smallest bit of breathing and meditation helps us relax and sleep more deeply.
- Don’t try to “make up” for lost sleep. As tempting as it may be, sleeping in on the weekends doesn’t actually help all that much to recover from lack of sleep during the week. Do your best to set up a schedule where you go to sleep, and wake up, at roughly the same time every day. Remember, 7-9 hours of sleep every day is considered necessary for the average adult.
- Don’t get discouraged if you find yourself waking up around midnight or sometime after. It turns out we’re designed to wake up at least once in the night, and it’s natural to surface for ten minutes up to an hour at this time. Some modern physicians actually divide the night into “First Sleep” and “Second Sleep”, and many other systems of medicine have language for describing this phenomenon. Yogic tradition states that, during first sleep, the physical body is cleansed, and during second sleep, the energetic body is cleansed.
If you do find yourself waking at this time…
- Turn on the lights
- Use a computer, phone, or television
- Look at a clock
- Think about work, your task list, or stressful situations from your daily life
- Worry about whether you will be able to fall back asleep
- Drink a glass of water or tea
- Light a candle, or look at the moon
- Meditate or pray
- Self-massage, with or without soothing oils such as Mahanarayan oil
- Breathing exercises
- Take sleep-friendly herbs! We recommend making an appointment with a clinical herbalist as your best bet for finding an herbal regimen that works for you, but for now, here is a very basic list of safe and helpful herbs.
- Ashwagandha – helps with chronic stress, which can make us too exhausted to get deep sleep (Yes, it actually takes energy to sleep well!). Ashwagandha helps us fall asleep, stay asleep, and respond better to stress during the day. This herb helps rebuild adrenal reserves over time. It is not a sedative, and can be taken throughout the day to help quality of sleep.
- Valerian – acts as a sedative and a muscle relaxant. Valerian is relaxing, soothing, and sedating. Many of us experience restlessness due to pain, and we can benefit from valerian’s muscle relaxing action.
- Hawthorn – regulates and strengthens the heartbeat, regulates blood pressure and has a mild calming action. This is especially helpful if you experience a racing heartbeat or palpitations when you lay down to sleep.
- Nettles – allergies and inflammation contribute mightily to sleeplessness, and Nettles helps soothe them both.
- Triphala – helps with reflux and general digestive distress. Triphala keeps everything in the body moving at the right pace and in the right direction…down, that is. This applies to everything from a heavy meal, to painful gas, to painful or anxious emotions. Regular use of triphala is beneficial in general, but try a handful along with your sleep aids and see how you do.
- A sleep aid such as I Sleep Soundly (one of our favorites), or Smiling Serenitea. We also like Sleep Thru, and Deep Sleep, although these are more powerfully sedating and should be taken with caution. I Sleep Soundly has a gentler action, and the formula is designed to help your body establish a natural sleeping rhythm over time, rather than just relax your muscles.