Written by: Melanie Trivette, 500 hour certified yoga teacher
Can you recall a time when you got out of bed to start the day without having a restful night’s sleep? Perhaps you couldn’t fall asleep in the evening despite being exhausted. Maybe you fell asleep quickly, but awoke only a couple of hours later feeling wide awake. Or you could have been tossing and turning all night long, never reaching that deep, restorative sleep state.
If you have experienced any of these sleep disturbances, you’re not alone. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke reports that, “At least 40 million Americans each year suffer from chronic, long-term sleep disorders each year, and an additional 20 million experience occasional sleeping problems.” (1) While it is of utmost importance to seek professional, medical advice for chronic, long-term sleep disorders, making some simple adjustments to your day can improve the quality of sleep each night. Here are our top five tips to get you on your way to a sound night’s sleep.
- Create a Bedtime Routine
Eating, exercising, and working on a computer too close to bedtime can disrupt your natural ability to fall asleep. Information from sleep experts, including those at the National Sleep Foundation, reveals that creating a bedtime routine that involves winding down can promote an easier transition to sleep. (2)
Our Tip: Aim for a three hour window between when you finish vigorous exercise or eat a heavy meal, and when you go to bed. In the hour before bed take a bath/read a book/listen to soft music, and practice the other 4 tips below to ease into a great night’s sleep.
Essential oils can be used to promote a good night’s sleep. You can find natural balms, vaporizers, and room sprays that contain any number of essential oils that are known to induce relaxation and calm the nervous system. The University of Maryland Medical Center states, “several essential oils — including lavender, rose, orange, bergamot, lemon, sandalwood, and others — have been shown to relieve anxiety, stress, and depression.” (3)
Our Tip: Sprinkle a couple drops of lavender essential oil on a tissue and place next to your pillow, or use a lavender-scented eye pillow for ultimate relaxation.
- Practice Restorative Yoga Asana
This blog would not be complete if it didn’t address yoga’s therapeutic benefit in improving sleep! Certain yoga poses, or asana, are especially helpful in relaxing the nervous system and preparing the body’s systems for sleep.
Our Tip: Try ‘Legs up the Wall’ pose (Viparita Karani) before laying down in bed at night. To practice this pose, lay your hips, back, shoulders and head down on the floor and prop your legs up to the wall. Make the pose as comfortable as possible by placing a blanket/bolster under the hips/low back and a small pillow under the head. If legs completely up the wall is too intense, consider bending the knees and resting your calves and heels on a chair. Comfortably rest in this pose for 10-15 minutes.
- Try Relaxing Pranayama
Certain breathing exercises are also extremely useful in calming the mind and initiating the relaxation response. Intentionally slowing down your breathing and creating an exhalation that it slightly longer than your inhalation reminds the body that you’re trying to relax. That helps prepare the mind for falling asleep!
Our Tip: Left-nostril breathing. In yoga, the left nostril is the ‘moon’ channel, and the right nostril is the ‘sun’ channel. Focusing the breath in and out of the left nostril only will produce the qualities associated with the moon channel such as cool, calm, reflective. (4) To practice left nostril breathing, take your right thumb to your right nostril, sealing it off. Then, take at least 5-10 long inhalations and long exhalations through the left nostril only.
- Listen to Yoga Nidra
Yoga Nidra, or ‘yogic sleep,’ is a method of relaxation similar to guided meditation. There are several different forms of Yoga Nidra available, but all will systematically guide attention to certain parts of the body with the goal of inviting ease and deep relaxation.
Our Tip: To enjoy the fruits of Yoga Nidra, set aside at least 10 minutes (preferably 20) where you can relax and will not be disturbed. You can lay down wherever is comfortable and listen to a recording of Yoga Nidra right before bed. Many people become so relaxed in this practice that it is common to fall asleep during the recording! If you think you may fall asleep during Yoga Nidra, practice in bed just before going to sleep. (5)
If you have ever had a bad night’s sleep, you know that a lack of quality Zzz’s can lead to increased tiredness, fogginess, and irritability the following day. What you may not immediately experience is that continued sleeplessness can lower your immune response, inhibit cellular repair, and even make you hungrier! Eight hours of sleep a night is optimum for adults, so it is important to be proactive with your schedule and routine to provide enough time for a full night’s sleep. These suggestions can be performed nightly, either by picking a couple of your favorites, or committing to implement all of the tips in your new routine. Don’t forget, some of the tips such as left-nostril breathing, aromatherapy, and yoga nidra can also be practiced in the middle of the night if you happen to wake up and cannot fall back to sleep immediately. We hope that these tips are simple additions to your routine that will help to improve the quality of your sleep. Let us know in the comment section if they are helpful for you!
Please note that these suggestions and tips are based on our opinions, and should not be considered medical advice. If you are seeking to treat a traumatic experience, please consult a licensed mental health professional before engaging in these tips. You can find a practitioner in your area at the National Association of Social Workers web site: www.helpstartshere.org
(1) The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/brain_basics/understanding_sleep.htm
(2) National Sleep Foundation sleepfoundation.org
(4) Yogi Bhajan. Information sourced from http://www.grdhealth.com/yogameditation/leftnostril.php
(5) Soulful Mountain Yoga. Yoga Nidra Recording.
Editors Note: This article was written by Melanie Trivette for Yoga for Trauma. Melanie trained with Hala Khouri in Trauma-Informed Yoga & also trained with Connected Warriors. She has a passion for connecting those in need with the resources to heal and live well.