The Sleep Edition
Sleep, why is it sometimes so difficult?
You know you are tired, you have been yawning all evening, yet when you get into bed sleep does not come instead you are visited by thoughts that run over every little detail of your day. We have all experienced spells of sleeplessness whether it is trouble getting to sleep or waking up and not being able to go back to sleep. I discovered one of my causes of sleeplessness was a thyroid problem which naturally resolved itself with appropriate medication, and over time with patience and persistence I no longer take any medication for my thyroid. In fact, I have turned into a sleeping bear, well okay, perhaps a snoring sleeping bear, but hey who cares when you wake up feeling rested and ready to bounce into your day. Naturally, I still have times when sleep is elusive and recently through menopause the dreaded insomnia returned. And again sleep has returned so important to remember everything changes. Here are some of my tips for sleeping better. I do hope it helps you.
Welcome to the practice of restorative yoga. Many of us lead a lifestyle that focuses on juggling many roles at a faster and faster speed. Sleep comes for most of us as we pile into bed at the end of another busy day and collapse in exhaustion. I don’t know how many times I have watched people turn up for a retreat saying they plan to catch up on sleep. Restorative yoga is of enormous benefit in helping you unwind and relieve the symptoms of stress accumulated across your day. It is a way of giving yourself permission to simply slow and stop for just 10 – 15 minutes and really check in.
The poses are simple and can be done by most people. Taking time to practice can really help you drift of to a restful sleep and help you stay asleep. Don’t underestimate the effects of practicing restorative postures throughout the day will have on your sleep. Make time across your day for 15 minute breaks.
Why 15 minutes?
Because this is the amount of time the body needs to unravel and the nervous system to begin to untangle itself from the avalanche of information coming at us.
In a fully supported restorative pose you can let your mind wander, you can let it worry and most importantly become aware of what is preoccupying you. It is therapeutic giving yourself time and space to naturally detox your mind from negative thoughts or concerns. Go on try it – give your mind the space it desires to download and process life during your restorative practice, and that way when you make your way to bed it will be all out of the way.
My all time favourite pose for helping me relax has to be legs up the wall with a bolster or a folded towel under my sacrum. Other helpful options would be seated forward bends like butterfly or a straight legged forward fold using as many bolsters, blankets or cushions to allow yourself to really surrender to the shape and drop in. Forward folds with their inward facing perspective really help the mind to focus inwards reflecting and sifting through the days events as well as encouraging the body to switch down into the parasympathetic system or your relax and digest system. In the evening, avoid stimulating poses like back bends as they wake your system up rather than helping it to slow down.
Your sleep haven
Your bedroom is for sleeping and therefore should be as empty, clean and soft as possible. Eliminate clutter, remove the piles of books or clothes, and really importantly make it an electronic free zone. What you are trying to create is your own personal sleep sanctuary – think good quality fresh sheets, dim lights, a soothing colours, plants and perhaps a comforting soft blanket.
Try a relaxing essential oil in the diffuser or a drop or two on your pillow. My go to is lavender, my wholefood store recommends marjoram, and my friend who is a herbalist suggests trying chamomile, neroli, patchouli, valerian or clary sage. There are plenty of ready made sleep oil combinations available.
Support your nervous system with daily infusions – herbal teas. A blend of oat straw, lemon balm, passionflower and nettle is my favourite for nervous system support. I pick and dry my own lemon balm (Melissa) and nettle but you can easily order them online. Oat straw is a fantastic option for helping to reduce anxiety that may be impacting on your ability to have deep sleep.
Oat straw (Avena sativa) is known as the herb of longevity in the Ayurvedic system of India possibly because it restores our nervous system’s integrity and encourages emotional flexibility – how we manage our emotions. Oat straw infusion provides lots of protein, all macro- and trace-mineral in high amounts, and very high amounts of B vitamins – except vitamin B12. Oat straw infusion is especially useful for those whose anxiety is combined with excessive nervous energy.
- In a 2 1/2 litre jar, place 60 grams of dried nettle.
- Pour over 2 litres of boiling water.
- Allow to steep or infuse for 4 hours.
- Drink across the day – warm is lovely with a little honey.
Device/screen free zone
Yes we all know this but you would be amazed at how many people take mobiles, computers and other electronic devices into bed with them. Remember bed is for sleeping not watching movies, listening to music or checking your social media feed. If you are having trouble sleeping then try shutting off the screen for at least an hour or two before bed. Read, talk, stretch or take a bath. Be curious you will be amazed at how much more time you have when you cut out evening screen time. Who knows it may become addictive and you like me will start removing huge chunks of computer or screen time out of your day. I have whole mobile and computer free days. I swear by it!
Cool room. Warm body. So here it it research say the ideal temperature conditions for sleeping is a 17 degree room and a warm blanket. This of course can be a little challenging in an Australian summer when the evenings are still in the high twenties or even thirties. If you are comfortable with using the air-con to cool the room down try it though perhaps put a bowl of water to keep the moisture in the air so you don’t end up feeling desiccated. I prefer to open the window even when it is hot.
Curtains or an eye mask?
I struggle with light though it has gotten better over the years. I have tried eye masks but to be honest I don’t like them so have curtains to keep the light out as well as removing any devices that might light up unexpectedly in the night. I am really lucky as live in the country where there is no artificial light sources however, I am now very in tune with the lunar cycles and often find myself wide awake on full moon nights, and interestingly sleep much better on dark moon nights. Go figure!
It has to be said that I am not a trained herbalist and I am not keen on taking supplements, but what I do know is powdered magnesium is wonderful. Your health food store or naturopath can help you make an informed decision and in all honesty spend a little bit extra and get the best one you can afford – it makes a difference! Truly, I take it most nights and I think it helps me to sleep really deeply.