Therapeutic Yoga Tips for Healthy Sleeping

Your life is a reflection of how you sleep and how you sleep is a reflection of your life.”

Dr. Rafael Pelayo

This is the ultimate chicken and egg scenario.
Worry and stress affect our sleep and poor sleep makes us more likely to be worried or stressed the day after. This can be a vicious cycle. 
This is what inspired me to write this article. I can’t remember the last person I had a  yoga therapy consultation with who had ‘healthy’ sleeping habits. This is something we do for a third of our lives and this ‘normalisation’ or acceptance of poor sleep is something that I find scary.
Healthy sleeping patterns are vital in maintaining not just physical health but  mental and emotional health also.
Consider that when we are sleep deprived the brain functions differently.
The emotional centres of the brain dramatically over react to perceived negative experiences!! This is why when we are tired everything just seems like a HUGE DEAL. When we are over reacting to everything this has a knock on effect to our nervous system strongly activating our ‘fight or flight’ mode.

In our body we have two branches of our nervous system, commonly known as ‘the rest and digest’ branch and the ‘fight or flight’ branch.Think of these two branches of your nervous system as the accelerator and brake pedal in a car. Now imagine how your grandparents drive… That’s right, a little touch of the accelerator, then the brake, then the accelerator again, as though the car had been filled with ‘kangaroo petrol’.

The two branches are constantly responding to stimuli and reacting accordingly. When we have a constant level of stress, or a consistent lack of sleep, then the brake can come off. Thus our body stays in the fight or flight mode. This results in raised cortisol levels, a suppressed immune response, difficulty concentrating and raised blood pressure, to name a few of the scary physiological responses.
Fear not here are some tips to help improve sleep and bring the body into its natural state of calm responsiveness to every situation:

1) A digital detox

Try to refrain from phone usage, watching TV, or staring into any other electronic device at least an hour before bed time. All of these devices effect your circadian rhythm which is your natural sleep and wake cycle.  We have photoreceptors in our eyes that sense light and dark and signal to the brain the status of the outside world. Helping us to be alert in the morning and sleep at the appropriate time.

Electronic devices emit sufficient light to trick the brain into promoting wakefulness, hence the important of a digital detox.

2) Bed rules

Try and only use your bed for sex and sleep. This helps remove factors that condition the mind to stay awake.

The 20 minute rule.

 If you are unable to sleep after 20 minutes, then climb out of bed and perform ‘child’s pose’ next to the bed in a relaxed manner. This is a yoga posture which by bringing the head below the heart brings the body into its calming branch of the nervous system.

3) Your bedroom environment

This tip is fairly self explanatory but try and have a bedroom that is quiet, dark and cool, with a clock that is out of view.

4) Lifestyle habits

Alcohol might help falling asleep but it reduces the REM phase of sleep.
This isn’t where you dream about the whiney tones of Micheal Stipe… This is your deepest phase of sleep.
In a normal night the body usually has around 6-7 cycles of REM sleep to help the body feel refreshed. After drinking alcohol the body typically has around one to two cycles of REM sleep hence why you often wake up both early and unrefreshed after a night on the sauce.
5) Calm down the nervous system
Sleep on your right side more. 
In yoga we talk about yin and yang energy, the left side of the body is the yin side and when elevated helps to calm the body. Science also backs this up as the left nostril is associated with the calming branch of the nervous system.
 As a yoga teacher it would be remiss of me to not mention about the breath and its effects on the body at least once!

The way we breathe has an instantaneous effect on our nervous system. A longer inhalation means excitation of the fight or flight mode of the nervous system a longer exhalation brings the body more into the rest and digest branch.

So take a moment to lie in bed, preferably on your back, with your hands placed on your abdomen and breathe. Feel the air coming into your nostrils, your abdomen expand and exhale longer than your inhalation, feeling your abdomen softly fall. I encourage you to do this for at least 5 minutes and notice the calming effects on your body.

You can even use the breath as an anchor to detach and let go of all the mental projections swirling around in the mind. Whenever the mind wanders, without judgment bring it back to your breath, continuing with a smooth, even and long exhalation.

If all else fails.. decorate your bedroom to look like a classroom..
Sweet dreams

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