By Prema Jyoti, re:YOGA Therapist + Instructor, Meditation Guide
Difficulty with sleeping has been a growing and prevailing problem in our modern and face-paced lifestyles. In fact, a lack of healthy and nurturing sleep is being described by many as an epidemic.
Chronic lack of sleep can lead to a variety of debilitating health issues including:
- Reduced productivity
- Mood issues,
- Reliance on sleep drugs and caffeine
- Weight gain
- Poor mental health, including depression
- Heart disease
- Low sex drive
- Relationship difficulties
Disrupted sleep can easily turn into a vicious and hard-to-interrupt cycle, and unless there is an identifiable medical problem or illness behind it, disrupted sleep is ultimately traced back to the ‘T Word’ – Tension.
Tension dramatically reduces the ability to actually rest and properly nourish the body tissues, which results in the build-up of toxins and hormones, leading to more tension. When we are tense we can’t relax and so it becomes harder to sleep. The sleep we do get is then not of the same quality and we wake up feeling tired. More tension builds up… further inability to sleep… then a fear of not going to sleep due to past bad experiences… more tension.
So do we need to relax about sleep? Yes, most definitely. Along with the genuine disruption in sleep pattern may also come a sleep obsession. Often people are so obsessed with the need to get ‘proper sleep’ that they think they are sleeping less than they really are. This creates an obsessive fear reaction in the brain circuits. Once this pattern sets in it is very difficult to fall asleep, and when sleep does come, it is disturbed.
Unfortunately, people are reaching for pharmaceutical pills or self-medicating with recreational drugs, alcohol, or food as Band-Aid solutions to the deeper underlying problem of tension within their system.
The use of sleeping pills and tranquilizers means that people build up a tolerance to these chemical substances and thus, the requires increased dosages to get the original effects. Eventually the drugs lose their effectiveness and when withdrawn they leave behind the undesirable effects of no sleep the first night and disturbed sleep the next few nights. Even though this situation is temporary, the individual may panic and decide that he was better off with the drugs, thus getting back into the same old rut.
There are many natural ways to break the vicious cycle of disrupted sleep or insomnia, so of these – such as herbal teas, warm milk drinks, herbal supplements still deal with the symptoms rather than the underlying cause.
Increasing physical exercise also helps with releasing built us stress and tension. Forms of exercise that are engaged in order to feel tired and ready for rest, also may have the affect of increasing overall stress on the system.
Yoga is scientifically designed to relax the mental and physical tensions so that sleep comes quickly and easily. Yoga, in its fullest expression allows a person to find the ‘middle path’, for their system where the mind, body and the deeper layers of consciousness harmonize. In yoga when we are in a complete state of balance this also known as the ‘sattvic’ frequency. When our systems achieve this state of homeostasis, underlying tensions and even past traumas release at their root rather than show themselves as wounds to be bandaged from time to time.
The Good News
With some easy to follow simple yogic techniques, in most cases a return to your own natural nurturing sleep pattern is possible. Many people even experience instant improvements.
Techniques within Yoga that are known to help to heal your sleep cycle are:
- Restorative postures such as Shashankasana (Childs Pose) and Pawanmuktasana (specialized joint rotations).
- Breathing techniques that invoke the parasympathetic nervous system – restoring a restful state.
- Cleansing techniques to rid the mind of tension
- Yoga Nidra – Guided Deep Relaxation, which is excellent both to release deep underlying tensions and as a means to induce sleep.
Yoga in this way may be given as a Yogic Prescription – a unique mix of techniques and solutions that suit your individual needs and current lifestyle. Yoga Nidra, in particular is a deep relaxation that can written especially for you and then recorded so that you have it to listen to during the day to systematically relieve and release tension and also at bedtime to lead you into the most optimal brainwave pattern for excellent and restful sleep.
Psychologically, doing something active for your total wellbeing rather than passively taking a sleeping pill or having that extra glass of wine before bed will empower you to take charge of the situation and ultimately develop a new healthy and beautiful relationship with bedtime and the renewing gift of sleep.
Try Child’s Pose for 3-5 minutes before going to bed. This posture calms the nervous system, brings rest and renewal to the spine, regulates the function of the adrenal glands, and brings us to a more internalized state ready for sleep.