During the pandemic I found myself waking at around 3am only to toss and turn until I eventually dropped off again at around 5am. My days were becoming hazy with lack of sleep, so I began to research aids to a good night's rest which we shared in Gentle Yoga.
Problems that seem insurmountable at night when viewed again in the morning become manageable. The underlying anxiety that we carry, maybe subconsciously, can find its way to keep us awake at night. If you find yourself suffering with insomnia you could try a few of these guidelines.
Maintaining regular rising and retiring times will help your body to be active and alert during the day and ready for restorative rest at night. Our sleep/wake pattern, known as a circadian rhythm, regulates every 24 hours. In lockdown, maybe without regular deadlines this pattern can become haphazard and the body confused.
Notice your natural energy levels, whether you are an owl or a lark, and maintain that pattern. We all have our innate natural rhythms - know yours.
Develop a wind down time before bed. Avoid looking at your laptop or phone at least two hours before going to bed, the blue light emitting from the screen affects your melatonin levels as well as the device stimulating the mind.
Melatonin, known as the sleep hormone, is key to getting a good night's sleep. It releases as darkness falls and the temperature drops. Keep your bedroom free of light emitting devices and keep it dark and cool.
Watch what you eat and drink during the day. Limit cups of coffee and tea and avoid caffeine altogether after 6pm. Keep well hydrated and reduce your alcohol intake. Avoid heat-raising spicy foods and eat early in the evening to allow time for your food to be fully digested.
Run yourself a warm bath and dim the lights. A warm bath helps, not because it makes you toasty warm, but rather because when you get out of the bath you radiate out heat which cools your core body temperature helping you to sleep more soundly.
You can find more information about sleep hygiene from the website nhs.co.uk
Reduce the heat in the bedroom, turn the radiator off and, if not too cold, have the window slightly open. In his book Why We Sleep Matthew Walker states your core temperature needs to decrease by 2/3° Fahrenheit to aid sleep.
Go for a brisk walk outside daily, exercise is key to our overall happiness as well as helping us sleep better. Going for a long walk, gardening, chopping wood or any physical activity will prepare you for a deeper, more restful sleep.
Keep a notepad by your bed. If your mind becomes overly active write down your thoughts, the physical process of overloading can help clear the mind.
Aroma in the bedroom. There are many oils you can use to help you relax but ensure that they are from a natural source. I particularly like the company This Works which has a choice of 'sleep sprays'.
Lengthen your outbreath
Lengthening the outbreath sends a message to the brain to activate the 'relaxation response', the parasympathetic nervous system, helping us to calm down and feel safe and secure.
Practice abdominal breathing, letting your breath be full and spacious, your tummy expanding and rising on the inhalation and gently fall back towards the spine on the exhalation.
Count a steady beat for the in-breath and out-breath. Begin to comfortably increase the length of your exhale.
Notice a moment's pause at the top of the inhale and again at the bottom of your exhale, do not lengthen the pause just notice it.
Listen to the sound of your breath.
Keep the breath easeful so there is no strain.
Asanas to calm the body
Certain yoga postures can prepare you for sleep. Forward folds, such as Paschimottanasana (seated forward fold), Uttanasana (standing forward fold) or Balasana (child's pose) are all deeply calming. Inversion postures, which reverse the pull of gravity can help calm your nervous system. I find the most effective inversion for rest is legs-up-the wall a pose called viparita karani.
Viparita Karani - Viparita means inverted and karani means action.
Use a blanket or cushion to support beneath the pelvis. Draw both knees into the belly and slowly extend your heels up towards the ceiling so your feet are suspended above your hips. The feeling is one of effortlessness. Your arms can rest out to the sides or hands on the belly. The change of fluid in the legs can feel very restful. If preferred, you can support your legs up the wall.
A visualisation of your breath travelling up and down the spine can be very soothing.
Take your awareness to the base of your spine.
As you inhale visualise your breath travelling up the spinal column until it reaches the middle or crown of your head.
When you are ready to exhale visualise the descent back down to the tailbone or back of pelvis.
You can add to this by imagining a warm red colour at the base of the spine and silvery, golden colour at the top.
Finally, if nothing is working and you are wide awake in the night, accept the reality as it is with compassion and don't add to your worry.