Lying in your bed, rolling from side to side, whirling thoughts and an aching back. Just three possible situations we all might have experienced. Nothing is more disturbing than not being able to fall asleep and getting a good night rest. Learn simple and easy to use ways to counteract any of those difficulties.
What is sleep?
Without sleep, we die. A time of complete rest is essential for our physical body to survive. Without going to much into detail, there are three main stages of sleeping: light sleep, deep sleep, and the phase that is called REM – rapid eye movement. It is in the latter, in which dreams may occur. In the different stages of sleep, the brain is at various activity levels. All steps are equally important and are usually undergone in multiple cycles during one sleep period. Much scientific research is done on that topic. As its is a relatively new field you will find different opinions and suggestions. This article just reflects my personal experience and of course, you should check-in with your doctor if serious sleeping problems occur.
The top 5 natural sleep aids
1. No TV, no books, no magazines
We all heard about this, but why might it be crucial? Think of it this way: Most of us become very relaxed while sitting at the beach or being in a place where we had an enjoyable time. We learned that beach (or whatever spot is for you) means holiday, means fun, means relaxation. If you are reading or watching a film while lying in bed, your brain learns that the bedroom means high mental activity level, concentration and being alert and awake. Over time, that might lead to difficulties in falling asleep into a state of laziness and relaxation. My advice: No TV, no books, no magazines!
2. Stretch to sleep
Whenever I cannot fall asleep, or I wake up in the middle of the night I try to remember myself of this little trick: Do one or two simple stretches. My preferred one is a simple cross-legged position and then leaning forward; a minute or two on each side. This stretch helps me to bring my focus away from „oh my god why can´t I fall asleep) or any other disturbing thoughts. In general, simple stretches have a calming effect on your mind and body. Doing some restorative or Yin-Yoga poses before going to bed might me useful as well, especially to prevent sleep-associated muscle aches. Advisable exercises are viparita karani at the wall, leg stretches with a belt while lying down or any seated forward bend.
3. Rewind your mind
This one might need a little more practice but once established it can become a useful ritual before taking off to the miraculous dream land. While lying down think of the things you have done and experienced throughout the last day. Start with the things that happened last and then go back step by step until you reached the moment when you woke up this morning. While going through all this, you can mentally let go off everything that happened. You might even say to yourself „if there is anything left to do, I will take care of it tomorrow.“ With this practice, you will be able to drop any built up ballast of the last day.
Similar to rewinding your mind is a regular meditation practice. You can do this even if you have never meditated before. Here is a very simple instruction that we use in the Jivamukti Yoga method. It comes in three steps:
1. Find your seat: Sit upright, comfortable and stable.
2. Be still: Do not move your body. Let your breath move freely.
3. Focus: With your breath silently repeat: Inhale – „let“ exhale -„go.“
Start with three minutes, using a timer, before going to bed; you can increase the length every day. Once you become more experienced you can also do a short meditation when waking up during the night (just make sure the timer is not waking up any beloved one next to you (: )
5. Guided relaxation
This practice uses the power of self-affirmations. While lying down start with contracting all muscles tightly, lifting legs, arms, and head of the bed. Take a deep breath in, hold it, tighten up even more, tighter, tighter, tighter – and then exhale let go. Now you mentally go through your body suggesting each part to relax. Start with your toes moving up to your head as such: „toes, relax – feet, relax – …-fingers, relax – … – tongue, relax – eyes, relax-…- my whole body is completely relaxing – let go – let go“. You can add as many details as you like. You most likely will be asleep already in the middle of it before even reaching your head, and that is great! You could even repeat this process several times. Sometimes it helps to either download a guided relaxation from someone else or take your phone and record your voice so you can then play it to yourself.
I hope you will find some more peace of mind the next time you lie down on your preferred bed, and I am looking forward to hearing from your experiences and your personal advice.