The cornerstone of our health is sleep. Quality sleep repairs our body from daily stress and prepares us for growth. Poor sleep has been implicated in a variety of issues, such as being overweight, having poor work performance, and increasing car accidents. Sleep has four stages. The last two stages - and especially the fourth, called REM sleep - are essential for healing. However, the cause of our poor sleep are often the daily stresses we are trying to heal from in REM sleep! Talk about a catch-22.
There are plenty of tips out there on sleep hygiene: exercising, maintaining a regular bedtime routine, unplugging from electronics, and creating a peaceful bedroom. Yoga is another tool in the sleep toolbox. Both adults' and children’s sleep can be benefited from regular yoga practice. But you don't have to fit a yoga class in to reap benefits for your sleep.
Here are three yogic tips for a happy bedtime that you can practice at home!
1. Nadi Sudhi (alternate nostril breathing) -
Nadi Sudhi is a breathing exercise that acts as a tonic to the nervous system and relaxes the body and mind.
Take a deep breath in. Press a finger gently on your right nostril as you breathe out and then in through your left nostril. Switch and gently press another finger on your left nostril, while taking the first finger off your right nostril. Breathe out the through right. Breathe in the right nostril, switch and breathe out the left. Breathe in the left nostril, switch and breathe out the right. Continue alternating nostrils in the breathe in - switch - breathe out pattern for a few minutes. End by breathing out the left nostril. Practice for three complete rounds, gradually working up to ten.
There is also a hand gesture (Vishnu mudra) that is traditionally used during nadi sudhi. Practicing this hand gesture creates added demands on concentration and develops control of the fingers. To use Vishnu mudra, bring your right index and middle fingers into the palm of your hand. Keeping your thumb, ring and pinky fingers extended, alternate your breath between your nostrils. Gently press your thumb on the right nostril and breath out the left, and then switch, pressing your ring finger on the left nostril, breathing out through the right.
You might also try lying on your belly, right cheek on the bed. Gently plug your right nostril and breathe in and out through your left. This stimulates the right side of your brain, tied to the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps you relax.
2. Legs up the wall - Letting your legs rest up the wall is a wonderful way to unwind. It may also help you fall asleep.
Bring your legs up the wall, while you lie on the floor or bed. You might put a firm pillow or folded blanket under your low back (where it lifts from the floor just above the pelvic bones) or under your head. An eye pillow and blanket on top make this a truly restorative pose.
3. Meditation - Repeating a mantra or focusing your attention on a peaceful object or idea (dharana) loosens the hold of stressful thoughts on your mind.
If you don't regularly meditate, you might like to set a timer for five or ten minutes. Then your mind will be free to rest its awareness in your meditation, instead of wondering how long you have practiced.
A few minutes following the breath as it moves in and out of your body has a grounding effect. Watch your mind as the thoughts come and go, without clinging to any thought in particular, nor judging your thoughts when they arise. It is normal for concentration to waver. So if you notice your mind wander, kindly guide your attention back to your breath, your object of concentration or your mantra.
Spending just a few minutes practicing these techniques before bed may save you many minutes tossing and turning throughout the night.
What are some sleep hygiene tips that work for you?
Erin Haddock is the director of Five Keys Yoga, LLC.