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Sleep Solutions: How to Sleep Better

Remedies for sleeping more soundly

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There is no question that getting a good night’s sleep has many health and wellness benefits. However, it’s not always an easy task. Beyond popping sleeping pills, reducing screen time, and not glorifying a culture of toxic productivity that thrives on employee overexertion and fatigue, there are a couple of things you can do to reclaim your precious beauty sleep. Let’s look at some science-backed ways to aid better sleep.

Yoga nidra

Have you not been sleeping enough? If you’re hard-pressed for time with deadlines looming but feeling drop-dead tired, yoga nidra may be the answer. It is ideal for when you need to draw out the most qualitative rest in the shortest time. A powerful technique that invokes the relaxation response, yoga nidra—also called the yogic sleep—is a booster shot of a meditative nap that can help you feel refreshed and energized in just 20 minutes. All you need to do is lie down, follow the instructions, and allow the relaxation response to kick in.

In yoga nidra, you’ll begin by following gentle instructions that guide you into slowly moving your awareness through your entire body—from the tips of your toes, fingers, calves, thighs, genitals, abdomen, stomach, navel, chest/breasts, shoulders, arms, neck, throat, back of the head, face, nose, eyebrows, forehead, and top of the head—in that order. You synchronize your breath along with the movement of your awareness for deeper relaxation.

What does yoga nidra do for your brain?

The relaxation achieved from yoga nidra helps you balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system, which helps eliminate stress, increases the time that your body is in rest mode, nourishes the involuntary function, balances right and left brain, loosens the muscles, and brings a sense of lightness to the body and mind.

Yoga nidra changes the activity in the brain waves from beta waves—signals to the brain that are on a hyperdrive—to alpha waves, those active in a state of relaxation. Mood-improving hormones like serotonin are released when the alpha waves are active.

As you move deeper into a relaxation response, the brain waves change from alpha to theta waves, when the number of thoughts in your mind dwindles. This state is comparable to a dream state, and the function of processing memories and emotions is enabled. So, when you do yoga nidra, you may find images or random memories that may come up, but you will be in a state of restful awareness and not sleeping. This state when theta waves dominate is said to be good for creativity and provides the deepest rest. It is considered a spiritually valuable twilight state to be in when you are neither sleeping nor awake.

You’ll then move into a state where delta brain waves dominate, a more restorative stage when your thoughts nearly disappear. To put into context why delta brain waves matter, they also dominate when your body begins its involuntary repair, cleansing, and regeneration work while you are asleep. But her e isthe most interesting fact—yoga nidra takes you to a state even deeper than this, which is not consciously accessible to us. That gives our rest a qualitative advantage over regular sleep in a much shorter period of time.

When can we practice yoga nidra?

It can be practiced at any time of the day (wait 20 to 30 minutes after a meal). It may be done after a workout or yoga session to give your muscles, body, and mind a deeper rest. It is this rest that supports muscle building and strengthening, not the workout itself. Doing it right before going to sleep can also help you get to sleep faster and enjoy better sleep.

Try this amazing yoga nidra meditation with Art of Living founder, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

Practice Yoga

Research shows that regular practice of yogasanas can go a long way in helping you sleep better. A 2012 study showed that yoga helped 55 percent of the practitioners sleep better, and it reduced stress among 85 percent of the respondents who practiced yoga. Yoga along with proper breathing techniques can also heal symptoms of sleep disorders, as breath is linked to an improved relaxation response. Breathing practices or pranayamas like bumblebee breathing or victory breath can help ease stress, relax the mind, and prepare the body for sleep.

Sunbathing

Spending some time in the sun can also help reset your circadian rhythm. A healthy circadian rhythm is important to feel fresh and energized after a good long sleep.

Avoid Siestas

As unpopular as this advice is, you will do well by restricting your afternoon naps to fewer than 30 minutes (even on weekends). Sleep gives you both rest and energy. Oversleeping in the afternoon can leave you feeling way too awake and energized for the night, and you risk kicking off a vicious cycle of irregular sleeping hours.

Listen to Your Body Clock

Our circadian rhythms are set by nature. Try listening to your body’s subtle cues to ensure the best sleep. Often, we ignore these signs and continue to binge on our favorite shows, read, or even work—risking our natural sleep-wake homeostasis. Once the golden hour has passed, you may not be able to easily get to sleep for some time.

Avoid Caffeine or Heavy Meals at Night

Caffeine or nicotine can stimulate our sympathetic nervous system and delay sleep. Eating a heavy meal at night can also lead to digestive strain and cause interrupted sleep.

Prep Your Bedroom for Sleep

Our body clock is naturally conditioned to correlate lack of light with a shift from wakefulness to a state of sleepiness. When that happens, your circadian rhythm kicks in to activate the right biological functions—releasing sleep-inducing hormones, regulating body temperature, and creating heaviness in the head and eyes to help us sleep. Your bedroom should be dark, quiet, neat, and clutter-free, and the temperature should be comfortable for uninterrupted sleep—on the cool side but not too cold.

Best Time for bed

The ideal time to go to bed—according to the science of Ayurveda—is 10:00 pm. This is when the pitta dosha, or the fire energy, kicks in and the body cells get into repair mode. If you stay up past this time, the energy that should be channeled for supporting the body’s regeneration gets diverted to other activities of facilitating sight or cognition, thus interfering with the body’s natural repair mechanism.

Incorporating these tips slowly over time can greatly improve your sleep quality. However, if you’re still having trouble falling or staying asleep, visit a sleep doctor or Ayurveda practitioner who can help bring back the joy of eight-hours of uninterrupted sleep.

Posted with permission from Art of Living Retreat Center

About The Author
Ruchira Roy Chowdhury

Ruchira Roy is a former business journalist turned health and wellness writer, meditation teacher, Ayurveda practitioner, and Art of Living volunteer. A New York University journalism graduate and an Asian College of Journalism alum, she is a pacifist who loves to create, entertain, meditate, and tell stories.