It’s the middle of the night. You want to sleep. You need to sleep.
Now, it’s past 4am and you’re awake again – you’re counting down the hours til your alarm clock is going to rudely awaken you from your slumber.
But sleep just won’t come.
And the more you try to will yourself to sleep, the more you find yourself tossing and turning … and now it’s 5.30am and you have that horrible feeling that you’re going to feel in a brain fog all day because you have had yet another interrupted night’s sleep.
Does this sound familiar?
I often get asked by my yoga students for tips on how to get better sleep. “I can’t sleep because my mind is whirring about all the things I need to do tomorrow”; “I keep replaying conversations over in my mind – I can’t switch off”; “I wake up for no apparent reason but just can’t settle and get back to sleep again”.
Insomnia and wakefulness are an all-too-common problem. We lead such busy lives that we screech to a halt at bed-time and expect to be able to drop off to sleep straight away (after that one last check of the phone in bed…) and wonder why we can’t sleep.
So, it’s time to be honest. While you might drop off quickly due to exhaustion, a deep, restful, unbroken sleep is unlikely to happen unless you let your body and mind wind down.
Give yourself permission to relax and look after yourself, by taking some time to prepare yourself for rest, with these simple yoga techniques.
1. Before you go to bed
Try Supported Shoulderstand or Legs up the Wall Pose – rest in this as long as you like e.g. 5 – 15 minutes.
When I introduce this pose to clients in my 1-2-1 sessions they always love it. They often look a bit suspicious when I show it – you’re lying there with your legs stuck up in the air afterall!
But when they try it they always remark how restful it feels. It allows tension to drain from your body, triggers the “rest and digest” response, and allows your mind to calm and quieten.
So give it a try. Don’t have enough space on the floor? Then do this on your bed.
2. Breathe yourself to sleep
If you wake up in the middle of the night, try breathing yourself back to sleep.
Lying on your back, place the flat of one hand on your abdomen and the other at the centre of your chest.
Breathe in and out. Do you notice any movement? Breathe a little deeper. As you breathe in imagine you’re filling your lungs and your abdomen expands to gently push against the hand placed there, and the hand on your chest is pushed up slightly by the expansion of your rib cage. As you breathe out your lungs empty completely and your belly draws in and your chest falls.
Bring all of your attention onto the sensations of breathing.
Aim to relax on each out breath. Try to release the thoughts about not sleeping. Forget about the time. Forget about anything else. Accept what is in this moment and breathe….
3. Body scan
This technique is particularly useful if your mind is chattering away – as it gives it something else to focus on. And as it doesn’t involve you moving it won’t disturb anybody else.
Starting at your right foot, take your awareness there and say to yourself:
My right foot is relaxing … my right foot is relaxed.
Then begin to guide your awareness through your body:
My right leg is relaxing … my right leg is relaxed.
My left foot is relaxing … my left foot is relaxed.
And so on…
Work your way through your body: your legs, your hips, your lower back, your abdomen, your chest, your spine, your back, your shoulders, your neck, your jaw, your face … your mind.
My invitation to you
So I invite you to try one or all of these tonight.
Switch off the TV / computer / your phone. Lie down, put your legs up that wall and relax. Breathe and let go.
And I hope you have a good night’s sleep!