by Mary Hilliker, RDN, E-RYT 500, C-IAYT
When sleep escapes you and fatigue is your daytime companion, it’s time to evaluate what actions you can take to improve sleep. Your yoga toolbox has many tools, but you need to know which ones to apply to your situation.
Insomnia was a major health issue across the population before the pandemic. As routines were disrupted and stress amplified during the pandemic, more people are suffering with insomnia or ‘coronasomnia’. Occasional sleeplessness is part of the human condition but chronic problems with sleeplessness can take a toll on physical and mental health.
The roots of sleeplessness may be related to stress, age, hormonal changes, pain, digestive distress, anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, other health issues, medication side effects, lack of exercise or the wrong timing of it for your body, diet, or lifestyle routines. Yoga is especially helpful for reducing symptoms of stress, anxiety, pain, and digestive distress – all big disruptors of sound sleep. Yoga also creates awareness around factors that impact the body’s natural rhythms of wakefulness and sleepiness.
The tools of yoga are skillfully applied based on the characteristics of sleeplessness. Some people have trouble falling asleep. Others wake in the middle of the night. The early risers may wake at 4 am even though the alarm is set for 6 am. And some individuals sleep for 8 – 10 hours yet never feel rested and refreshed. An assessment of what is happening for you is a first step in applying the tools that may be helpful.
One of the issues that has emerged during the pandemic is drastic changes in personal, work, school, and household routines. Working parents of school age children have had some of the most drastic shifts in their routines. These shifts in routines can be a major source of sleep problems. One way to approach this is to see what is now returning to normal as we emerge out of the pandemic (hopefully!) and what might still be hanging on as a habit formed during the pandemic. Some habits are major sleep disruptors – caffeine after mid-day, lack of exercise, no outside time or natural light before mid-day, high sugar consumption, and late in the day heavy meals, consumption of alcohol, too much alcohol and use of electronic devices.
Yoga tools that may be used for sleeplessness include yoga postures, breath adaptation in the postures, breathing practices, guided relaxation, meditation, or sound. If you work with a Yoga Therapist to improve sleep and reduce daytime fatigue, you might work on:
- Setting the stage for better sleep with lifestyle techniques and environmental controls
- Unwinding tightness, tension and pain using yoga postures
- Using yoga postures and breathing to fall asleep
- Techniques you can use in bed when you wake during the night
- Ideas for managing waking early
- Quick and easy techniques for dealing with daytime fatigue
- Changing attitudes and stress around managing sleeplessness.
One of the most common experiences of sleeplessness is not being able to fall asleep because of stress and repetitive negative or worrisome thoughts or strong emotions. Keep in mind that the more stressful the day, the more valuable some movement and breathing to reduce stress hormones. Yoga tools that may be applied in this situation include lifestyle changes, and a short evening yoga practice of simple postures with breath adaptation, a short breathing practice that promotes calmness, and guided relaxation or meditation.
Here’s one scenario for falling asleep at night:
- Write down any reminders you need to offload from the chatter in your mind to empty yourself of the day.
- Turn off the electronics.
- Take a hot shower or bath.
- Do a few favorite yoga postures slowly and with progressively lengthening exhales through 4 – 6 repetitions. You might start with a standing posture, then do a kneeling posture, then transition to your back to do a few postures.
- Crawl into bed and visualize a favorite place in nature. Keep that visualization in your mind’s eye.
- Make your inhale extremely easy such as 4 sec – 6 sec. Then progressively make the exhale longer (4 breaths with each step that you increase the exhale) until it is twice as long as your inhale.
Whether you need better sleep, more sleep, or better energy during the day, your yoga toolbox has options for skillful action. You can learn how to use your yoga tools for sweet dreams at night and vitality and clear thinking during the day.