In a previous blog post Seven Ways to Boost Your Day I shared my tips for starting your day off right.  The foundation for a great day actually starts before you wake; it starts with a good night’s sleep.  A sound and restful sleep is something that often eludes many of us, me included.  Establishing a pre-bed routine is a work in progress for me. I have my morning routine pretty well ingrained in my day, but all too often I find that I’m staring at a screen right up until bed time.  I go to bed without taking the time to unwind and slow down and as a result, my mind and body are restless and sleep is often elusive.

There are many routines and ideas out there for how to prepare for a good night’s sleep but I wanted to share a few things I am working on or that have proven to work for me.

1. Step away from the screen.

Phones, tablets, computers and televisions all emit a bluish light that suppresses the brain’s production of melatonin, a key hormone that tells the body it’s night time.  If you are looking at this type of artificial light right up you turn out the lights, your body is not ready for sleep.  Not to mention the fact that your mind is still processing whatever it is you are reading or doing.

Try to turn it all off at least an hour before you plan to turn off the lights.  Try reading a book (specially designed e-readers are okay to use, they do not emit the bluish light) or practicing some of the breathing techniques and poses that I describe below.

Give your mind and body time to let go and adjust to the next phase in the cycle.

2. Let it go.

Most of us are go, go, go all day, every day so often it’s when we begin to rest the body that the mind kicks in.  We begin to think about what happened during the day and begin to analyze it. We decide courses of actions and then worry that we won’t remember the next day.

I find it handy to have a journal and pen next to my bed.  Many times, as soon as the lights go out, I turn them back on to write down a thought or idea that comes to me.  Then I let it go, I relax knowing that I won’t forget to add something to my all too important (way too important!) to-do list.

3. Take a deep breath.

I could just tell you to practice deep breathing but I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you why it helps with sleep.  Here’s quick anatomy lesson (and I do not pretend to be an expert!) that will help.  Our autonomic nervous system is made up of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems (along with the enteric nervous system but I won’t get into that part).  Our sympathetic nervous system is responsible for our ‘fight or flight’ responses.  Our parasympathetic nervous system enables us to “rest and digest’. In a healthy situation we can find a balance so that we can be alert and active but also rest and restore.

Our western way of always ‘doing’ and rarely ‘being’ has us on sympathetic overdrive.  We are constantly dealing with stresses in our daily lives, many times not even realizing it.  It’s very hard for us to slow down and allow our body to ‘rest and digest’.  I am very guilty of this one.  Thank goodness for savasana at the end of a yoga practice.   As a result, we find it hard to rest for sleep; our bodies are not use to it any longer.

Learning how to take a deep breath is one way to help us slow down and fall to sleep.  It’s easy.  Give it a try:

  • In your bed, lie on your back with your head on a pillow (not too high).
  • Place one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest.
  • Close your eyes.
  • First, visualize the hand on your belly moving as you try to breathe only into the belly. Inhale for a count of 1-2-3, exhale for the same.   Repeat this three times.
  • Next, work to isolate chest breathing. Inhale into the hand on the chest for a count of 1-2-3, exhale for the same. Repeat three times.
  • Combine the two for a full breath. Inhale in the belly for a count of 1-2-3, add on breathing into the chest for an additional 1-2-3. Hold with a full breath for a moment. Then exhale as one unit for a count of 5.
  • Repeat at least three times but feel free to keep it going until you fall asleep.

It takes a while to get the hang of deep breathing but the benefits are so great that it’s really worth the time and effort.

4. Try these yoga poses.

Along with deep breathing, forward folding also helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. Here are three yoga poses that you can try in your bed.   These variations are not so concerned with alignment but more about how you feel energetically.  However, as with all yoga poses, if it doesn’t feel right or hurts, come out or adjust.

Child’s Pose: 

  • Start in a kneeling position. You can have your knees together or widen the knees and bring your pinky toes together.
  • Fold forward and rest your head on a pillow or stack your hands.
  • Breathe deeply, visualizing the breath moving into the back of the body.
  • Let your lower back release.
  • Slow down your breath and your mind.
  • Hold for a couple of minutes or as long as you feel comfortable.

Seated Forward Fold:

  • Sit on a pillow with your legs out in front of you.
  • Sit tall as you inhale.
  • On your exhale fold out over your legs.
  • Only fold as far forward as you feel is okay for your lower back. You can also bend your knees and externally rotate them.
  • Slow down your breath and your mind.
  • Hold for a couple of minutes or as long as you feel comfortable.

Legs up the Wall (Headboard): 

  • Sit with your right shoulder facing your headboard.
  • As you lie back on your bed, swing your legs up the headboard.
  • Your head and shoulders will end up on bed with your hips up against the headboard and legs up the headboard.
  • You can also place a pillow under your hips to rest on. An eye mask or something slight over the eyes is also lovely.
  • Stay in the pose for 15 minutes if you can.
  • If your sleep set up does not allow you to do this in your bed then you can do it on the floor with legs up the wall.

5. Give yoga nidra a try.

Say what?  Yoga nidra is also known as yogi sleep and it is divine.  It is a sleep-like state that is induced during a long meditation in savasana (corpse pose, aka lying on your back).  The idea is to stay conscious (awake) while letting your body surrender. To do this your guide will ask you to bring awareness to your body, one part at a time.  It is a great practice to take on when you get into bed, before trying to fall asleep. You may fall asleep during the yoga nidra, especially if it’s new to you.

Many yoga studios offer a yoga nidra class and you can also find the guided meditations online.  There are as many different scripts for yoga nidra as there are teachers but the essence is the same.  Check a few out to see what resonates with you.  I like doing a 30 minute yoga nidra. Believe me, it feels like 5 minutes.

You can find a recording you like or you can try it on your own.  As you lay in bed, bring awareness to all your body parts, one at a time.  Start with your right pinky finger or right pinky toe and work your way around your body.  Feel each part and then move on.  If you are giving it a try to fall asleep and you do, then that is fabulous.  But you can also do yoga nidra at any point during the day to rest and rejuvenate.

Like anything, a before bedtime routine takes practice and means giving up a bit of your already used up time.  But if you are unable to sleep well, you owe it to yourself to at least give a few of these ideas (or others you may find) a try.  Your mind and body will thank you!

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  1. I read this post awhile back and happened upon it again today. One of my doctors recently prescribed yoga as a way to help alleviate stress, 10 min/day which doesn’t sounds like a lot but I am finding it difficult to fit in. Gotta make that habit! This post is perfect with a few simple poses to start me off, I look forward to using these in my new evening routine!

  2. It does take quite a while to build up a habit. Right now I’m working on stepping away from the screen at least an hour before I go to bed. Some nights it happens, others not! If there is a lot on my mind, I find writing things down helps too. Hope you get a good night’s rest soon!

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