Better Sleep, Easily
Idea for today: Get Better Sleep
Often the most profound ideas are the simplest. One of the best ways to improve your health is to improve your sleep. You’ve heard this before, but probably could use a reminder. Throughout a busy day, you get physically wound up as you pull energy into your head and then hold it up there with neck and shoulder tension + shallow breathing. You can reverse that wind-up by taking 5 deep, slow, belly breaths as you settle into your bed. This pulls the energy out of your head and recirculates it through your body – where it needs to be for good sleep. To make sure you’re not just thinking about breathing, put your hand on your lower belly to feel your belly rising and falling with your breaths. Then, energetically feel around in your body for tight spots – the way you would feel around in a sack with a few potatoes in it – and let yourself get interested in those tighter areas. Feel and breathe into them, with your hand rising and falling on your belly. Notice the knots dissolving. This simple action and intention, repeated nightly as you settle down, can shift you into a whole new realm of body-centered, better sleep.
Another practice for better sleep is to spend more time tuning in to nature. If you can incrementally shift toward being awake in daylight hours and sleeping when it’s dark, you’ll have the support of Nature and her rhythms. Start a vegetable garden or grow some flowers. Even if you only have 30 minutes on a lunch break – make friends with a plant and visit it each time; watch some ants marching along the ground; or meditatively observe the leaves on a tree blowing in the wind. Tuning in on that fundamental level – like you did naturally as a kid – relaxes and centers you in a way that will re-align your physical rhythms if you do it consistently.
Trouble going back to sleep?
Here are some pointers for when you wake up and have trouble going back to sleep.
Sometimes you awaken from a nightmare or startle awake with a racing pulse. Perhaps an unfamiliar sound or movement disturbs you and your thoughts get going, preventing you from falling back to sleep. Maybe you ate too much, or too late. There are many things that can disrupt sound, restful sleep. If this happens repeatedly, you may have established a pattern that is challenging to reset.
Whatever the cause, when you awaken, the important thing is not to let your thoughts take off. Your mind wants to wake up and do its thinking – that’s its nature – but don’t let it. Thoughts pull energy up into your head and out of your body – where you need it most to sleep. There are usually a few moments when you first awaken when your mind hasn’t completely taken over. If you can catch yourself in those moments and take a few deep breaths, you put your energy back into your body, which dearly wants to go back to sleep. With this awareness and a little practice, you can gently take the reins from your mind the way you would with a team of horses that got spooked, and gently but firmly guide them back to calmness. It’s all in the breath. Calm, steady breathing works wonders. And square breathing (I give detailed instructions for Square Breathing in Chapter One of my book, Issues in Your Tissues) is the tool that distracts your mind with counting while opening space for your body to reset.
If you have a pattern of night waking, your body and nervous system have likely been overloaded for a while, and it may take steady practice to retrain yourself to settle down and trust that it’s safe. Again, imagine those scared horses wanting to bolt. When they know a firm, wise handler “has the reins,” they will feel safe enough to calm down. Even if you don’t manage to get yourself back to sleep the first night, breath deeply anyway and allow the calming effect of that. Tell yourself that this is a process and we will get it, eventually. Tell your mind, “Tomorrow you can work. Now, we need to sleep.” Talk to yourself the way you would to a scared child (maybe you are talking to a scared child inside yourself) and reassure her/him that you can learn this, and that you’ll keep him/her safe. It may help to imagine your young self being calmed by your older, stronger self or a wise elder. You may prefer to imagine yourself in a natural setting, surrounded by friendly beings. Use whatever image comforts you. No matter what, deepen your breath and come back into your body. In time, you will find that this kind of empowered imagining and breathing does what you may have relied on medication for – but better! It’s free, with no side effects, and you have access to it any time you remember to do it.
Despite our technological sophistication, the most profound fixes are still—
Rest, Water, a full breath, a smile. 😉