Guess what is the no. 1 symptom of stress my clients are complaining about? Maybe the title of the article gave you a hint but yes, it's lack of sleep. Falling right on the heels of this is a lack of energy and fatigue. Well, if you can't sleep, these would certainly be a consequence.
Now here's the real kicker. Lack of sleep also influences stress. Not only does our physical health require rest but our mental and emotional states depend on sleep to maintain psychological states and self-regulatory functioning.
Getting proper sleep is vital to our health and well-being. This is the time for our physical, mental and emotional selves to restore and repair through important biological and physiologic functions. There's a lot happening while we're sleeping.
All is not lost. Daily breathing exercises are a wonderful tool for improving sleep patterns and a more restorative rest. How we breathe plays a large role in balancing our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) which is comprised of two systems regulating our stress or relaxation responses.
Most of us have become accustomed to running on our stress response system on a daily basis. We stay engaged in activity well into the evening and then find it difficult to unwind. Years of this habitual pattern catches up to us and results in chronic insomnia.
All this thinking and doing activates the stress response which release activity-based hormones. While in this system, breathing patterns change and again another cyclical dichotomy happens. Poor breathing patterns activate the stress response and stress influences poor breathing or respiratory function. Remember the old saying, "slow down, take a breath" OR "slow down and count to 10." There's a reason for this.
As we re-pattern our breath with yoga breathing to take less breaths per minute and ensure deep diaphragmatic breathing with each inhale and exhale, we shift from breathing that stimulates fight or flight (the release of cortisol) to rest and restore (the release of serotonin to melatonin) and support the bodies natural state of homeostasis through the relaxation response. Focusing on the breath also brings our mind into the present moment so we can evaluate the current situation more accurately instead of mindless reactivity.
Are you having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or both? The body follows a natural cycle called the circadian rhythm. When interrupted, we begin to experience various hormone imbalances that transpire during these hours. Specific yoga breathing techniques are not only a wonderful tool to improve endocrine function but many other physiologic functions involved with proper rest.
Guided breathing is recommended for relaxation, stress management, anxiety, fatigue and a lack of physical energy; all symptoms and consequences of improper rest. It's a wonderful tool to help you either fall asleep or fall back into sleep if you're suffering with restlessness. Some helpful hints for which yoga breathing techniques work best and how to incorporate them:
• Diaphragmatic Breathing during the day following a pattern of 12 breaths or less. If the mind is very active in the evening, double the length of your exhale. For instance, inhale for a count of 4 and exhale for a count of 8.
• Alternate Nostril Breathing as a tool for pre-sleep or if you awaken during the night.
• If you do awaken, inhale only up the left nostril and exhale out the right for several rounds.
You're just one breath away from an optimal night's rest.