It's 4 a.m. and I'm starting to regret that green tea I had after dinner. I'm sure that late night detective movie before bed didn't help matters either. Frankly, I know how to take care of myself, but sometimes I just think I'm immune to the common ailment called insomnia.
The truth is between 30 and 40 percent of adults in the United States have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep at some point during any given year, according to The National Sleep Foundation. Another 10 to 15 percent of the population considers their insomnia to be a chronic problem.
We all struggle from time to time with getting sleep. Either we have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or even just getting enough sleep. It's when it becomes a habit that our health can suffer.
Poor sleep is associated with a range of heart problems, including high blood pressure and increased risk of heart attack. New research shows a link between insomnia and heart failure.
How to Get the Sleep You Need
Often, the first thing yoga students tell me when they start a daily yoga practice is that they are sleeping better. They report falling asleep easier and sleeping more deeply. That's because yoga has a lot of tools to combat insomnia and sleep issues.
Here are some of my favorites:
Walking slowly without the "push" of exercise calms the nervous system and allows the energy of the mind to gently inhabit the spaces of the body. When we practice walking mediation, we begin to let go of that restlessness that may inhibit sleep. If you walk too fast, it can be stimulating and work against your efforts to romance the mind into sleep. When you slow it down, it can pacify even the busiest mind and bring relief to that feeling I call "wired tired."
Rest with Your Legs Up the Wall
This brings fresh blood back to the heart so the heart doesn't have to pump so hard. In turn, it lowers blood pressure and heart rate. It can be quite calming and relaxing when done right before bed.
This allows physical and mental tensions to gently unwind and dissipate. According to Dr. Ramadevi Gourineni, the director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Evanston, Illinois, insomnia is believed to be a 24-hour problem of hyper arousal, and elevated measures of arousals are seen throughout the day. Their study shows that using deep relaxation techniques during the day can help improve sleep at night.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
This calms the nervous system and quiets the mind. It has long been used as a practice to prepare the mind for meditation as it balances the nervous system and the hemispheres of the brain. Just 10 minutes before bed can help you transition into a relaxed and peaceful mind space. Try this Alternate Nostril Breathing audio practice.
Try turning off all technology at least one hour prior to sleeping. Technology keeps the mind engaged and busy, making it next to impossible to drift off into sleep. The light emitted from phones, computers and televisions screens can also affect sleep patterns. Research shows that room light can suppress your natural levels of melatonin and shorten your body's internal representation of the length of the night. That means that chronically exposing yourself to electrical lighting in the late evening can potentially impact your sleep. Keeping the room dark in general can promote good sleep.
Stop consuming caffeine after noon, and for those who are sensitive to caffeine, you may not be able to drink any without it interfering with sleep patterns. Even dark chocolate and green tea can be too stimulating.
Maintain A Regular Sleep Routine
Going to bed and getting up at the same time each day helps the body find a healthy rhythm. This can be one of the most important keys to good sleep and good health.
Read Something Inspiring
Reading something uplifting right before sleep can be just the right way to set the mind at ease and support a sense of security and peace so the mind can gently drift off.
Treat Yourself to a Warm Bedtime Drink
My favorite is warm skim milk with a dash of nutmeg. Other good ones include chamomile tea with lavender and tart cherry juice with vanilla. These are easy to make and have additional healing properties.
Reduce Unnecessary Stimulation
In addition to avoiding caffeine, it's important to reduce added stimulation such as heated conversations, spicy foods, heavy exercise, cleaning, or excessive work. This includes that late night movie murder mystery or any other stimulating input.
Deep and restful sleep is imperative to good health and the healing process. Our daily Ornish stress management practices have all the components to promote deep and restful sleep. If you hit a bump in the road, it can be helpful to review some of your sleep routines and use some of these strategies to get back on track.
What do you find helps you to get a better night's sleep?
Have a questions regarding transforming your way of eating and living, 'Ask Dr. Ornish'!