In the midnight hours, do you lie there sleep deprived, worrying about your responsibilities as a parent, wife, sibling, and/or daughter—tossing and turning—wondering if you said and did the right things? Or do you find yourself awake in the wee hours of the morning . . . long before your alarm clock sounds?
You’re not the only one. Fighting to fall sleep at night and/or waking up in the middle of the night is a common occurrence for many people.
Insomnia: A Public Health Epidemic
The Centers for Disease Control has labeled insufficient sleep a “public health epidemic,” and estimates that 50-70 million adults in the US suffer from a wakefulness disorder. And in a report issued in 2014, the CDC warned that people who get too little sleep are at risk for increased mortality, as well as chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, obesity, and depression. What a nightmare!
If you know anything about the science of sleep, you know that the leading cause of insomnia is stress. High levels of stress make it hard to mentally wind down, which makes it very difficult to physically relax before and during sleep.
All that fretting about your performance during the day and your to-do list for tomorrow the moment your head hits the pillow at night is not conducive to healthy, restful rejuvenation. And when there’s a feeling of shame, an illness, heartache, and loss . . . it’s even worse.
Stress is the principle cause of insomnia. And insomnia causes even more stress.
A 2014 Stress in America survey by the American Psychological Association reported that 40% of adults say they lie awake at night because of stress. Stress is one of the top contributors to insomnia, which impacts around 30% of US adults at any given time.
And if you’ve ever had either a brief or extended encounter with insomnia, you know how stressful it is not to be able to catch your ZZZ’s at night. It’s so frustrating and infuriating, isn’t it? And the anxiety that comes with worrying about whether or not you’ll be woken up at 3 a.m. by the garbage truck or by the (once lovely) sound of birds chirping at sunrise is relentless.
Your inability to rest is not your fault; in fact, it’s the fault of your neurological programming. Your mind is similar to a computer and when you form a behavior due to repetition, you store it as a program in your unconscious mind. This ingrained “program” is also known as a habit.
This unconscious habit of constant mind chatter and chronic restlessness goes to bed with us, too. As human beings, we are always thinking about the past and/or the future with complete disregard to present moment awareness . . . and so we become super susceptible to sleepless nights. Makes sense, right?
Here Are 3 Ways to Help You Restore Your Healthful Sleep
There are many factors—which you can control—that affect the quality and quantity of sleep you receive each night. Are you ready to rediscover the blissful experience of a good night’s sleep—naturally?
Based on modern self-healing techniques and the ancient wisdom of yoga, Ayurveda, and Qigong, you can reduce stress, induce relaxation, and ensure you get some restful ZZZ’s.
1. Establish a regular routine.
Establishing a regular daily routine is a great way to improve your sleep/wake pattern. This includes going to bed (no later than 10 p.m.) and getting out of bed (as close to sunrise as possible) at the same time each day.
Once you get into a natural/circadian rhythm that works with your schedule, you’ll be able to establish a dedicated time and place for each aspect of your life. This makes it a lot easier to release stress during the day and get the rest you need at night.
· Get enough exercise.
Getting regular daily exercise is one of the best ways to ensure good-quality sleep. When you exercise, your body temperature fluctuations throughout the day become more accentuated. This allows your body to achieved the deeper stages of sleep, which are more rejuvenating for your body.
Two types of exercise help improve sleep. One wears you out such as running, cycling, dancing, swimming, and lifting weights. This type of exercise is best done in the morning. The second helps to calm and soothe body and mind, including restorative yoga, Qigong, and tai chi.
· Eat a light meal for supper.
A light meal with some carbohydrates will increase serotonin levels and steady blood sugar levels. Both states are very calming for the body. Have dinner at least 2-3 hours before bedtime.
· Create a bedtime ritual.
About 30 minutes to an hour before bedtime, establish a routine that primes your body for relaxation. For instance, you might listen to soothing music, take a warm bath, write in a journal, sip some sleepy time tea, and read a self-empowering book.
· Get off your phone or any other device with a screen.
Blue wavelengths produced by the screens of our phones, iPads, and computers reduce the secretion of melatonin, which in turn, affects our sleep cycle. So, stay away from your laptop and smartphone at night. Also, avoid watching TV before bedtime, especially if it’s disturbing or scary.
· Reduce your consumption of caffeine.
Don’t drink coffee, tea, or other caffeinated drinks after 1 o’clock in the afternoon. And keep consumption down to less than two cups a day.
· Resist drinking a nightcap.
Although a glass of wine before bed may be relaxing and make you feel sleepy, alcohol interferes with the sleep cycle, particularly REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. This means you miss out on the restful and restorative night’s sleep your body desires.
Alcohol metabolizes quickly—over a one to two-hour period—and once metabolized, causes the release of the hormone epinephrine, which is stimulating and often wakes you. Avoid alcohol this week and see how much better you sleep.
2. Let go of worry and other mental pollutants.
For many people going to bed is the first time since they got up when they can relax . . . and sometimes you really haven’t had the opportunity to register all the events of the day. This can cause you to go over and over things in your mind at night when you would rather be sleeping.
· Sort out your worries during the day.
Set time aside to organize your thoughts. Keep a journal of your thoughts, and observe your mind through writing down what surfaces for you. It’s important to release the events of the day.
· Relinquish control and practice non-resistance.
The attempt to control outside forces keeps us bound in fear. And unless we let go as circumstances change, we end up suffering. When you stop holding on so tight—to ideas, beliefs, objects, or people you cherish, and concepts of who you are—you begin to live in a way that lets you flow with life. You discover that letting go is something you do for yourself.
By learning the art of letting go, paradoxically we get what we really want.
Like any other skill, the ability to let go develops over time. When you first begin, you may find that instead of feeling freer, you’re battling previous habits that don’t want to give up. It helps to remember where that struggle lies.
Attachment to sleep or your ideal sleep usually leads to worry about the consequences of sleeplessness. This is counterproductive and inconsistent with the natural process of letting go of the day to allow sleep to come.
Be patient! It’s unlikely that both the quality and quantity of your sleep will be optimal right away. Trust that your mind and body can self-regulate and self-correct for sleep loss.
Having a few relaxation techniques in your mental toolkit can be helpful for those times when stress rears its head and keeps you up.
Here’s an ancient practice you can explore . . . if you need to relax so you can rest.
One key to overcoming insomnia lies in your ability to quiet your mind and relax your body before you go to sleep. An excellent way to do this is through breath and body awareness.
· Perform deep, diaphragmatic breathing.
Breath awareness or pranayama is a technique that comes to us from the ancient science of yoga. And research has found that even a single session of deep, slow breathing can reduce blood pressure and heart rate, which helps you to relax.
Here’s how to perform deep, diaphragmatic breathing: inhale through your nose . . . counting to ten and focusing on drawing breath from your abdomen rather than your chest.
Exhale slowly through your nose at the same pace, counting to ten. Complete the cycle five to ten times, repeating as often as needed.
When you’re in bed and unable to sleep, the best thing to do is to go back to your breathing. Resting is almost as beneficial as sleeping, and you’ll know you’re doing the best that you can. Bring peace to your breathing and your body so you can rest. – Thich Nhat Hanh, How to Relax
3. Develop a Healthy Sense of Self.
Developing a healthy sense of Self is about freeing ourselves from that which complicates and confuses our mind. This could include releasing ingrained ideas of having to say or do something perfectly, the relationship changes you go through with your child as they go off to college, a fear of something (i.e., abandonment, failure, rejection), and/or the desire to match our society’s success standards.
In order to awaken fresh and full of energy each day, you have to take a good look inward . . . to the root cause of your stress and anxiety.
Why are you neurologically wired the way you are? What happened to you in the past that now controls your behaviors and habits?
Be aware of what’s happening in each moment in order to move effortlessly into the next. Examine your emotions in the present so it’ll be easier to calm them down at night. It’s important to be aware of our tendency to get caught in the habit loop—reeling in the past or worrying about the future.
Stay present! It takes a lot of practice and self-motivation. But in the long run, this change in behavior will lead to a healthy sense of Self. And when you sleep well, you are not only healthier, but happier, too.
When you are healthier and happier, you are able to create stronger relationships, bring about stronger manifestations in your life, and enjoy increased creativity and productivity.
Have you struggled with sleep issues in the past? Are you having trouble getting the rest you deserve? Find out what’s going on with your sense of Self by taking the Healthy Sense of Self quiz. Here’s to your healthy sleep!
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This article first appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.