Some people are gifted with good sleep and irrespective of what they do or don’t do, they happen to enjoy wholesome sleep effortlessly. This article is for the rest of us who are not endowed with such a gift. I was not and I used to suffer for decades with sleep trouble which started right after my teens and sometimes became full blown insomnia. Luckily, I never started using alcohol or sleeping pills and instead just endured through strings of sleepless nights almost all through my life, until I stumbled upon this secret I am sharing here, that completely changed my life and health.
Preparation for a wholesome sleep actually begins right in the morning. There are two parts to understand and practice, one relates to preparing the physical body for wholesome sleep and the other relates to the mind. During the day the body needs sufficient physical activity and sufficient exposure to natural sunlight and the best way to ensure both is an hour of early morning walking or running or any other outdoor activity such as yoga or aerobics. If this is not possible, just an active day at home with all windows open to let in sunlight would suffice. Please read the blog about physical activity to learn about the body’s minimal need for activity.
Exposure to bright sunlight during the day and contrasting it with relative darkness as the day comes to an end and finally one hour of complete darkness before actually settling down to sleep ensures sufficient secretion of melatonin for a full night sleep. An important physical care is to ensure that our body is not engaged in digesting a heavy late meal, which severely affects sleep quality. Dinner needs to be your lightest meal of the day and dinnertime needs to be at least two hours before bedtime.
Substances such as caffeine and nicotine also affects sleep quality. These substances remain in the blood stream for six to eight hours after ingestion. Hence it is advisable to drink coffee, tea, coke, energy drinks, etc only before lunchtime and completely avoid it after 3pm in the day assuming that your sleep time is 11 pm. Alcohol and narcotic substances also inhibit wholesome sleep because what they induce is an unconscious slumber that doesn’t allow the body to deeply rest and heal as the natural sleep cycle does. If you cannot avoid alcohol, try to reduce it as much as possible and ensure you stop drinking at least two hours before bedtime.
Preparing the mind is a little more tricky, especially for those of us prone to overthinking, worrying, stress and anxiety. Our active thinking mind needs to wind down and let go of the day that went by and stop planning for the next day and come back to the body to rest. One effective way of doing this is to write a dairy or journal log about the day that went by and make a to do list for the next day. Putting this down in paper sometimes releases it from the mind and allows it to become quiet. Talking about your day, sharing it with your partner also could help.
The most common problem with sleep is that you would be very tired and sleepy before going to bed but the moment you lie down and close your eyes your thoughts pick up speed and goes racing round and round and sleep becomes elusive. This is because we associate closing our eyes with deep thinking and when the mind is far away deeply engaged with thoughts involving the future or the past, the body cannot go to sleep even though it is tired and enough melatonin has been secreted. Not knowing how to tame this restless mind, people often resort to pills or alcohol or narcotics.
Physical movement is the best solution for this. Gentle physical movements such as yoga stretches ( https://youtu.be/m7dIBVswWtk ) – do it very slowly and gently so that the body doesn’t get energised or activated. You can have a bath and dissolving some rock salt in cold water or just lukewarm / room temperature water would be best. Avoid very hot water bath just before sleep. You can also learn some very effective Energy Movements that are very effective when you subscribe to either the Awareness Journey course or seek Sleep Mentoring / healing with @SelvanSmentoring.
Finally when you settle down to sleep, just remain sitting with back resting on the backrest of the bed or wall or leaning against pillows, keep your eyes open and gazing at the blank wall or ceiling in front and gently tapping and holding your breath in awareness. This is a type meditation (Refer Blog no.15 for details) which you can keep practicing till you fall asleep. You can use this technique once again later in the night if you happen to wake up and find it difficult to go back to sleep.
Here is a summary of do’s and don’ts to help with wholesome sleep.
- Brisk physical activity and exposure to natural sunlight during the day.
- Have a fixed bedtime and do not deviate much from this.
- Avoid coffee, tea, coke or other caffeinated drinks after 3 pm.
- Eat a light dinner two hours before going to bed.
- Avoid alcohol or limit the quantity and finish it at least two hours before bedtime.
- Switch off bright lights and electronic devices one hour before bedtime.
- Write the day’s journal and next day’s to do list using diffused lighting.
- Talk and share your day’s experience with family.
- Do gentle yoga stretches or Energy movements before going to sleep.
- Do the Look, Breathe, Tap meditation- Don’t close eyes, Don’t lie down until you fall asleep.
- Don’t switch on lights or phone if you wake up to go to the toilet in the middle of the night.
- Cultivate a habit of sitting to meditate everyday.
Wholesome and sufficient sleep is the most important requirement for a balanced physical, emotional and mental health and well-being.
The self care series will be of five parts namely:
The self care series will be of five parts namely: