I used to lie awake in bed every night staring blankly into the dark blinding space surrounding me with eyes wide open; my mind a battle zone. Pulling my bed covers closer to my chin and wiggling around every-which-way (a million times over again) in desperate attempts to make myself comfortable enough to fall asleep. No matter how I positioned and re-positioned my body, one thing refused to settle and relax… my racing thoughts. I was convinced no one else in the world could possibly think as fast, or as many thoughts, as I did in those moments. One thought interrupting the last thought mid-stream, over and over again, quickly forming a cascading waterfall of ideas, rants, and endless hypotheses through my entire being. I would eventually fall asleep, where I would toss around with vivid dreams and wake several times throughout the night. Eventually, jolted from my tortured slumber by my morning alarm clock, I would drag myself out of bed still cloaked in exhaustion.
Does this sound familiar?
Proper relaxation and sleep are essential needs and critical to overall brain health; we crave that total release of tension in both mind and body, which allows deeper levels of healing and restoration to occur. And yet restful sleep eludes so many and very rarely performs its function properly in modern society. In fact, fifty percent of Americans are chronically sleep deprived or will have a difficult time falling asleep tonight.
It’s true that there will never be enough time in the day to accomplish everything on the to-do list of a modern-day human. Most of us spend our days rushing hurriedly from one task to another, and often splitting attention between numerous tasks at once. This vicious cycle is often a direct path to feeling stressed, anxious or overwhelmed on a consistent basis. When the mind is wound-up and agitated from this daily grind and hustle, it may seem impossible to relax when it’s finally time to wind-down at the end of the night.
It’s common to continue to worry and attempt to solve problems well into your evening, sleep and even dreams. Instead of getting the deep restoration so desperately needed, you may wake-up and still feel fatigued, tense or disoriented – or all of the above. When you’re in a state of stress, your muscles are also tense and ready for action. When no physical action actually occurs, it can result in wasted energy and chronic fatigue. These chronic tensions, fatigue, and stress begin to accumulate over time, which can quickly become a punishing cycle for your body and brain. To keep your brain and body strong and healthy and ready for action, it’s crucial to learn how to release tension in healthy ways, conserve energy and recharge as needed.
Yes, this is your permission to RELAX and discover what it means to treat yourself with genuine love and compassion. Commit to taking small steps daily to improve your habits and incorporate more time for activities in your life that promote an internal state of calm. I often refer to these activities as putting on your “internal coat of armor” and building that inner warrior that can remain peaceful through the chaos.
Our brains love patterns and making new memory of habits and rituals. Consistency with your nightly rituals and creating a “bedtime buffer zone”is key. You can’t go-go-go all day long and then expect your mind to shut-down at a moment’s notice, especially at varying times every night of the week. Creating a buffer zone – 20 to 60 minutes before bed – gives you the necessary time to slow down and prepare your mind and body for sleep using some of these nightly rituals.These small shifts will help you train your brain to get a sound and rejuvenating night’s sleep – every single night.
1) Tune-In to How Much Sleep YouNeed
Though often treated as a luxury, sleep is a necessity and primal need for our brains and bodies to thrive.It should be a priority as you’re building your own personal health and wellness routines and planning your daily schedules. Your brain will thank you! There are many recommended standards available out there in terms of hours per night (the range is 7-9 hours), but typically you are your own best guide so use your intuition. How do you feel when you get 8 hours of sleep versus when you get 7? What about 6 hours? Less than 6?This amount will often vary based on your current stress levels, illness, changes in the seasons, your workout intensity, diet and other health factors. When you’re going through additional challenges in your personal or professional life, be gentle and give yourself a little extra time to snooze. As you incorporate more of these wellness habits into your evening routines and improve the quality of your sleep, you may find you eventually need less total sleep time per night to maintain your ideal day-to-day energy levels.
2) Implement a Digital Curfew
One of the best ways to improve your sleep quality is by implementing a digital curfew. The light emitted from digital screens is not conducive tosleep and may increase cortisol levels, reduce melatonin, delay our circadian rhythm and affect the amount of time it takes us to fall asleep.Studies have shown that even our small electronic devices,such as cell phones, emit sufficient light to miscue the brain and promote wakefulness. Replace late evening screen-time with activities such as reading, meditation, deep breathing, writing, gentle yoga or stretching and listening to music without lyrics. You may also consider implementing a curfew for items like caffeine, alcohol, cardio exercise, big meals and work – all additional items that may contribute to keeping you awake at night.
3) Set the Tone for Sleep
Make your room and your bed a sanctuary full of all the things that help you feel cozy, comfortable and mellow. Try listening to soothing music with delta waves during the evening prior to bedtime to help you relax and sleep deeply. If you’re accustomed to watching TV from bed, you may consider playing this music as you fall asleep as an alternative. Sounds of gentle rainfall, ocean waves, waterfalls, birds or other elements of nature can also be very beneficial in creating a peaceful sleep environment.While playing your calming tunes, sip one of these soothing and sleep-inducing bedtime teas, and your body will begin to respond to this ritual as a signal to start winding down and preparing the body to sleep.
4) State Your Defining Purpose
Establish a defining purpose for the next day, and begin to shift your mindset from the evening-series to instead building excitement about the day to come and what you could accomplish. This will create a sense of purpose and dedication to caring for yourself that helps you let go of anything that doesn’t line-up with that purpose. What inspires you to get up in the morning? Your reason for getting up the following morning, your defining purpose, must be more meaningful than your desire to be entertained (by TV, computer screen, phones, food, etc.) the night prior. As you move through your evening routines, focus your thoughts on what you’re grateful for, what motivates you, what inspires you to do the work you do in the world and the people that are important to you. Keeping these priorities top-of-mind will help you shift away from stressors and worries, and remain focused on the good in your life.
5) Practice Yoga Nidra Meditation
Yoga Nidra (yogic sleep) meditation is designed to help you relax deeply and sleep well, focused on helping you improve your sleep quality overall. This is an immensely powerful meditation technique – just 30minutes of yoga nidra has the power to be as restorative as up to 2 hours of sleep. This ancient practice will help you fully let-go and guide you to a state of consciousness between wakefulness and sleeping, where borders are often blurred between concentration, relaxation, and meditation. Practiced while lying down rather than seated, yoga nidra is said to create a deep sense of relaxation that extends from the physical body all the way to your more subtle, energetic layers. You can try a short version of this meditation for free on my website, or join me for a LIVE online practice at www.meditation.live. The “meditation live” app is also available to download in the Apple App Store.
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