Some interesting facts about sleep
Did you know that after 3 or 4 nights without sleep you could start to hallucinate?
Lack of sleep can be detrimental to your health, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 24 hour sleep deprivation is the same as having a blood alcohol concentration of 0.10 percent. That’s higher than the limit to legally drive.
Sleep is essential to your body’s function, it allows your body and mind to recharge and helps you to stay healthy and keep your immune system strong, as you allow your body time to repair itself during rest.
According to Healthline.com:
“Sleep is essential for good health. In fact, we need sleep to survive — just like we need food and water. So, it’s no wonder we spend about one-third of our lives sleeping.”
Many biological processes happen during sleep:
The brain stores new information and gets rid of toxic waste.
Nerve cells communicate and reorganize, which supports healthy brain function.
The body repairs cells, restores energy, and releases molecules like hormones and proteins.”
I have been speaking people about how they are feeling lately, and the majority of the time the answer is exhausted, drained, or low on energy. As we, in London, come towards the end of the restrictions from the pandemic and all of us slowly start getting back into work, it’s important for us to take moments to rest and restore our bodies and minds so that we are able to continue without these feelings of exhaustion or potential burnout.
I don’t know about you, but even the simplest tasks or trips seem to make me feel extra tired right now. I guess it’s kind of like when you haven’t worked out in a while and you start again, it takes some time get back into your routine and to activate your nervous system memory.
"...we are taught to achieve, work hard, build empires and work towards goals, but we are rarely taught how to take time to rest..."
One of my routines that went completely out of whack during lockdown was my sleep routine, some nights I would only fall asleep at 1am, some days I would take afternoon siestas, and in turn, this translated into so many other areas of my life. My eating habits became just as erratic and I found it tough to concentrate on one task for too long. My moods were unpredictable and I even found that my memory suffered as a result.
So this got me to thinking…we are taught to achieve, work hard, build empires and work towards goals, but we are rarely taught how to take time to rest in order to restore our bodies and minds, in order to recharge our batteries, just like we do with our devices so that they can continue to work for us.
The average human needs around 8 hours of sleep every night, give or take. It’s said that as a general rule of thumb, if you wake up feeling tired or you are longing for sleep throughout your day, you may not be getting enough sleep. This is mostly due to poor sleeping habits, unless you have a health condition that hinders your sleep.
Why are we not taught how to rest? Why are we not taught how important sleep is? Perhaps you have been taught all of this, but you’re still struggling to sleep for any number of reasons?
According to health.qld, these 7 amazing things happen to your body while you sleep:
1. Your brain sorts and processes the day’s information, a process that is important for creating long term memories.
2. Hormones flood your body, helping your body to grow and repair itself.
3. Your sympathetic nervous system (SNS) chills out. Your SNS controls your fight or flight response, and too much time spent in this state has been shown to increase blood pressure, with a possible relationship to coronary disease. So it's important to allow for decreased activity of the SNS in order to allow your body to fully rest. Stay tuned for next month’s blog where I will be writing about Yoga and the nervous system.
4. Cortisol (the stress hormone) levels lower.
5. Your muscles paralyze.
6. Anti-Diuretic Hormone (ADH) helps you not have to pee.
7. Your immune system releases inflammation-fighting cytokines(small proteins that affect the growth of all blood cells and other cells that help your bodies immune and inflammation response).
How can Yoga help me to rest?
Before I discuss how yoga can help you to rest, it’s important for you to understand a few things about your nervous system.
Your nervous system includes your brain, spinal cord, autonomic and somatic nerves (i.e. involuntary and voluntary nerves) and all sensory organs, responsible for your 5 senses.
Your autonomic nervous system (ANS) is a control system that functions on an unconscious level as it regulates bodily functions such as heart rate, digestion, and breathing, etc. The ANS has 2 branches; the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).
"...our modern lifestyles seem to have us running on stress and this, in turn, keeps us in the fight flight mode for too long."
Your sympathetic nervous system is the system of your fight-or-flight response, an all or nothing response. When your SNS is activated it switches on all the systems needed to reduce or escape perceived danger, and draws blood away from your non-essential systems for the flight from perceived stressors, such as your reproduction and digestive systems.
The SNS has developed a bad reputation over the years but it’s a system of the body that is necessary, however, our modern lifestyles seem to have us running on stress and this, in turn, keeps us in the fight flight mode for too long. This system was only designed to be used for short intervals and not to be awake for long periods of time. Continuous boosts of adrenaline can negatively affect your blood vessels, raise blood pressure and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.. Further strain on your SNS can be caused by increased worry and fear and this makes it harder for your body to recover during rest and sleep.
Your parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for your bodies rest and digest response, and works in opposition to your SNS to balance, calm and restore you. It decreases your respiration and heart rate and increases digestion and immune response.
Unlike the SNS the PNS is more easily controlled. Your vagus nerve (shown by the yellow line in the image below), runs from your brain, through your face and thorax, to your abdomen, contains parasympathetic fibres. It has branches that affect your heart, digestive system, reproductive system and lungs.
The cultivation of practices such as chanting, meditation and pranayama influence your vagus nerve and PNS, and these effects can stay with you long after your yoga practice ends.
"It helps you to continue to want to do the things that make you feel better, things like getting enough sleep."
By continuously stimulating your rest and digest system you start to re-wire your brain to build new pathways of communication and find new ways to respond to certain stimulation. This is where the yoga magic starts to happen and where the practice has the greatest effect on your health and nervous system. It helps you to continue to want to do the things that make you feel better, things like getting enough sleep.
Ok so that’s your nervous system lesson for today. Now to get down to some practical ways that you can cultivate yoga into your daily life to help you to feel calm, restored and get a good nights sleep.
6 bedtime yoga poses for a good nights sleep
1. Caterpillar pose | Forward Fold
Caterpillar is a yin yoga pose that allows you to draw your senses inward. If you ordinarily struggle with this pose in a yoga class, try this one in bed with all your pillows; trust me, having your mattress as a foundation makes such a big difference to how your body responds to this pose.
A few tips:
Bring your feet a little wider than your hips and allow them to flop out to the sides to let your legs rest, with a soft bend in your knees.
Pile your pillows up in between your legs and let your head and body be as heavy as possible on them.
Find a soft bend in your elbows and allow your palms to face towards to the ceiling. I find that this activates a relaxation response in most people as your hands are one of the areas in your body where you hold tension, no pun intended.
Soften your jaw and belly.
Come up very slowly and lay down on your back in stillness to allow your body to absorb the benefits of the pose.
2. Childs pose
Childs pose is another pose that lets you draw your senses inward with the added effect of helping you to create a cocooning and safe sensation in your body. Bring your knees wide, possibly place a pillow or rolled up blanket under your set for some extra support. Pile your pillows up in between your legs and drape your torso onto them. If it’s uncomfortable for you to place your forehead on the pillow or you find it difficult to breath, alternate placing each cheek on your pillow.
A few tips:
Allow your seat to sink down towards your heals with no force.
Let your torso be heavy on your pillows to aid deeper relaxation.
If you find it tough to relax, breathe deeply into the back of your body. Match the length of your inhale to the length of your exhale.
Perhaps try to allow your arms to relax alongside your body to find a release in-between your shoulder blades.
3. Crescent moon
Crescent moon is a yin yoga pose that allows you to open the side of your body, and also allows for easier respiration as you gain deeper access to your lung capacity. A few of my students have told me that this is their favorite pose as it helps them to fully relax and let go.
A few tips:
Allow the full length of your arms to make contact with your bed. If you notice that your elbows, for example, are hovering, then bring your arms down until they are supported.
If you notice any twinging in your lower back, you may have taken the pose beyond your body’s edge. Lessen the depth of the pose
Visualize your breath sweeping over your body, from your outer ankle to your outer elbow and back down again. Match the length of your inhale to the length of your exhale.
4. Butterfly pose
Butterfly pose is great for releasing tight hips and when you do this pose in a restorative way, and allow gravity to do the work for you, it will also allow for a deep release of your spine. It’s a little bit kinder on your lower back as your knees are bent so there’s not so much push and pull happening between your hamstrings and your lower back.
A few tips:
Bring your heels a bit further away from your seat to create some space in your body.
Place pillows under your knees for some added support.
Pile pillows up in between your legs and roll your spine forward. Bring your pillows up to meet your head rather than forcing your body down towards them.
Bring your arms to the inside of your legs for deeper access into your upper back and to activate a relaxation response.
Soften your jaw and belly.
Come up very slowly, leave your legs as they are, and lay down on your back in reclined butterfly.
5. Reclined butterfly
Reclined butterfly can be a very supportive pose for your hips, especially when you place pillows under your knees. With the front of your body exposed, you may find it comforting to cover yourself with a blanket or perhaps place another pillow on your chest, if you haven’t run out of pillows by now, haha!
A few tips:
Spread your arms as wide as is comfortable for you and turn your palms to face towards the ceiling.
Allow your legs to be heavy on your pillows.
Let your hips and lower back be heavy.
Don’t worry if your feet slide down, allow them to be wherever they land.
6. Legs up the wall
This is a great pose to use for tired legs, swollen ankles and back strain. By having your legs up in this way, you allow gravity to send your blood flow in the opposite direction which allows your heart to rest for a while. Stay here for 5 - 10 minutes and slowly roll to one side and crawl i
A few tips:
Allow your arms to be as wide as is comfortable for you to find a bit more release in the pose.
Let your legs be as heavy as possible, notice the weight of your thighs.
Take a few deep inhales and long slow exhales by nose as you allow your body to be heavy and let your lower back sink into your bed..
I suggest staying in each of these poses for at least 5 minutes, in order to allow for deep release and relaxation, but you are your own best teacher so please do what feels right for you. You can choose to do all of these poses in one night or simply do one to prepare for sleep, and then lie down and drift off.
"... if you have no time throughout your day for some self-care, at least you know that you are guaranteed this time in the evening."
You could also combine this with a guided Yoga Nidra, which is sometimes described as yogic sleep. The practice combines body scanning and awareness with some lovely visualization. Yoga Nidra is a journey through different frequencies of brainwaves and therefore through different states of consciousness. Try this yoga nidra for sleep here.
Sleep is a form of self-care and I encourage you to take the time to set up a good sleep routine for yourself. Perhaps take a moment to write down what your sleep routine will be and resolve to stick to it. This way, if you have no time throughout your day for some self-care, at least you know that you are guaranteed this time in the evening.
Thank you for taking the time to read this months blog, I hope that you have found some useful tips for a good nights rest. Feel free to share this blog with anyone that you think might need it at this time.
"Go to bed you’ll feel better tomorrow" is the human version of "Did you try turning it off and on again?" Unknown
Love and Light