Without enough sleep we all become tall two-year-olds.JoJo Jensen, Dirt Farmer Wisdom |
If we’re not getting enough sleep to begin with, negative neurocognitive consequences can make it even harder to address the underlying problems and improve our situation. So first we must hold the intention to expand our wisdom and release that harmful pattern. Let’s call the entry to the virtuous cycle, “knowledge”.
1. Knowledge and self-knowledge
γνῶθι σεαυτόν (Know Thyself)inscribed at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi |
Sleep is complex and mysterious. It is also natural. We can begin learning about the natural aspects, in particular from findings in circadian biology. Here are some questions to guide the learning process:
- What is cortisol?
- How does the body’s cortisol response to stress affect sleep?
- Do I have a healthy cortisol response?
- What is melatonin and what is its role in the wake-sleep cycle?
- What depletes hormones and are my hormones depleted?
- Do I need to consult my doctor about hormone therapy and/or melatonin supplements?
- How do fluctuations in my blood sugar levels affect sleep?
- What is my dosha (Ayurveda) and how can I adjust my lifestyle and sleep to my metabolic type?
- What is my sleep chronotype and how can I adjust accordingly to optimize sleep quality?
- How can I gently release emotional blocks and pain from traumas and reduce overall stress?
In addition to keeping a journal for your research and personal development, keep two small journals by your bed: a night-time gratitude journal for writing down what you’re grateful for, and a dream journal for writing down your dreams when you wake up. Often when I’ve recommended this, people have told me that they cannot remember their dreams. My suggestion is: keep at it, even if it means holding your pen over a blank page at first, and just thinking about dreams.
Eventually it dawns on your unconscious that you are truly listening and after that, you should be able to recall more dreams, more vividly. Have a light, playful touch, as if you’re going on an adventure and then writing about it. Reading through these journals later can yield powerful insights and support the quest for self-knowledge.
From breakfast on through all the dayRobert Louis Stevenson
At home among my friends I stay,
But every night I go abroad
Afar into the land of Nod.
All by myself I have to go,
With none to tell me what to do —
All alone beside the streams
And up the mountain-sides of dreams.
2. Healthy blood sugar level
Another vicious cycle can occur when our diet changes due to sleep deprivation: as we eat more and gain weight, overall health may suffer and blood sugar levels may be impacted negatively; fluctuating levels and low blood sugar at night can then further decrease sleep quality.
To get out of this quandary, we can first introduce some self-care steps in the right direction, e.g.: limiting intake of caffeine and other stimulants, especially in the afternoon and evening; not eating anything for at least three hours before going to bed; drinking only water or herbal teas for at least three hours before going to bed (though in some cases, an Ayurvedic blend of warm milk & honey with spices induces such a sweet sleepiness and could be a good option.)
3. Be Cool
Imagine a flow of energy: moving in towards your center – and energy moving out from your center; imagine this as a flow that you can feel: flowing in, flowing out.
As an Ayurvedic health practitioner explained it to me: at bedtime, energy moving out from our center is stimulated by stressful thoughts, disturbing noises, and heat — which can also cause general restlessness.
To promote good sleep, we must focus on our energy flow moving in towards our center. Think of “curling up” with a book under a blanket, while wearing soft pajamas on a cold winter night — and consider why that can be so cozy. It is an expression of energy moving in towards your center and that is what we want to encourage for a sense of well-being when we go to bed.
A cool bedroom helps us get into that mode. About 18 degrees Celsius (65 degrees Fahrenheit) is considered ideal, though the exact ideal temperature does fluctuate somewhat as our body temperature fluctuates.
4. Do go gentle into that good night’s rest
The fields will yield their trove of spice and musk,L. M. Montgomery
And balsam from the glens of pine will fall,
Till twilight weaves its tangled shadows all
In one dim web of dusk.
Starting at twilight, set your digital devices to night mode (darken the screens).
As the sun sets and we enter dusk, the blue light emitted from LED devices like a laptop or smartphone gets absorbed through the blue light sensors in our eyes and can negatively impact our body’s production of melatonin. Adequate melatonin is needed for sleeping well through the night.
There are blue light glasses and amber glasses designed to reduce or block blue light, and studies that suggest wearing these glasses may indeed increase melatonin levels at night.
The best habit though is just to decrease screen time in the evening. Put aside your computer, tablet, smartphone and any other digital devices a few hours before bedtime. Work, social media accounts, video games, television dramas, and negative news reports keep us in a stimulated state whereas we want to start relaxing several hours before bedtime.
Rather than watching television or streaming movies, you can listen to audio books read by narrators with soothing voices — books that both interest you and make you sleepy at the same time. Light incense (Frankincense or Myrrh are wonderful for the evenings) and natural candles. Meditate. Pray. Go gently into bed.
When it is time to go to bed, sleep in a darkened room. A cool, dark environment will promote deep and restorative beauty sleep.
What about blue light from digital devices during the day? Many of us depend on our screens throughout the day for work, studies, daily activities, and social connections. Our eyes have sensors that are sensitive to blue light, but our skin also has sensors that absorb blue light.
To address the problem of “digital aging”, the German brand LR Health & Beauty has created a Blue Light Defender skin serum with extracts from spirulina algae (Arthrospira platensis), and blue lotus (Nymphaea caerulea).
How does it work? According to LR, the color pigment phycocyanin in the spirulina extract “absorbs the blue light and reduces the high-energy light rays by reflecting them like a protective shield.” The enzyme photolyase in the spirulina extract “repairs any cell damage to the skin that has already been caused by exposure to blue light.” The blue lotus extract is a “radical scavenger” — going after free radical molecules which can cause inflammation and irritation. Relieving oxidative stress naturally results in a clearer complexion.
5. Bathing Beauty
As twilight deepens into night, soak in a warm bath with some magnesium salt (magnesium chloride) dissolved in the water to help relax the nervous system before bedtime. Make it a simple ritual. After the bath, applying lavender oil or rose oil on the skin deepens a sense of relaxation and well-being.
6. Yoga Nidrā❊ (Yogic Sleep)
There’s something quieter than sleep
Within this inner room!Emily Dickinson
In yoga, the pose known as “śavāsana” the “corpse pose” (or “mrtasana” the “death pose”) is achieved by lying on the floor with hands stretched out and relaxed to the side, palms facing up. As you settle into this pose after a sequence of physically demanding poses, it can bring on a wave of relief. Ah, at last. This is easy, you think. And then, this pose which seems so effortless at first becomes a challenge. Because here you must relax and let go of tension, and stay awake and still the mind. Ah, suddenly not so easy.
With the practice of yoga nidrā, we expand consciousness between waking and sleeping using a guided meditation. The meditation is usually experienced in the corpse pose. With expert guidance, this ancient technique works phenomenally well. It can also reduce overall stress and improve sleep quality.
Other yogic techniques that guide one towards inner peace and better sleep include sitting in meditation, chanting mantras, or studying sacred texts.
❊ For more information on yoga nidrā and guided meditations:
- Uma Dinsmore-Tuli, PhD (Total Yoga Nidrā)
- Jennifer Reis (Divine Sleep Yoga Nidra)
- Richard Miller, PhD (iRest Institute)
- Swami Satyananda Saraswati
- Dennis Boyes (🇫🇷 Le Yoga du Sommeil Eveillé)
- Anna Trökes (🇩🇪 Yoga Nidra: Die Yoga-Tiefenentspannung)
In the night of weariness
let me give myself up to sleep without struggle,
resting my trust upon thee.
Let me not force my flagging spirit into a poor preparation for thy worship.
It is thou who drawest the veil of night upon the tired eyes of the dayRabindranath Tagore
to renew its sight in a fresher gladness of awakening.
Finally: accept everything and everyone in your life for what and who they are, not what or who you wish they were. This does not mean condoning harmful behavior or staying in environments that do not support your health and well-being. It means acceptance. Basic Trust. Otherwise, no matter what actions you take, you’ll be avoiding yourself — and that will drain your vitality (especially in the dark). And it will use and perpetuate anything to keep you hooked on persistent illusions and keep you in avoidance, including health issues that consume your attention.
As you shift into acceptance and breathe deeply, remind yourself to “let go and let God” or a variation that is meaningful for you.
If all this sounds like a lot of work, it’s because it is – though it doesn’t always demand a lot of effort; sometimes the work requires that we cease certain efforts. It is vital work though, and we just have to reach the point where we are ready to do what it takes to restore and/or support our health and beauty sleep.❂
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