Getting enough quality sleep is one of the best things you can do for health and wellness. Yet Americans are chronically sleep deprived and getting less sleep as the years go by. In 2009 the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), a U.S. nonprofit group reported that 20 percent of the 1,000 people polled got 6 hours of sleep or less. This is compared to 13 percent in 2001. Only 28 percent reported getting 8 hours or more (the recommended minimum) which is down from 38 percent in 2011. About 16 percent reported sleep being distrubed by financial concerns. Chronic sleep deprivation causes cognitive impairment, poor quality of life, injuries and illness. Lack of sleep is associated with increased risk for stroke, heart attack, obesity and other illnesses.
There are many reason for lack and quality of sleep. One of the most prevalent is stress. If worry and anxiety are getting in the way of your sleep, I have 5 tips that may help:
1. Brain Dump: If you find yourself overwhelmed with to do lists, worry and a run away thought train before bed, writing may help. Try the “brain dump” exercise. Use old-fashioned pen and paper; there have been studies about how your brain acts differently when writing longhand vs computer (longhand tends to activate the RAS of the brain which is a processing filter). Simply write whatever comes to mind for 10-15 minutes. Write down worries, thoughts, to do lists, even writing “I have no idea what to write about. This is stupid.” etc. will eventually trigger a spill out of thoughts on to paper. When you’re finished, shred it. Burning is preferred but not the best idea if you’re beginning to get sleepy from the cathartic nature of the exercise. Whatever you do, don’t wad it up where it can be read later. That can produce more stress in itself which is exactly what you’re trying to avoid.
2. Herbs: There are several herbs that are safe for use on a short-term basis if you’re having trouble sleeping during a time of increased stress. Try melatonin, valerian root or brahmi. The latter two can be taken in tea form which can be a relaxing ritual before bed. There are also combinations of herbs premixed into tea bags sold under names that typically have “sleep” in the title. My personal favorite is Bigelow Sweet Dreams.
3. Pampering: Give yourself a warm oil hand and foot massage after a nice hot bath about 90 minutes before bed. The drop in body temperature that occurs after a hot bath promotes sleep. Massage promotes relaxation. In Ayurveda it’s recommended to use an oil that is compatible with your dosha. Sesame is pretty neutral but if you want a dosha specific oil you can search for more information.
4. Your Bed is Only for Sleep (and sex): One of the most well-known sleep tips is keeping all distractions out of the bedroom. When the bed is used only for sleep, going to the bedroom promotes an automatic relaxation response that facilitates better sleep. Get out of the habit of watching tv and working in bed. This is doubly important since the blue light waves produced by computers, tv and cell phones simulate daylight. Blue light suppresses the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone.
5. Yoga: People who do yoga on a regular basis report sleeping better. There are also some specific relaxation poses you can do before bed to promote sleep. One of the easiest is legs up the wall pose (viparita karani). This pose can even be done in bed! Simply bring the buttocks close to the wall or the headboard and stretch the feet up towards the sky. Support the low back with a pillow or bolster. A small pillow can also be placed between the shoulder blades if desired. Breathe into the belly to promote even more relaxation.