My Method's yoga tips for a better nights sleep
A good nights sleep is one of life’s greatest joys - just ask the parents of small children - but for many of us, a peaceful slumber is about as elusive as the Holy Grail. Reports from World Sleep Day and The Sleep Society estimate that one third of the UK population sleeps for only 5-6 hours per nights, significantly lower than the suggested average of 7-9 hours per night. This figure has risen by 7% in as many years.
We spend a third of our lives asleep (if we are lucky). A good night’s sleep is the best way to recover after a hard day, strenuous exercise, illness or grief. Sleep is essential for maintaining good cognitive function, physical and mental health. It’s our time to rest and renew. Sleep deprivation negatively impacts our physical, mental and emotional ability and studies form The Sleep Society and National Sleep Foundation have reported links between sleep deficiency and high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Tiredness also makes us more prone to accidents and injury due to impaired cognitive function.
According to Professor Vicki Cuplin, clinical psychologist, sleep expert and author of The Business of Sleep, Britain is suffering an epidemic of sleeplessness. ““Never before have significant percentages of working adults been so sleep deprived.” What is behind this epidemic of sleeplessness? Some common factors include work related stress, working long and anti-social hours, over stimulation from technology, illness, money worries and grief.
Stress is one of the most widely reported causes. When we are stressed the sympathetic nervous system is dominant, keeping us in a state of flight or flight, making us feel wired and making it difficult to drop off. As a result of this negative sleep cycle, we end up totally out of sync and even more vulnerable to the stress that caused the sleeplessness to begin with. And so the vicious cycle continues, potentially causing physical and mental distress.
how can we break this sleepless cycle?
Finding balance in the body and mind is crucial to re-educating the body into healthier sleep habits and one of the best ways to bring these into harmony is with yoga. The pleasures and benefits of yoga are widely documented (improved physical strength, flexibility, better breathing, reduced stress and enhanced focus) but less well known are the positive effects that yoga can have on sleep.
To begin with, yoga stretches help to reduce muscle tension which relaxes the body and has a positive impact on our ability to fall sleep.
Yoga is also hugely effective at balancing stress in the body. The synergy of yoga poses and long, conscious breathing stimulates the nervous system, bringing the parasympathetic nervous system into dominance and initiating a relaxation response in the body. This overrides the stress response of the sympathetic nervous system and the fight or flight response.
If you can begin your day with some light yoga stretches such as Sun Salutations or the yoga poses in our How to do Yoga at Home article, overtime they will help control the stress response and prevent it from hijacking your day and your sleep.
Ending your day with quiet practice of Restorative Yoga is a sure fire way to shift the body towards a state of calm. This deeply restful practice is like a natural sedative thanks to it’s ability to bring the body into a state of deep rest and relaxation.
“Rested we are ready for the world, not held hostage by it”
Legs up the Wall Pose (with or without a bolster)
This asana is considered a restorative, gentle inversion and can be practiced as part of a sequence or on its own to relax the body and mind. Practice ‘Legs up the Wall’ at night before bed, or in the middle of the night when sleep is elusive. This pose helps lower the heart rate which elicits the relaxation response and, in turn, helps with anxiety, stress and insomnia as outlined above.
Supported forward fold with a chair or a bolster
Support the head either on a bolster laid across your extended legs, or if you're less flexible on the front edge of a padded chair seat. Hold for 3 - 6 minutes.
Don’t let lack of sleep dictate your waking days. Try yoga to help you form new sleep habits and break the cycle of sleep deprivation for good.