arms up twilight

I co-taught a workshop on disturbed sleep recently.  Since then I continue to run into people everywhere – at the studio, at charity events, on social media – everywhere I go, I find people who can’t sleep.

Whether you can’t fall alseep or can’t stay asleep or both.  Whether you stay awake, wide eyed and staring at the tv or computer screen or whether you lie in bed and watch the time pass slooooowly throughout the night … there are things to do.  Lots of things to try.

Insomnia is so frustrating to deal with in large part because you can do the exact same thing three nights in a row and get three different results. Try everything, attempt to keep your frustrations at bay and keep note of what works. You do need to be patient and  you may have to change your night-time rituals.  I’ve provided quite a few options because I don’t know you or what resonates with you, so pick and choose what sounds good and experiment.

Here’s the thing – we aren’t striving for perfection when we are striving for sleep.  With the breathing and meditation don’t sweat the instructions too much. If something you’re trying to do to sleep becomes a frustration its not going to help.  You can also reach out to me with questions about this blog.

Some things are obvious, but I repeat them because its amazing what people (including myself) forget when they need it most:

  • Cut out caffeine after noon and sugar after 7. Avoid or cut out alcohol.
  • You may need to adjust when you are taking prescription medications, OTC medications and/or supplements.  Meds and supplements that make you sleepy might be moved towards evening, for instance.
  • Regular exercise but no elevated heart level prior to trying to sleep.  I suggest some form of cardio during the day – walking the dog at a decent pace is fine.  You just need to elevate the heart rate.  In the evening, try a couple of gentle/restorative yoga poses or stretching along with breathing.
  • Put down your electronics. In part, the blue light of your electronics is disruptive to sleep, melatonin production and your circadian rhythm.  The engagements of the news and social media can keep us agitated.  We need to disengage before bed, preferably at least an hour away from our pads, computers, etc.
  • When you can’t fall asleep, get up and move around. Do something relaxing – breathe, meditate, read a (real) book.  If you can, have pillows ready for a restorative yoga pose if you need it in the night.
  • Try essential oils and acupuncture; warm baths or swimming if they are appealing; relaxing music or nature sounds either before or as you fall asleep; legs up the wall for 5-20 minutes with deep breathing (instructions below).

So how do we try to get to a place where we can fall asleep and stay asleep long enough to feel rested in the morning?  Here’s some ideas:

Breathing & meditation:  I cannot recommend meditation and deep breathing enough for disturbed sleep. Deep breathing helps engage your parasympathetic nervous system and meditation is just everything for relaxing and calming the mind and body. I specifically recommend “yoga nidra” (yogic sleep) and progressive relaxation. If you don’t know what these are or how to do them, that’s ok.  There are many different options to get these meditations:  CDs, downloads, YouTube, apps, teachers.  Find a voice and a length of meditation that suits you and go for it.  There is a lot of information out there and if you’d like some specific recommendations, please let me know.

As to regular meditation, again – apps will help. I know the most about Insight Timer because I use it.  There are meditations that are as short as 2 minutes. If you have a difficult time sitting still and focusing but you’re interested, start small and do several meditations a day, including in the evening.  You may find that your ability to sit increases.  The more you learn to relax the mind and body the more you can invoke it when you need it.

Deep Breathing: I suggested these two breathing exercises. Both are meant to keep the mind focused while you invoke the parasympathetic nervous system. Keep in mind “deep breathing” doesn’t mean “breathe so hard that you get dizzy & feel high”. If that happens, back off – you’re working too hard.

Breath #1 – fake alternate nostril breath. This sounds more complicated than it is, eventually you’ll recognize its a pattern that keeps the mind engaged. To begin, inhale & exhale. Bring your focus to the spot between your eyebrows, relaxing the eyebrows away from one another. With your next inhale, pretend you are only inhaling up the right nostril to the eyebrow spot. Exhale and imagine you are only exhaling through the left nostril. Inhale, imagining its only the left nostril, exhale from between the eyebrows down the right nostril. Keep going as long as it serves you, it will eventually balance you and calm you.

Breath #2 – Counting the breath. Inhale through your nostrils breathing into the belly (belly rises on inhale & falls on exhale). Inhale to the count of 2-4 – retain the breath for 1 count – exhale double the inhale, so 4-8. Keep following the breath. Inhale and count to 2 to 4 without too much effort or strain – hold at the top of the inhale for a count of 1 to 2 – exhale doubling the inhale.

Restorative Yoga: If you can do a really easy, gentle type of yoga that involves pillows & no effort this helps so much. Judith Lasater created Restorative Yoga to help us slow down and relax. The idea is to stay in a pose long enough for your tissues to really relax. I’m going to give you two poses to try & if they work – yay! If not, there are many restorative poses that you can look up (or ask me).

Legs up the wall – can be tricky to get into but this pose helps everything from sleeplessness to menstrual cramps to migraines.  Bring your right hip up close to the wall, feet to floor. Bring hands behind you and rotate your legs up the wall. Scooch your hips as close to the wall as is possible and let your legs relax against the wall. Bring your arms into a comfortable position along side the body, palms up or down, or into a cactus position.  You can use blankets or small pillows to rest your arms upon as well as a blanket folded up under your neck to support your head.  Find that sweet spot and focus on your breath.  Practice whichever breath resonates with you.  Hold this pose anywhere from 3 minutes to 20 minutes.

Supported Child’s Pose – Come to hands and knees, then bring enough bolsters, blankets and pillows under you to support the body. Inhale with hands to floor, arms beside your prepared props and exhale, drag hips back to heels and let the torso drape over the props. Let your head and neck be completely supported by the props as you rest and breathe deeply.  Get 100% comfortable.  If the hips don’t come to the heels, or if you want the comfort, place a pillow or rolled up blanket across the heels where the hips will rest.  Practice whichever breath resonates with you.  Hold pose for 3-5 minutes.

Essential Oils:  If you can use essential oils they can help a great deal.  Don’t go crazy using alot, just a few drops will do the trick.  I am not an expert in oils and am recommending oils that have worked for me, including a couple of new ones for my tool-box.  There is a lot of information out there about oils and insomnia that you can research as well.

I diffuse oils and will use them topically in a carrier.  For a very long time, I used ylang-ylang, lavender and cypress – sometimes separately, sometimes together.  Sometimes I would diffuse lavender and massage my feet with ylang-ylang and cypress.

Recently I’ve found that they had lost their effectiveness so I tried wild orange and geranium.  Both have been amazing.  Both are pungent – be careful about how much you use.  What I did was diffuse the wild orange throughout the evening and massaged the geranium (in coconut oil or topical CBD) into my feet and lower legs.

This leads me to something I do a lot when I’m in a cycle of insomnia.  I massage my feet with oils.  There are people who know why this works, all I can tell you is that is works more often than not.  Even if you don’t use essential oils, use some sort of lotion or oil.  Start with fingers between toes and gently wiggle some space in there.  Get into your arches, the ball of the foot, the heels, up toward the shins.  Massage the toes separately and linger at the toenails, apply pressure to each individual toenail.  Don’t necessarily vigorously pull at or crack your toes, do apply pressure and actually massage your feet.  Put on a pair of socks when you’re done.  If you can, lay so your feet are elevated for some time afterwards.

After a hectic day it can be difficult to suddenly turn off your mind and go to sleep. Now we have the additional layer of electronics engaging our minds, affecting our eyes and giving us “electronic insomnia”.  Some of us are not natural night sleepers or we take a medication that affects our sleep.

For women, peri-menopause brings or intensifies insomnia. According to many sources, women are at least twice as likely to have insomnia as men.

Unfortunately there is no one-size-fits-all, easy solution to insomnia. Fewer people than you would think have success with sleeping pills or a “cure” only lasts for a short time  without breaking the cycle. Over the counter sleeping aids are often antihistamines which can trigger other issues.  Once insomnia becomes a frequent companion, develop an evolved sleep ritual.

Dealing with insomnia is a long-term problem and the solutions may change from night-to-night.  Good luck and good night’s rest to you!