6 YOGA + LIFESTYLE TIPS FOR BETTER SLEEP
In an age of busy-ness it’s no wonder that as a society we are just desperate for ways to take time out, get better sleep, or at least enjoy the rest time we DO HAVE.
The great irony is that although so many of us are starved for rest and relaxation, when night falls - the mind may feel overly anxious, unable to wind down - further perpetuating the cycle of exhaustion.
One of the BEST side effect of a regular yoga practice is the allure of better quality of sleep.
Research shows that yoga can help us connect with our rest and digest or ‘relaxation response’ more readily. To give us the skills to observe when we are in a state of fight or flight and the tools on how to move from a state of feeling wound up, anxious or distracted to being more readily able to let go.
If you’re reading this, chances are you already know the do’s and dont’s for better sleep. But in my experience it’s easy for the downward spiral exhaustion and an overactive mind to make it even more challenging to change our habits (can’t sleep - watch screen - stay up late - need a pick me up in the morning - enter caffeine - can’t sleep)…. you get the drift.
You might even have convinced yourself that you LIKE living this way….
“I’m a night owl”
“I’m more creative when it’s late”
“I get my best work done when the kids have gone to bed”
“I can’t imagine my life without coffee”…..
“I thrive on being busy all the time”
Sound familiar? If it feels like I’m reading your exhausted mind it’s because I literally have at one stage said ALL those things. And hey - there’s no denying that some of us are just wired to prefer the solitude and stillness that night time avails….. but let me ask you this…
How’s that working out for you?
Do you find it hard to get out of bed in the morning?
Do you feel bloated and puffy?
Do you feel exhausted… or just TIRED…. ALL THE TIME?
Are you out of sync with the rest of your family’s rhythms?
When was the last time you put yourself to bed with a book instead of a screen?
As a reformed night owl and ‘always busy’ business owner, I definitely have some tips on how to turn your sleep patterns around and trust me…. once you’ve settled into some more conventional sleep patterns its amazing how other areas of your life click into place.
MEDITATE + DO YOGA NIDRA
Many people have a pre-sleep routine that helps them relax. Relaxation techniques before bed have been shown to improve sleep quality and are another common technique used to treat insomnia. Why not try an evening Guided Meditation or Yoga Nidra practice before settling into bed?
TRY THIS >> Here is a free guided meditation practice to do tonight before you get into bed. Try using a prop for ultimate relaxation like an eye pillow (we love local brand Mukti’s organic cotton eye pillow) or a sleep mask to block out harsh lighting.
CHOOSE YOUR PRACTICE WISELY
Whilst a regular yoga practice will most likely help you to sleep better, if you are SUPER sensitive, you might want to look at what type of practice you are doing. You’ll notice at the studio our yin classes tend to be in the evenings or afternoon - and that’s because a yin class is energetically geared to helping you connect with your relaxation response.
Strong backbends or inversions late at night are likely to have an energising effect on the body - so it’s best to balance out stronger night practices with a decent savasana or yoga nidra (see audio above) to help your nervous system wind down.
TRY THIS >> Book an evening yin class or listen to our yoga nidra track if you do an energising practice in the evening. Restorative poses like legs up the wall, shoulderstand, reclining over a bolster and forward folds are all calming for the nervous system - so incorporating those at the end of your yoga practice will help ease you into rest and digest.
I grew up in a household where sleeping in was the norm. So it was never in my DNA to get up early. I bumbled my way through school and uni like this and it wasn’t until I did yoga teacher training that I established a regular habit of getting up at 5am. I think the key to getting up early - is you need to know that it’s going to suck big time at first (especially if you are still staying up late at night). The other thing is that it’s super hard to get your body clock to chop and change, BUT if you give mindful mornings a go - you WILL start to notice your body is ready for rest when night comes.
TRY THIS >> Buddy up with a friend and commit to trying a mindful morning routine for a week or two weeks. Trust me when I say that you WILL usually get out of bed when someone else is depending on you. I recommend getting up at around 5.30am, heading to a 6am yoga class, doing a beach walk, going for a swim, or something that is going to get your body moving in a nurturing way. On yoga or workout mornings I will usually have a cup of tea, or beach walk mornings I’ll usually have a weak coffee.
HAVE A SET BEDTIME ROUTINE
This follows on from Tip #1 (because essentially the two go hand in hand).
We don’t make our children have a set bedtime for no good reason, right? Having a set bedtime helps to regulate your body clock, avoid the release of stress hormones, improve your body’s ability to heal and could help you fall asleep and stay asleep for the night.
Try sticking to a sleep schedule of the same bedtime and wake up time, (yes, even on the weekends). I personally have Sundays as a sleep in - which means that I’m usually still waking up around 6am, taking it easy with a cuppa, reading or just enjoying the slow pace of Sundays.
TRY THIS >> Set a bedtime notification to prompt you to wind down for the evening. A checklist of the same night routine will also help your body get into the ‘wind down’ habit.
FOR ME IT LOOKS A BIT LIKE THIS:
Evening dinner > Family bed routine > Clean up dinner + shower > Get ready for tomorrow > Read or Downtime > Bed
My evenings USED to end around 12am-2am (no joke)… but over the past 6 years I’ve slowly wound it back to between 9pm-11.30pm which works well for me personally. Having an early morning ritual has definitely helped the night time situation.
BED IS FOR SLEEP, NOT SCREEN TIME!
Are you guilty of this? I’m SO guilty it’s not funny. So there I said it. You can’t be good at everything. BUT let’s face it - we know it’s not the best right? Do you find yourself settling into bed for the night, only to spend an hour either watching Netflix or using your phone to scroll through emails, reply to messages and catch up on social media? Your mind needs to associate being in bed with sleeping rather than watching TV, using your computer or phone.
TRY THIS >> Option 1: Put your phone on charge in another part of your bedroom, or even another part of the house thirty minutes before you plan to go to bed. This way you wont be tempted to reach for it. (If you’re like me and need your alarm then this might not be an option unless you invest in a separate alarm clock)
Option 2: Weaning yourself off your phone habits might be another way to go. For me personally - I don’t check work emails or social media… but I’m still guilty in binging on a bit of netflix.
Option 3: Commit to reading a real book as the last thing you do before you switch off the light.
AVOID CAFFEINE AND ALCOHOL IN THE AFTERNOON AND EVENINGS
Caffeine consumption and alcohol can significantly worsen sleep quality, especially if you drink large amounts in the late afternoon or evening. Relying on a coffee to wake us up in the morning, another in the afternoon to keep us going and then a wine or beer to help us ‘wind down’ in the evenings isn’t uncommon, but really detrimental to our sleep, overall health and wellbeing.
If you put yourself to bed with a glass of wine and wake up with a strong coffee - chances are you’re going to burn out at some stage. It might be sustainable for the short term but in the long run something has to give. Broken sleep can have a whole host of side effects - weight gain - inflammation - increased stress response - moodiness.
TRY THIS >> Decide whether going cold turkey is sustainable or not then choose your pathway!
Option 1: Go cold turkey.
I think cutting everything out at once can be hard to sustain if there are other issues at hand (like family members not being on board or trying to make too many changes at once). Usually the hardest part is the first 1-7 days (prepare for 1-2 days of hardcore headaches when giving up caffeine). The benefits of going cold turkey is that you then see pretty immediate results within about a week.
Ditch the afternoon coffee for a herbal tea or a spiced chai latte, and try to limit alcohol consumption to special occasions only. Try it for one week and see how much better you sleep!
I personally prefer alcohol free days but you have to find what works for you. If you are used to using alcohol to help you sleep, know that initially it’s going to get harder before you start to see the benefits.
Option 2: Cut back + modify your habits.
If you are wanting to make gradual changes over time, this makes the most sense and you might find yourself less likely to give up.
Replace the 3pm coffee with a cup of tea or short walk instead - maybe option for your full strength coffee first thing in the morning when it is less likely to affect your sleep patterns.
For alcohol - look at what the triggers are and when you are likely to pour that glass of wine. Spritzing, cutting back or saving alcohol for the weekends or special occasions are all options.