Most of us go through experiences periodically when we have trouble falling asleep when we go to bed. There are other times when you happen to wake up in the middle of the night, either due to a dream, some noise, or just because you have to go to the toilet, and then cannot go back to sleep. These episodes may represent minor sleep disorders or serious cases of insomnia.
Before discussing how we can improve the quality of sleep, I would like to briefly list some of the common causes of disturbed sleep (not in any specific order):
- Eating a late night dinner, not giving enough time before sleep for the food to be digested. When there is food in the stomach, all the prana (vital life energy) is being used up for digestion, resulting in poor sleep.
- Large variations in the normal sleep and wakeup cycles
- Stressful day
- Lingering negative emotions of anger, guilt, hatred etc.
- You are in the middle of trying to solve an intricate problem at work or home
- Any physical ailment, especially disorders of the stomach – overeating, indigestion etc
- Watching late night movie with a violent or disturbing story-line
- Having stimulants like caffeine (a cup of coffee, tea etc.) too late in the evening
- Anxiety, depression, fear etc.
If there are other causes that keep you awake at night, please share them below in the comments section
So how can we improve the quality of sleep (even sleep like a baby at times!)? Obviously, we need to make the effort to diminish or eliminate the causes listed above that result in poor sleep quality. As you will notice, most of the causes listed above have to do with the mind. It is a lack of self-control which makes us overeat, sleep late, keep irregular sleep pattern etc.
You may recall that Patanjali defines yoga as "controlling the fluctuations of the mind" (yogash-chitta-vritti-nirodhah). Lack of self-control, falling an easy prey to the temptations of eating, late nights etc. all are nothing but fluctuations of the mind. Since by its very definition, yoga is supposed to help us keep the mind in a steady state most of the time, our tendency to over-indulge will automatically diminish if we practice yoga on a regular basis.
As I have mentioned in previous posts, the practice of yoga must include, in addition to the practice of asana (physical posture), pranayama (breathing practices) and meditation. If you practice yoga as an aid to help you with sleep, you may want to practice it in the evening. You can either do it before dinner, or if you are an early dinner eater, you may do the yoga routine about 2.5-3 hours after the meals, but about half an hour before retiring to bed.
Here is the routine I recommend:
Asana practice (10 minutes)
Pavana-muktasana (wind-relieving pose)
Lie down on your back with the legs stretched out straight. Fold the right knee, hold the shin with the two hands and hug the knees to the chest. Hold the post for five breaths; repeat with the other leg and then with both legs.
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Lie down on your back, spread the arms out to a "T", place the sole of the right foot on the left knee. Use the left hand to gently guide the right knee toward the floor on the left side. Keeping the right shoulder on the floor, role the right hip over the left. Stay in the pose for five breaths; repeat on the other side.
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Seated spinal twist
Come to a sitting position with the legs stretched out in front. Bend the right knee and place the sole of the right foot on the outside of the left knee, keeping the foot flat and the knee vertical. Wrap the left arm around the right knee and place the right hand behind the spine. Make a gentle effort to pull the knee and thigh in toward the abdomen and the right shoulder back and away. Hold the pose for five breaths; repeat on the other side.
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Standing forward bend
From the standing position, gently begin to bend forward, dropping the arms down. Allow the shoulders to hang loose and the arms just dangling down. Allow the gravity to lower the chest toward the thighs. Hold the pose for about two minutes. Very slowly unwind from the pose, one vertebra at a time. When fully in the standing position, place the palms on the waste with the thumbs joined together at the lower part of the spine. Now begin to gently bend backward with the thumbs pressing against the spine. Hold for five breaths and come back to the standing position.
Pranayama (10 minutes)
Meditation (10 minutes)
Follow these simple guidelines for your meditation.
When you are ready to sleep
Lie down in Shavasana. Bring your awareness to individual parts of the body, one at a time, and try to let go of any tightness or fatigue that you might feel in the body. Stay in Shavasana for about five minutes. If you still have trouble falling asleep, you may go through this routine of counting breaths backwards. Count each breath as an inhalation followed by an exhalation. Start the count at 25 and count the breaths backwards, all the way down to zero. In most cases, before you reach the count of zero, you should be fast asleep. If not, you may repeat the counting cycle one more time.
If none of this works, it is time to see a doctor!