I find that I sometimes fall into a pattern of either not being able to fall asleep or waking up and not being able to get back to sleep because of issues either at work (o.k. almost always its because of work) or in life. This seems to happen to me most often on Sunday nights-you know when you are gearing up for a big week. It happens frequently enough that I have decided to take matters into my own hands! I’ve developed a few “techniques” for helping me calm my mind down, relax and get back to sleep.
Technique No. 1-Yoga
Yoga is not just for creating toned arms and Gumbi-like flexibility. One of the great benefits of a regular yoga practice is its ability to help you relax, reduce anxiety and sleep better. I try to infuse my routine with yoga on a regular basis, which preemptively helps with sleepless nights. However, on days when you feel really wound up and you are going 100 mph, I find that a good restorative yoga class can calm you down and help induce sleep. I have two that I use regularly, both from YogaToday. The first one, Restorative Yoga, is great just for helping you get some relaxed movement and static stretching in. I would recommend this if you have enough time to practice early in the night because, although it is relaxing, for me, it is not exactly a sleep-inducing class. You will need some time to wind down afterwards because there is a lot of talking and adjusting yourself.
The second one, Yoga for Insomnia, is so wonderful to practice just before bedtime. It is an hour long but you could do any part of it. This class, taught by Sarah Kline, is not just relaxing in the moment, it teaches you techniques you can use when you are in bed and trying to sleep. I really love this class! It is completely sleep inducing. Funny story- I was practicing in my bedroom one night before bed. I had my yoga mat out on the floor and I had the DVD player going. Pete was in the living room either doing work or watching TV or something. He comes in much later to find me asleep on the floor on my yoga mat with the lights blaring. See!?!? It does work!
You can download these classes here. They are $3.99 each and you keep ’em forever!
Technique No. 2- Meditative Apps
One of the reasons yoga is so effective at reducing anxiety and insomnia is because of the mind-body connection inherent in any good yoga practice. The techniques of yoga teach you to focus your energy and your thoughts on certain positive things or to clear your mind of thoughts to help you relax. This is basically a form of meditation. While I am not the best meditator because I have WAY too many thoughts running through my head (Pete always says he’d love to be in my head for one day just to see what it is like), I find that with guidance, I can commit to pushing out the bad thoughts (i.e. work anxiety) and focusing on the good thoughts (happy things or relaxing). A really simple and effective way to engage in guided meditation is through the use of iPhone apps. I have two that I like. One I generally only can use if I have headphones on (I use it on long flights or when I want to block out noise) and the other works without headphones.
The first one is Silva Meditations. It has a couple of options: Good Morning, Good Night and Energy Booster. I (obviously) go for the Good Night option. It is just over 30 minutes in length. The women’s voice is pretty soothing (although she does have a hard to place accent which may bother some people), The only drawback to this app is there is a slightly annoying background noise that I can’t quite describe. I guess it makes you work harder to meditate and block things out!
The second app, Simply Being is $0.99 in the App Store. It also has options. You can do a voice only meditation or voice with either music or nature sounds. There are time options as well, which I find to be really useful. You can select 5 min, 10 min, 15 min or 20 min. You can also vary the background noise volume and the voice volume so as to make the voice more prominent than the music or vice versa. This too is a great meditative app and I sometimes use the 5 or 10 minute option when I am at work and I’m feeling really stressed. The voice is so calming. The only drawback for this app is that at the end, you are always instructed to “come out” of your meditation. I would prefer to be left in it so I can drift off to sleep!
Technique No. 3-Self-Guided Meditation
If I can’t be bothered with an app, I will try to do my own self-guided meditation. I use some of the tips I picked up in my YogaToday Restorative practice. Essentially, I lie on my back, close my eyes and go through each part of my body, focusing in on it and telling each body part to relax. This takes a lot of mental energy because you have no one but yourself to keep you on task and prevent your mind from wandering. I find that it can work but sometimes when I am really worked up about something, I need a little bit more assistance than my self.
Technique No. 4- Listening to Soothing Sounds
I have another app, I know I am app crazy, called Relax Melodies. It allows you to choose different sounds such as music or nature sounds like the ocean or rain or wind to listen to. You can even combine sounds together to create an individualized relaxation experience. I do this and set the timer on the app for 30 minutes. By the end of 30 minutes I am often asleep.
Technique No. 5- Create a Routine
I find that it is really difficult to force myself to go to sleep if I am running around like a crazy person right before bed. Equally as stimulating is watching TV or working on my computer right before bed. I try (keyword being try) to set a routine of washing my face, brushing my teeth, getting into bed and reading for a very short period of time before going to sleep. If you create a routine your body will go through the motions and it will trigger with you that it is bedtime and start winding everything down. Other routine options? Drink Sleepytime tea 30 minutes before bed, practice deep breathing or meditation, perform some gentle stretches or tax a soothing bath.
I hope these techniques help you relax, reduce anxiety and sleep better! Give ’em a try, you never know what will work.
Readers, what methods do you use to help you relax or relieve insomnia?