Sleep deprivation is so common that many take it for granted. But sleep is the period of restoration of the body, integration of the past day’s events in the mind in dreaming (even if you don’t recall them) and opening of the spirit to access the vast reservoir of consciousness that guides us to our superlative Self.
Our superlative Self is us living to our fullest potential at whatever stage of progress we experience at this point in our life. It describes our optimum health and vitality, our clarity and calmness of mind and our expansive creative ability to manifest the life of our deepest desires. Sleep matters big so let me offer some ways to make the most of that precious dreamland.
‘To sleep perchance to dream’ – before you go to bed:
- Make a point of knowing how many hours you need to sleep so you can waken up at the correct time to start your day without an alarm. Then make sure that you go to bed at that time. If you need an alarm choose a gentle call to re-entry so you don’t go to sleep anticipating the inevitable shock to wake up.
- Wear nightclothes – not T Shirts and undies – but light, loose clothes of natural fibre like cotton or linen that breathe and move freely around you. Your body needs to move without constriction and the skin to feel the flow of air.
- Avoid sweets before bed – these include the obvious like ice cream while the less obvious sugar laden foods are cereal, milk, wine or alcohol. These sugars metabolize after you go to sleep and can spike your blood sugar levels several hours into a peaceful sleep. An herb tea for relaxation like chamomile or lemon verbena are great for calming the system and adjusting the mind to approaching time for bed.
- Avoid stimulating entertainment or news before bed. Reading is ideal and the less demanding the better it is to provide a winding down of the day’s events and to relax your mind. An inspiring book, magazine, or even some time on Pinterest where you engage your mind in beautiful thoughts and images is like a lullaby.
- Make sure your room is dark. If this is impossible, use an eye mask. I use a square of black velour that folds across my eyes and blackens the room. This is especially helpful when trying to go to sleep as dawn begins to light your room.
- Do not have your cell phone plugged in in your room. This keeps part of your psyche on alert and this is your time to be restoring yourself to ready for all that needs your attention in waking hours. Even on mute, the light of an incoming message notification is enough to jar your out of a lighter sleep.
- Essential oil of lavender** is amazing for relaxing the body and mind and sending you off into dreamy rapture. Put a few drops in your palms and rub them together to release the scent and then cup your hands over your nose and mouth and breathe deeply. Alternately a few drops on a tissue or hanky on your pillow will render the same sweet release of stress.
Thoughts that go bump in the night and wake you up. What to do?
Whatever wakes you in the night*, it isn’t long before the tide of thoughts rushes in is it? Everything looms large when we are tired and the middle of the night seems to be a greater magnifier. Maybe it goes back to primal times when we had to be on red-hot alert for danger in the dark. But whatever it is we seem to be paying close attention to the cascade of thoughts that jockey for our attention when we only want to roll over and go back to sleep. The alarm, after all, is set and our day of active responsibilities will begin whether we are ready for it or not.
This is when you need to exert a little (or a lot) of discipline over your mind. Your thoughts are most often worry thoughts. Fear, anxiety, anticipation, our mind goes racing into all kinds of scenarios that ratchet up in intensity while they tangle with your other thoughts of how we need to go to sleep and how we need to be awake and functioning in mere hours. It’s a battle that ends with bleary-eyed exhaustion in the morning or with the peaceful drop back into La La land.
- Position your body for relaxation. You may be a side sleeper or a belly sleeper and you can go back there once ready to sleep, but for the moment roll onto your back and feel the weight of your body sink into the mattress. If you do yoga, this is the Shavasana (corpse) pose with feet slightly apart and relaxed, arms at your sides about ten inches from the hips with palms up and hands softly open. This allows the full belly breath that helps ease us more deeply into relaxation. Do a tension inventory down your body gently sensing where you are holding on and consciously let go. In particular, your jaw and tongue. Release, release, release.
- Let your belly rise as you inhale and let the air naturally flow out of your lungs as you exhale. On the exhale hold for a moment so that the next inhale comes involuntarily. Don’t think about how you breath let your breath breathe itself. It is helpful to focus on your breath and a good way to deepen the breathing effect is to count. Let the count of your exhale be slightly longer than your inhale. Start at an inhale count of 4 and exhale count of 6. Increase this as you comfortably can with practice.*** When thoughts draw you away from focussing on your breath, gently draw it back to simple inhale/exhale counting observation.
- Master your thoughts. When a fearful thought arises replace it with an empowering thought. Don’t struggle with convincing yourself. Your mind is like a terrier when it gets onto something, especially if you have responded with emotion like fear or anxiety. You cannot argue out of this so don’t try. At this moment your mind needs distraction. Something entirely different for it to focus on. If you can’t distract your mind with the breath, distract it with a simple thought that brings you pleasure. Until you get good at this, or as a handy backup have a ready phrase or several to impose your will for peace and happiness. Eg. “My natural state is peace and happiness.” or “My mind and body are filled with love to overflowing.”
- Make sure you are hydrated. Keep a glass of water by your bed to take sips in the night. Inadequate hydration can cause headaches and muscle cramps both of which can keep you from resuming sleep.
- Go to the bathroom if you have to, but resist the temptation to check the time or turn on a lot of lights. Stay in a sleepy state. Noticing the time tends to set up an expectation which is met subsequent nights.
- As you drift off, thank your body for all that you experience in this miracle of life and the glorious story all your senses share with you. Expect to wake up refreshed and alert.
The joy and benefit of napping.
One thing I noticed in Greece where ipnaki or afternoon naps are common and store hours accommodate this tradition, was that when I had an afternoon nap, I slept better at night. I imagine that when we push ourselves to high performance all day long we are in a way too tired to rest easily. We remain on high energy. If you find yourself suffering sleep deprivation, try having a power nap on lunch break or after work. Many businesses, which are aware of the importance of sleep for top performance of staff now provide rooms for rest and rejuvenation. If your place of work doesn’t have one – maybe you could put that in the suggestion box.
If you are a parent, when your child goes down for a nap or is off to school, don’t fill all those hours with ‘must dos’. Take some precious time to recharge your physical, emotional and mental batteries. It will make all the difference in the world to the pleasure you give and get with your family and your daily activities outside the home.
* Sometimes habitual waking in the night has a simple nutritional remedy to moderate blood sugar or adrenalin spikes. Check with your natural health practitioner for options. They might also suggest some natural non-addicting supplements to take on a temporary basis until you regulate your sleep habits.
** Essential Oil of Lavender is a great thing to have on hand throughout the day to bring an instant calming effect. Great for children too.
*** This breathing technique is simple and invaluable to use throughout the day to calm the mind and relax the body when stressed or on task.
Me agapi (wth love),