If you are anything like me, settling down for bed can feel like babysitting a five-year-old. No matter how many times I promise myself that I will sleep by 10 pm, when nighttime rolls around suddenly I am struck with a lightning bolt of energy and will find any reason to stay up.
According to Ayurveda, the ancient science of India, the late night hyperactivity that I experience is the opposite of what is naturally supposed to occur in the body. In fact, nighttime is when the body starts settling down and feeling tired, as the time between 6 pm and 10 pm is the Kapha period, or the heavy, lethargic period that prepares us for reinvigorating sleep.
Hyperactivity is a direct result of our hyper-stimulating culture, where we have trained ourselves to defy the night with bright lights and blue-light emitting electronic screens. The stimulation of light, which in nature (depending on the season) dwindles around 7 pm, decreases melatonin production, disrupts the circadian rhythm, and creates difficulty in falling asleep. While our home lighting can indeed keep us awake, the biggest culprit is blue light, which is emitted from electronic devices. Blue light has been shown to block the secretion of melatonin, which is the sleep hormone that triggers drowsiness and puts us in the mood to cuddle up in bed. To prevent this melatonin suppression, electronics should be turned off and stowed away two hours before bedtime.
Lighting is not the only cause of sleeplessness, however. In our modern culture, factors like food, exercise, and general levels of stress can impact our feelings of readiness to close our eyes and enter the dream world. Chronic stress is also known to impact the quality of our sleep and the REM cycle.
One of the most popular, low cost and effective mind body interventions known for reducing stress that hinders continuous restful sleep is Yoga.To calm my inner five-year-old before bed, I have added these five restorative yoga postures to my nighttime ritual. These poses help release any excess stress from the day and calm the mind, allowing for deep, sweet sleep.
“The controlled breathing that is inherent in practicing yoga is probably the biggest factor in reducing stress,” says Jenn in her detailed research review of the 10 vital physiological, mental and spiritual benefits of Yoga, “When focused on breathing, participants have little room to engage in irrational fear, worry, or other obsessive thoughts, many of which are contributing to their stress levels.”
Child’s pose is a resting posture that calms the brain and helps relieve stress and fatigue. It is also a pose that allows us to breathe deeply into the back of our torso. Child’s pose can be done with the knees wide or touching. With each breath feel your belly expand on your thighs, and consciously deepen your inhales and exhales. Stay in the pose for 1-3 minutes.
2. Legs-Up-The-Wall Pose
This pose can be done with or without a prop. Legs-Up-The-Wall pose is deeply restorative and has a wealth of benefits. The pose helps relieve tired legs and feet, relieves backache (especially lower), and calms the mind. With the legs vertical, blood is sent to the heart, which has a calming effect. Legs-Up-The-Wall is especially helpful for digestive and menstrual issues. Stay in the pose for 5-15 minutes.
3. Supine Spinal Twist
Supine Twist stretches the back muscles along with the spine, and stimulates the inner organs. In order to receive the maximum benefits of this pose, release all tension and exertion when in the final posture, and allow yourself to simply let go on the ground. Make sure to even out and do both sides! Stay in the pose for 1-3 minutes on each side.
4. Standing Forward Bend
This pose is wonderful for relieving stress and anxiety, as it brings the flow of oxygen to the brain and gives the head an opportunity to hang loose, out of the erect stature maintained during the daytime. The hamstrings, calves, and hips are all gently stretched, as well. In order to receive the restorative benefits of the pose, keep the knees slightly bent and allow the pose to be passive, rather than a forced stretch. Stay in the pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute before slowly rolling up.
5. Corpse Pose
Corpse pose can be one of the most effective yoga postures to help prepare you for sleep, as it puts the body in an intentional resting state. While lying in corpse pose, do a scan of your entire body, making sure that every inch is relaxed, from toe to scalp. Corpse pose is a wonderful posture to do directly before bed, and is a great transition from the mat to your mattress.
Photos courtesy of YogaJournal.com. Women’s Health Magazine, AmericanSleepUnion.net