Good sleep habits are such an under-rated ritual. Sound sleep is essential to building a strong immunity, yet too many of us struggle with poor quality sleep, or even just getting to sleep. Research suggests that an estimated 30% of adults have sleep related problems, and given the current global scenario, the percentage has surely increased. Unfortunately, troubles with sleep can lead to both mild and more serious consequences, such as short-term changes in mood, forgetfulness, as well as more intense concerns like anxiety or even depression.
If you have trouble sleeping, there’s no better time to look into your bedtime routine and make small changes.
- Try to sleep at the same day each day, including weekends.
- Eat your dinner at least 2-3 hours before you sleep. Avoid fatty or greasy foods in the evening.
- Avoid drinking too much water towards bedtime.
- Turn off all electronics at least 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime. The blue light emitted from your devices makes it more difficult to fall or stay asleep.
- Maintain a good temperature in your bedroom and keep the room dark.
- Avoid all stimulating activities two to three hours before bedtime (for example, watching TV, working on your computer, having a heated conversation with anyone, exercising vigorously and drinking caffeine).
- And most importantly, establish a sleep routine. A nice warm bath, a light book, a cup of chamomile tea, soothing music or binaural beats (Youtube has some really good options) or some deep breathing and light stretching goes a long way.
The key is doing something each night during those 30 minutes before you go to bed that will help signal to your mind and body that it’s time to go to sleep.
The following exercises can be helpful to reduce stress and help you to relax at bedtime.
Abdominal breathing means breathing (deeply) into the abdomen rather than shallow breathing in the chest. This technique helps to bring a sense of calm, as with deep breaths more oxygen is pumped to the brain and body.
1. Lie down comfortably on your back, keep your spine erect. You can place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest, or both arms on the bed with palms facing the ceiling.
2. Bring your attention to your natural rhythm of breath. And gently notice that when you inhale, your stomach should rise. When you exhale it should sink in. This may not come naturally to you at first if you aren’t used to it, but you will get the hang of it with practice.
3. Continue breathing like this for a period of time such as 5 or 10 minutes. You can even practice this technique whenever you feel anxious or stressed. Allowing yourself to deep breathe slows your heart rate and makes it easier to calm down and drift off to sleep.
4-7-8 Breathing Routine
The 4-7-8 breathing exercise is another way to relax so that you can fall asleep.
1. Sit on the bed with your back straight.
2. Close your eyes gently or just lower your gaze.
3. Exhale through your mouth and make a “whooshing” sound.
4. Close your mouth and inhale in through your nose to a count of four.
5. Hold this breath for the count of seven.
6. Then, exhale out through your mouth while making the same “whoosh” sound and count to eight.
7. Do this entire cycle for a few minutes (at least 2 minutes, you can even put on a timer).
Please note that your inhale must be quiet and through the nostrils and exhale is through the mouth. Keep your tongue behind the upper teeth in your mouth throughout the whole exercise.
If you want to do everything faster initially, feel free to modify the counts. But eventually, stick to the 4-7-8 count.
Once you have mastered abdominal breathing, you can add in a mantra or affirmation as it helps you to focus on the relaxation aspect of your breath.
As you breathe deeply through to your abdomen, say a phrase to yourself in your head such as “I breathe in peace”.. “I breathe out all that I don’t need”; “Inhale relaxation” “Exhale tension” and really intent to inhale all the peace and quiet from the universe.
You can add beautiful visuals to the exercise above. As you inhale, visualize inhaling oxygen coming from beautiful landscapes. Allow your mind to travel to the gorgeous beaches, mountains or forests that you may have visited, and inhale the beauty and peace from there. As you exhale, imagine the stress flowing out from the soles of your feet, forming a bubble and floating away.
Imagery is a powerful way to relax and is considered helpful when you are engaging in breathing exercises to help yourself slow down before bed. The only advice here is don’t try too hard. If you can’t imagine this, just bring your attention back to your breath.
An alternative visualization could be – imagining that the worry, stress, or anxiety inside of you is a colored gas and is in every corner of your body. As you exhale, this colored gas is being expelled from every part of your body. As it leaves in an exhale, it forms a bubble in front of you and your body relaxes more and more.
Imagine the ball of coloured gas is getting bigger and bigger in front of you, outside you, as you slowly exhale more and more. Now with each exhale, blow the ball of worry far, far away (either through nostrils or mouth, whatever feels right for you). And as you have exhaled all the worry and stress energies away, you are left with a beautiful white light. The white light can be visualized in a body scan format.
You may have experienced this in a guided meditation session. Just scan every part of your body starting from your head, scalp, forehead, jaw, neck .. all the way to your feet, and intend that each part of your body is relaxed. Feel your body getting heavier into the bed, almost melting into a bed of clouds or whatever imagery brings you closer to that delicious restful sleep.
The next time you find it hard to fall asleep, try practicing any one or all of the above exercises, whichever feels best for you. Hopefully it will put you in a calmer space, ready for a beautiful night’s rest.
Delna Mistry Anand is a certified Meditation & Yoga teacher, specialising in sound healing and yoga nidra. She is also a energy healer, and includes modalities such as Reiki, Akashic Records and Shamanism.
Follow her IG: @delnaanand