We can’t underestimate the importance of sleep.
This isn’t just an interval between night and morning. It’s our body’s critical time to recharge, repair and regenerate its various systems.
We‘ve all experienced lack sleep to varying extents and how it affects us – poor concentration, fatigue, inertia and irritability being but a few of the negative effects. And, when we’re stressed, this can be a surefire catalyst for more severe health concerns. So why do we often subject ourselves to this discomfort and potential harm?
The Importance of Breathing – CLICK HERE
According to Dr. Martha Cortes of the TMJ Sleep Center in New York, “Lost sleep is lost health because sleep is required to repair from the previous day and rest for the next”.
And, when we lose sleep on a frequent basis, for example, because of an overly demanding job or a crazy schedule, these effects can transcend from the realm of irritation to being extremely dangerous!
We become accident prone, our neurological system can suffer damage, and, our immune system becomes compromised, and can no longer protect the body from harmful influences. This makes us more susceptible to illness, and we have a longer recovery period.
Electronics and sleep disturbance
Without a doubt, one of the chief culprits of lost sleep today is electronic use. Light regulates our sleep-wake cycle, and the blue-spectrum light from phone screens tricks our brains into thinking it’s daytime, no matter what time it is, and our brains respond by secreting hormones that make us feel awake.
Many phone activities – from Instagram and Facebook to playing the latest game – are cleverly designed to act like drugs on our brains, targetting our reward systems, making it hard to stop… There you are at 1.30 a.m., eyes sore to the max, having wasted time on trite and set yourself up for a poor night’s sleep!
With the ever-present notifications, our bodies interpret all the buzzes and tone alert interruptions as stressors. They’re bad enough during the day, but during the night it’s far worse. These insidiously disrupt sleep, preventing us from falling into deeper, more restorative slumber.
To combat stress-induced sleep loss, Cortes suggests zoning in on our early evening routine since it acts as a transition from day to night.
She advises that the ideal way to ensure a better quality of sleep is to:
- Avoid using electronics, and, if you must use them, use a blue-light blocker. Before bedtime set up your charger outside the bedroom to ensure your bedroom a no-phone zone. This way you’ll enjoy better sleep and improved health.
For emergency calls, set up your phone within earshot outside your bedroom. Assign important people to Favourites, set your phone to not to receive calls overnight, selecting “allow calls from favourites.”
- Avoid eating too close to bedtime. Also, avoid a heavy or fatty dinner that will take a long time to digest and interfere with sleep.
- Practise meditative or zen-type activities such as reading or yin yoga (seated forward bend, bridge, shoulder stand and corpse pose).
- Take a warm bath before bed, with Epsom salts and/or essential oils like lavender to help recover from stress.
- Dim lights leading up to bedtime.
However, long before nightfall, we can prepare for better sleep. Cortes says during the day it is important to be mindful of the following:
- Start your day with inspiration from meditation, yoga, or another stress-reducing activity.
- Drink adequate water
- Be your most active throughout the day. Exercise, but not too close to bedtime
- Eat natural, nutritionally dense foods, avoiding processed, refined, synthetic or high-sugar foods.
- Stop caffeine intake several hours before bedtime.
If you’re overcoming stress-related insomnia, following a consistent sleep schedule can help. Aim to retire and awaken within the same time window daily, (including weekends) and create a relaxing evening routine that will help signal to your body it’s time to sleep.
When you’re lying in bed and your mind is going a mile a minute with an overwhelming to-do list, you can keep a notepad by your bedside to write down these nagging thoughts (not an electronic device). This will signal to your brain that these tasks are taken care of so you can mentally release them till morning.
Breathing exercises for better sleep
The following exercises are designed to slow down the mind and relax the body to induce restful sleep.
Close your eyes and place the tip of your tongue on the ridge just above your front teeth. Inhale through the nose and exhale audibly through the mouth.
Expel all of the air from your lungs. Start inhaling through your nose as you mentally count to 4. Hold your breath for a count of 7.
Exhale the air through your mouth for a count of eight, making a “whoosh” sound. Repeat each full breath for a total of 4 breaths.
With practice, you can increase your number of breaths to 8, but be careful not to get lightheaded if unused to this type of breathing.
Get comfortable, close your eyes and breathe normally. Count to 1 on your first exhale, then count to 2 during the second.
Repeat this up to 5, and then start again at 1 if you need to continue. If you find yourself on 9, or higher numbers, you’ll know your mind has strayed, so bring it back to 1.
Deep throat breathing
This yoga technique can be practised lying down with the legs slightly apart and arms at your sides.
Breath deeply in through your nose and out through your mouth. After a few breaths, constrict your throat so your inhalations have an audible, wave-like sound.
Count to 4 as you inhale, then hold your breath for 4 counts.
Exhale through your nose, using the same wave-like technique over 4 counts.
During your next breath, inhale over 6 counts, hold your breath for 6 counts, then exhale over 6 counts.
Increase each breath by 2 counts until you’ve reached your limit. Then reduce your counts by 2 with each breath.
Once you return to 4 counts, resume normal breathing and prepare for a sound sleep.