Sleep: What we need each night to restore and rejuvenate after a busy day, but what so many individuals struggle with each night. In nearly 20 years of my work with clients, sleep has surfaced as a concern and a frustration to so many. In fact, nearly 9 million Americans rely on sleep medications just to fall asleep each night.
Insomnia has a direct negative impact on health, quality of life, safety, and job performance. As someone who struggled with – and overcame – insomnia, I am passionate about sharing my favorite 10 insomnia-busting techniques with others.
1. Belly Breathing
Deep belly breathing is the first step in preparing for relaxation and sleep.
The way this is done: Bring your awareness to your belly and place your hands on your belly to feel the breath as it enters this area of the body. Imagine that you are slowly inflating a balloon into your belly. Just as slowly as you inhaled, exhale as if you made a tiny pinhole in the balloon, allowing the air to gradually seep out.
Repeat several times, focusing on the inhalations and exhalations remaining consistently smooth, deep and even. When practiced properly, this technique relaxes the muscles of the body, balances the heart rate, provides a thorough exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, calms the nervous system and relaxes the mind.
2. 2:1 Breathing Pattern
Since the exhalation is the part of the breath that releases carbon dioxide and relaxes us, exhaling twice as long as you inhale can promote a more deeply relaxed state. This can also be helpful during moments of extreme stress or pain.
The way this is done: While you are doing deep, even belly breathing, try to get a count for how long you comfortably take an inhalation and an exhalation. For example, you may count 4 seconds when you inhale and 4 seconds when you exhale. Now, instead of exhaling the same duration as your inhalation, exhale TWICE as long. So if your comfortable inhalation is 4 seconds, you will then exhale twice as long- or 8 seconds.
3. 8:16:32 Breathing Pattern
Another helpful way to fall asleep is actually an ancient eastern practice coming from yogic breathing techniques. It can be done while practicing deep, even belly breathing, or to maximize its potential, you can incorporate the 2:1 breathing above into this method.
The way this is done: While lying on your back, take 8 deep, belly breaths. Then turn onto your right side and double the amount- taking 16 deep, belly breaths. Then, turn onto your left side and take 32 deep belly breaths. Theoretically, you will fall asleep before you reach 32!
4. A Dark, Quiet, Cool Room
Make sure that your room is as dark, quiet, and cool. This means no falling asleep to the TV on in the background. Also, if your alarm clock has a bright light, consider removing it or covering it with something to eliminate the bright glare. Hint: try and keep yourself from checking it, too! If you have light coming through your windows, consider purchasing some blackout curtains or at the very least use an eye mask to block out the light. Make sure the temperature in your room isn’t too warm; 60-67 degrees is the optimal temperature for sleep.
5. Lavender Lullabies
The scent of lavender is one of the most calming and soothing scents to inhale. Rubbing the high quality therapeutic grade essential oil of lavender on the bottoms of your feet and the back of your neck is a great way to induce relaxation and sleep. Lavender oil is very gentle on the skin and rarely, if ever, causes irritations.
6. Allow your Mind to be Unproductive For Once
If a ‘to-do list’ comes into your mind as you lay down to fall asleep, create a mantra-like saying to stop yourself from getting drawn in. For example ‘Sleep now; plan tomorrow.’ Assuming your goal is 8 hours of sleep, that will leave you with 16 hours for your mind to productive and busy. Give your mind a little down time and your productivity the next day will actually increase.
7. Eliminating Electronics
In addition to the television, avoid electronics before going to sleep. Books and magazines are far more sleep inducing then technology, which inhibits falling asleep. Seek calming, wind-down activities instead of those that cause stimulation. Turn off your phone, your computer, and your iPad. It is also beneficial to turn off the Wi-Fi in your house during bedtime.
8. Almond Butter
If you are one of the countless individuals that can actually fall asleep but have trouble staying asleep, and you typically wake up between 2:00-3:00 a.m., according to many holistic and naturopathic doctors, this could actually be ‘your liver talking’ to you.
When our blood sugar isn’t in balance, we typically wake in the early hours of the night and have trouble falling back to sleep. The fat and protein balance of almond butter is favorable for balancing our glucose levels and many advise to take a teaspoon of almond butter (assuming you have no nut allergies) before bedtime to help keep our insulin and glucose levels down and to stay asleep.
9. Get Some Exercise
The more vigorous the better, but any type of exercise regime is beneficial for our sleep. Whether you choose cardiovascular exercise or gentle, mindful exercise such as yoga, the increase in serotonin and the decrease in cortisol helps us fall asleep and have healthier sleep overall.
10. Let Go of Desire to Sleep
This is a tricky recommendation. As a reader, you are probably asking yourself ‘Isn’t this article teaching me how to fall asleep and not how to give up on this?’ Let me explain. You may know this feeling: You are staring at the clock and feeling pressured to fall asleep- literally doing the math and feeling more nervous with each passing hour. The idea of falling asleep becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy each night as you lie down and feel pressured to do what may not feel natural for you to do.
By practicing 15-20 minutes of deep relaxation, you gain the same physiological benefits of 3-4 hours of actual sleep. Deep breathing and progressive body relaxations are extremely restorative to our bodies. My Deep Relaxation Series contains guided breathing, relaxations, and visualizations set to ambient music that stream for free on your favorite music listening device.
Give them a try and give yourself permission to just relax and let go of the pressure to actually sleep. Chances are, you will likely fall asleep once you remove this added pressure and surrender. Many of my clients listen to these relaxations each night at bedtime and have had tremendous results conquering their insomnia.
One of my recent clients, a 16-year old girl struggled with sleep her entire life. She recently wrote this testimonial after about 3 sessions of working with her on these techniques:
“Until I started working with Susan, I had countless restless nights and felt that I could never get a good night's sleep. She provided me with the proper tools and techniques to not only fall asleep, but also stay asleep all night. Now that I have learned how to use her methods, I feel confident in my ability to fall asleep without worrying about staying up all night. I am so thankful that I found Susan!"
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