Ask the Medical Expert – “Can yoga help with sleeplessness and struggling to fall asleep? What techniques would you recommend?”
Sleepless nights were a massive burden in my life in the past. Yoga has been an incredibly successful remedy for attending to my sleeping difficulties, it has perhaps liberated me from insomnia for life! This is a massive YES YOGA CAN HELP! Here’s why, and how to apply it yourself:
Relaxation of the Central Nervous System
Let’s start with the big old brain. This thing is a busy-body at heart, and is often over-stimulated on a daily basis thanks to technological advances and an increase on our day to day demands (which tend to be less physical). The brain’s circuits are not fixed. Its plasticity is being better understood today than ever before, and it is important for us to realise how it needs to be exercised just as much as any gluteus maximus muscle. If your brain constantly exercises too many circuits at a time, circuits that breed stress or anxiety, or circuits that stimulate a lot of excitement, then these pathways will dominate almost automatically and could be causing your sleeping problems.
Yogic practice encourages inner awareness. A good exercise is to start noticing your frequent thought patterns. In my opinion too much of anything is never a good thing. Thoughts that over stimulate you – let them come and then let them go, bring your focus to the present. Meditation is the most inherent way to practice this. Meditation is less passive than you may think, especially in the beginning. Calming your brain takes training.
Relaxation of the Peripheral Nervous System
All asanas help to stimulate and stretch the nerves and muscles in your body. Having difficulty falling asleep can be due to muscular/nervous tension. If you have areas that you know ache by the end of the day, you need to start focusing on whatever asana isolates that area. This release occurs in layers from the outside in, superficial muscle to deep muscle and tissues to nerves. The nerves are all connected to that big ol’ brain and with focused thought you are able to send electrical signals to every single part of your body, especially places in need. The more you practice, the more you will notice where you are holding onto tension and how you can actually target areas and help them to relax. Again, this can be more active than you think it should be. Relaxation takes practice!
A good sleep-wake routine also helps. Waking up earlier than usual will help you get to bed earlier too. Avoid sleeping pills at all cost. Don’t ingest caffeine/ large/ high energy meals around dinnertime. Before bed, do some relaxation postures in a yin style (holding each posture for about 10 minutes each, feel free to support yourself with a large pillow to enhance relaxation in the posture). Remember to focus on deep breathing. Add candles and some aromatherapy (lavender and frankincense are excellent calming aromas) to create a sleepy ambiance. The following postures are my favourite examples to practice relaxation:
• Savasana (Corpse pose)
• Viparita Karani (Inverted lake pose)
• Makarasana (Crocodile pose)
• Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined bound angle pose)
• Fetal pose
There is a light at the end of this tunnel – it is dark and dreamy!