I've spent a lot of time stressing about sleep. For me, it's never been a time that I looked forward to, rather, I found myself stressing when time came to get in bed. That anxiety would build and it would lead to night terrors. The night terrors manifested into the physical with the sensation that I couldn't breathe and garbled speech. Someone would hear me yell and come in the room and I would try to explain what woke me up but I wouldn't be able to speak in coherent sentences and then I would turn over and finally go to sleep. I was so worried about this pattern because the physical symptoms that came with night terrors looked like the same warning signs of a stroke and it freaked me out, honestly. Slurred speach, numbness, short of breath. My heart would race so fast that I thought it would leap out of my chest. It wasn't normal.
I realized that the trigger was stress and the worst episodes would come when I moved to fast that day and tried to put too much on my plate. I've all but cured myself of these episodes. I can count on a few fingers how many times it's happened this year (most of them were when I traveled to big cities like New York or Chicago). I credit a few things with helping:
I know.. I talk about yoga a lot. And I get it, everyone talks about how yoga has helped them in some way so maybe it's time to truly get started on your journey if you haven't already. When we think about yoga in the West we think of physical postures sequenced together differently and with no real emphasis on breathing. I have really terrible lung capacity and there's a lot of tension in my chest. My ashtanga teacher told me that focusing more on syncing the breath and taking full, complete breaths will help stretch the chest and stimulate the lungs. And it works!
This is basically yoga but I'm not talking about anything physical here. Sounds simple but I'm guilty of going through like 30 plus years of life not breathing at all. My ashtanga teacher is really big on the emphasis on the breath and taught me a few Pranayama techniques to help. One is alternative nostril breathing.
- Sit in a comfortable position, eyes closed
- Take your right hand out in front of you palm facing toward you. Take your thumb and then your index and middle fingers together. The thumb should rest on your right nostril, other two on your left.
- Start by closing the right nostril with your thumb and inhaling through your left nostril.
- Close your left nostril with your two fingers, release the thumb and exhale out your right nostril.
- Continue this sequence for 10-25 breathes and always end on exhaling out the right side.
I love a good tub. This one at Soho House Chicago was one of my favorites. Soaking helps my body relax but what takes it up a notch is the addition of natural herbs and flowers to add extra therapy. My favorite things to put in the bath include calendula, jasmine, white sage and rose buds. Chamomile and lavender are also more traditional for relaxation. I also love small batch sugar scrubs. I look for ones that have oil in them since warm oils helps relax my body. Fig + Yarrow has this one and I also love this one because it's local
I love a good ancient recipe or some rediscovered old technique to help with anything but these days some things are merging the old with the new in cool innovative ways. If you remember I talked about Inscape here. Well since visiting their studio I downloaded their meditation app. It's been a game changer in terms of my bedtime habits because they have a section dedicated just to sleep. It's a 22 or 33 meditation using a few minutes of breathing to calm the nervous system and then, and this is the best part, they play a series of beautiful crystal and gong sounds that are arranged to get you to sleep and stay in deep sleep. Im telling you Im usually out before the 22 minutes! It's so calming and relaxing. Highly recommend it.. You can download it on iTunes app. I usually don't sleep with it next to my head like this. I'll put it on the table and it just shuts itself off after the allotted time.
Understanding Your Self & Nourishing
In Ayurveda, good sleep is one of the greatest essentials to having a healthy constitution. The stages of sleep that we find ourselves struggling with can coincide with imbalances in the body. For example, excess Vata means your senses are too overstimulated and you can't fall asleep (me), excess Pita and you will drift off but wake up frequently in the night, and Kapha will lead to waking up groggy and slow even though you feel like you've slept. Depending on what sleep issue you suffer with you can try to balance it using food and rituals. It's a bit more complicated and takes years of study and varies from person to person but I think this helps with the basics of understanding.
I already know that I'm super excess Vata so I'm not surprised it shows up in my sleep habits. To help combat and balance it's important for me to not get my feathers ruffled too much before bed. I also try to soothe myself with something warm since Vata runs cold (turmeric milk, sleep tea, etc). Pitta is pacified by sweets (lucky you!) and stick with something cold and sleep in a cold room. Kapha it's a good idea to skip caffeine since caffeine leads to more memory fog.
Hope this helps and I'm working on a restorative post to help wind down any time of day so stay tuned. xx