It is said that our quality of sleep defines our health. Sleep is not needed just to relax our body, but also our emotions and mind find balance through sleep. Making some simple lifestyle changes and sleep hygiene can go a long way in improving our overall health.
Why is it important?
During sleep, our mind, body and life energies rest, reset, detoxify and rejuvenate to keep us healthy. We go through a subconscious state during sleep that is important for physiological and cognitive functioning. Our dream sequences help us heal stress and anxiety by processing stored emotions and memories. Sleep deprivation can cause a degradation of our immune system, increased cancer growth and cognitive impairment.
Oversleeping can be as harmful as sleep deprivation. It is seen as a sign of serious health issues and causes muscle degeneration. Alcohol addiction, depression, emotional disturbances, diabetes, headaches, obesity, heart disease and more can cause excessive sleep.
In yoga, the experience of sleep is similar to a meditation experience except that sleep is an experience of the subconscious mind; meditation goes beyond into a conscious awareness state. There is a natural rhythm in nature that influences our emotions, actions and sleep patterns. In general, there is high energy during the mornings compared to evenings.
Tips to improve our sleep
Waking up and sleeping around the same time each day helps maintain a pattern for the body and settle the mind. Being startled awake to the loud sound of an alarm bell is not a good way to start a day. The waking ritual should be a gradual and natural process. Rubbing the hands and putting them over eyes before opening them in the morning helps improve eye health.
Try waking up before dawn and go to sleep early. Exercise in the morning and meditate before sunrise. This sleep and exercise pattern will improve life energies and sleep.
Have dinner a couple of hours before sleeping. Give some time for digestion before going to sleep. As per Ayurveda practices, lunch should be the biggest meal of the day while dinner should be light for easy digestion. Avoid stimulants like alcohol, nicotine and coffee before going to bed. Alcohol initially seems to help but then, over a period of time, it over stimulates liver, causing restlessness of the mind.
Avoid television, smartphones, computers and other devices that could distract or unsettle the mind. Relax the body and mind for some time before sleeping with activities such as meditation or gentle, deep breathing exercises.
The bedroom should be treated as a sacred place only for sleep. It should not be used to study, watch television or a work. Its temperature, noise levels, humidity, lighting and smell are all important for a good sleep. Keep the bedroom clean and well organized. Pleasant and cool temperatures help us get good sleep. The bedroom should be dim or dark during the night. Wear loose cotton clothes at night.
Do not face feet towards the south while sleeping if one is in the northern hemisphere. Facing legs south has an adverse effect on the body due to the earth’s magnetic pull towards the north.
Avoid activities in the evening that overheat the body or expose us to the sun. Try swimming instead as that cools the body. A light walk after dinner is good for digestion and will lead to better sleep.
Light a small lamp with a cotton wick and natural oil before going to sleep to light the room while meditating. The visual of the lamp and the smell of the burning oil will soothe the mind during meditation.
Boil a teaspoon of turmeric in a cup of milk and drink this milk before going to bed. Adding a quarter spoon of cardamom, nutmeg powder and ghee in this milk will make it more soothing. If none of these are possible, a warm cup of milk before sleep will also help with sleep.
Indian Ghee or clarified butter made from A2 milk of an Indian cow has many curative properties for sleep problems. A couple of drops of ghee in the nostrils before sleep helps bring deep sleep and helps with any brain-related illnesses.
Boil a banana peel in water and drink that water before going to sleep. This will alleviate symptoms of insomnia and improve sleep.
Taking a warm bath before going to bed at night is helpful in relaxing the nervous system, reducing stress and calming the mind. Applying natural rose water as a perfume on the body helps reduce stress, enhances happiness within and reduces negative emotions.
Massaging feet with natural mustard, coconut or sesame oil helps relieve stress before going to bed.
Practice breathing techniques called pranayama, such as ujjayi, nadi shodhanaand Bramarifor 15 minutes every day to help calm the mind and improve the nervous system health.
Practice savasana, or corpse pose, as a posture for sleep meditation. Sleep meditation technique helps relax every part of the body gradually for better quality sleep.
Meditation helps calm and remove negative stressful thoughts from the mind. There are various meditation techniques that we can do while lying on the bed to gradually slide into a sleep state. One such meditation is to develop a sense of surrender to the higher power of your chosen religion or simply surrender to the unknown and begin a joyful journey into a different state of consciousness.
If there are problems in life that are putting stress on the sleep patterns, avoid trying to solve them or thinking about them during bedtime. Postpone tasks for the next day instead of worrying about finishing them at the cost of our health.