Sleep, remember that. It was that glorious thing we all did at night before our addiction to smartphones, social media and Netflix came along to spoil things. Don’t tell me you ain’t addicted to them coz I know you do!
We now know more than ever before about how good sleep is for both our physical and mental health, yet ironically as a society, we have never slept worse. It’s estimated that a whopping 1 in 3 of us don’t get the doctor recommended eight hours a night. Yikes!
What’s even more worrying is that our children are now also suffering from sleeping disorders at a rate way more than expected. The consequence of all this missed sleep is nothing short of a ticking time bomb of health problems that’s just getting worse with each passing sleepless night.
Don’t despair, however, before you go reaching for a handful of sleeping pills (yes, I know they can be quite moreish), read on below and I will let you on how both a regular dose of yoga and mindfulness meditation can help you get the rest your body so desperately needs.
Calm That Monkey Mind
Our bedroom is supposed to be an oasis of peace, calm and relaxation – why is it then that at night when we lay our head on the pillow the little voice in our head starts chattering away with wild abandon?
This little voice is our monkey mind. And it can be ceaseless.
We lie there wide awake and helpless as it criticises the choices we made during the day and spells out all the things we need to be worried about tomorrow.
During the daylight hours we can often drown it out with other stimuli but at night, when the lights are off and all around us are asleep it has us all to itself – we are a captive audience so to speak.
So what to do? Well, the first thing to do is to ensure that you build into your daily routine some wind-down time before bed. Avoid doing anything that will overstimulate the mind, this is like shaking the monkey’s cage. This means avoiding screens and dodging anything remotely stressful – so no tax returns before bed you.
The bad news is even if you avoid all overstimulation the monkey will still be there in some form or other. It is as much a part of your life as your right hand. What you need to learn to do is befriend the little guy. Once you both realize you are on the same side you will both be a lot calmer.
Mindfulness meditation is the key to achieving this. And to transforming you into a better person.
Taking just fifteen minutes a day to sit quietly and calmly doesn’t sound like it would achieve much, but believe me, it can do wonders.
Mindfulness meditation reprograms the brain, this sounds scary but it is actually a good thing. Over time you will begin to notice that the monkey doesn’t immediately go bananas at night and swing to all the worst case scenarios. Before you know it when you turn off the light at night the monkey will be asleep on his branch and within a short time so will you.
Like practicing any new skill, learning to meditate takes time. To be quite truthful you probably won’t notice an instant change. In fact, the first few times you meditate you might even end up being swamped by negative thoughts. But please don’t give up. Stick with it, because the benefits of meditation are very real.
For advice on how to work mindfulness into an evening routine check out this handy guide.
Stretch Before Bed
Still can’t sleep? Maybe it’s because you’re not actually tired. Thanks to the sedentary desk-based lifestyle most of us now live, very few of us get the daily exercise our ancestors took for granted. The result is that very few of us actually go to bed sleepy.
What’s the solution? Get more exercise of course. Before you go out running a marathon before bed, however, remember that not all exercises are created equally. When it comes to both tiring the body and calming the mind nothing is better for sleep than yoga.
The ancient yogis wisely differentiated between yoga exercise and all other forms of physical exertion. The reason is that while yoga gives the muscles and mind a good workout it does so while slowing the breathing.
An hour of yoga will result in a lower rate of respiration. This makes it the ideal pre-bed exercise.
This is marked contrast to say an hour of jogging or basketball which will leave you out of breath and jacked up on adrenaline. Don’t get me wrong, this is also great for the body but not necessarily if you are going to try and sleep in the next twenty minutes or so.
Well, there you have it my sleepy friend – a possible answer to your sleepless nights. Just do a little yoga and a little bit of meditation before bed and you will be on the express train to Sleepytown before you know it.
And before you start worrying that I am trying to persuade you to join a hippy cult, I have to let you in on a little secret – yoga and meditation are mainstream now. Everybody is doing them, from the bearded guy who smells strongly of hash to straightlaced Dave from Accounting.
It’s true that yoga and meditation have a tradition that stretches back for thousands of years and while there still remains a lot of spirituality attached to them in some quarters you don’t have to be a robe wearing monk, or a dreadlocked sadhu to start practicing them. Study after secular study are now confirming what yogis and bhikkhus have known for years, yoga and meditation are good for your mind, body and your sleep. It’s not just a theory or a fact anymore, science says they work!
Don’t believe me, give them a go and see. What’s the worst thing that can happen? You lose some sleep!