It’s especially important to get enough sleep during stressful times. You may feel pulled in many directions by relationships, errands and work to be done. However, if you sacrifice sleep when you’re stressed, you’ll create a vicious cycle where you’re tired all the time — and you may end up getting sick as a result.
1. Work Out
Exercise relaxes muscles and relieves tension. Just make sure you don’t exercise too late in the day: Since working out is an adrenaline-booster, you may find yourself too wired to sleep. A good rule to follow: Don’t exercise for at least two hours before you go to bed.
2. Relax and Unwind
Relaxation techniques calm you and let you forget your stresses for awhile. Yoga or meditation often does the trick, as does massage or even a nice, warm bubble bath. Aaaah. Lovemaking is also a natural relaxant that can be quite effective before bedtime!
3. Set Your Internal Clock
It’s important to establish a consistent time for going to bed and waking up. Your body becomes used to hitting the sack at a regular time, and this helps you fall asleep more easily.
4. Divert Yourself
Once you get into bed, if you toss and turn and can’t sleep a wink, go into another room and pick up a book for a while, or listen to some music. When you start feeling drowsy, head back to bed.
5. Factor Food In
While you don’t want to go to bed hungry, be careful of what you eat close to bedtime. Spicy, greasy, or heavy foods may not digest well, and can cause you to wake up during the night with an unhappy stomach. Also avoid caffeine within six hours of hitting the sack. Better choices for before-bed snacks include foods high in carbohydrates, such as bagels or crackers, which digest more easily. And don’t forget the old standby, a glass of warm milk — it really may help soothe you to sleep.
If you focus on something as simple as your own breath, you can help eliminate the tossing and turning that often precedes a restless night’s sleep. Deep breathing helps your body unwind, relax and prepare for rest.
The following two techniques — breathing and relaxing yourself to sleep — are modified from traditional yoga postures. Besides being a great form of physical exercise, yoga can also be a holistic sleeping aid. The controlled breathing that you’ll learn in these two exercises promotes deep relaxation, and can ease the mental strains that often block sound sleep.
Breathe Yourself to Sleep
A cup of warm tea, followed by the seated meditative posture, is a great way to clear your mind and prepare for sleep. To get started:
- Sit in a comfortable cross-legged position. If you have muscle or joint pain, you can sit on a firm chair, with your feet flat on the floor. You can also sit on the edge of your bed. Hold your back erect, chest pulled up and forward. Relax your shoulders, but try not to slouch.
- If you’re seated on a bed or chair, rest your hands palms down on your thighs. If you’re seated on the floor, you can rest your hands comfortably on your thighs, palmside up, thumb and index fingers touching. You can also cradle them in front of you, one on top of the other in your lap.
- Your chin should be parallel with the floor. Soften your facial muscles and let your mouth open slightly. Close your eyes.
- Slowly, breathe in deeply through your nose to the count of five. Hold the breath for five counts. Exhale slowly through your nose, counting to five. You want to feel your stomach muscles contract and your chest expand on the inhalation. On the exhalation, use your stomach muscles to press out all of the air.
- Repeat this posture for six to eight breaths.
Relax Yourself to Sleep
Here is a modified yoga relaxation posture that you can do in your bed — you’ll be right where you want to be when you nod off. To get started:
- In bed, lie on your back with your legs comfortably far apart, feet turned out. Shift your arms away from your body, place your hands palmside up, fingers slightly curved. Close your eyes and concentrate on your breathing. Let your body sink into the bed. This should feel great after a long day.
- Breathe in deeply through your nose; let your chest expand and your stomach contract. Feel the energy flowing into your body. As you exhale, press the breath slowly and evenly from your abdomen and chest and out through your nose. Use your stomach muscles, but don’t force or strain yourself. Do this for six to eight breaths. Once you have a steady and controlled rhythm, you’re ready to begin.
- Focus your attention on the top of your head and release any pressures there. Slowly move to your forehead, your eyes and your mouth. Free any tension around your jaw, letting your mouth open slightly, if necessary. Maintain an even, deep and controlled breath. Take your time.
- For each part of your body, do a complete deep inhalation and full exhalation before moving on. Take your time. Try not to rush each breath.
- Your shoulders and upper back collect a lot of stress during the day, especially if you’re working at a computer. Focus on any neck and shoulder strain. Breathe in deeply. As you exhale, slowly release the tension that’s collected there.
- Continue down your body, concentrating on your arms, abdomen, thighs, calves, lower legs and finally your feet. If you need to, slowly wiggle your fingers and toes to free any tension there. Keep your breathing even, and maintain a steady flow in and out. If you reach any points of particular stress, focus with your breath and release the tension on your exhalation.
Practice, practice, practice and these techniques will help you become more aware of your breath and release tension from your body, so that you can get a deep, satisfying sleep.