One thing (if I can possibly name one thing) that everyone is talking about these days is how hard is has been to get a good night’s sleep during the pandemic. A year-and-a-half into all this craziness, that’s a long time to go sleep deprived.
Sleep is such an incredibly important part of not just overall health, but of yoga itself. You can find references to Yoga Nidra (literally, yoga sleep) as far back as the Upanishads (Mandukya Upanishad) and the Mahabharata (Book 1, Section 21).
And sleep deprivation is literally used as a form of torture and is actually illegal under the Geneva Conventions of 1949.
Yeah. Sleep is that important.
Up until…say…March of 2020, I was what one would consider an Olympic calibre sleeper. I could fall asleep in the middle of a rock concert and slept like a rockstar through to morning.
Then…well, I learned what it meant to have insomnia. Waking up around 1 or 2am, unable to sleep for hours. And I can confer. It was torture.
Here is the technique I developed to help me avoid these sleepless nights. For me, it honestly works. I hope it works for you.
- Turn on a commercial-free talk radio station at a volume so very, very low that you can hear a mumble, but nothing else. I say radio because (a) you should never bring your “screens” into your bedroom if you want optimal sleep (that includes phones and tablets at least…ideally, TVs, too), and (b) there is less inflection and more of a drone tone. I say commercial-freebecause commercials are often louder than a newscast and usually are designed to create excitement. And I say talk, because music can be very stimulating. My station of choice is NPR, as it fits all the bills. And regardless of whether you like their broadcasts or not, remember that the volume should be so low that you can’t actually hear what they are saying. The goal is to turn off your mind, instead of turn it on. No active listening.
- This may sound weird, but then turn on a second device that plays ambient sounds (Amazon Alexa will do this, but I use a good old fashioned iPod in a dock). For me, this means the sounds of rain and wind chimes on a track that I play on repeat. Put these sounds on a volume on par with–or the tiniest bit louder–than the news. So, as these ambient sounds soothe your senses, the two dueling soundtracks also sort of “confuse” your mind, forcing it to try to block the noises in order to find quiet. Basically, pratyahara. (Yes. Yoga!)
- If you don’t have a second device to play ambient noise on, open your windows and try to listen to the sounds from outside. Hopefully, they are subtle sounds like crickets chirping, rain falling, or even cars driving on the streets far away.
- Breathe deeply…ish. Make sure your breath is deep enough to mollify your nervous system, but not so deep that it requires a significant amount of thought or effort from you. I know some people suggest specific pranayamas that entail deep breathing and retention, but personally I think that that wakes up your mind and forces it to work instead of rest.
- And if sleep still isn’t coming, start to count those breaths. In the same vein as “counting sheep,” I find that if I count my breaths up to 100, I almost never make it to a hundred.