Does Yoga help? Yes to a larger extent. Yoga helps in lowering stress level and relieves tension in the body and can make way to natural sleep process. In particular there are few resting and inversion positions that have helped the yoga practioners battle insomnia and restlessness. However, the timing of this activity is crucial. Yoga practiced in the evening and before sleep have maximum impact on the human body. Again it can be done based on your work schedule or daily routine. I don’t believe that you can sleep only if it is night. As John Milton in Paradise Lost had mentioned “What hath night to do with sleep?”
Actually we need sleep and the human body is programmed that way. The body usually summons sleep in two ways – body boosts the circulating levels of the neurotransmitter adenosine and also by sending signals. Both the systems jointly establish an ideal sleep time for each body.
Due to our body (cells’) energy expenditure, adenosine is released as a by-product. Once adenosine is released into the blood stream and taken up by receptors in brain (forebrain or “kapal” in Sanskrit). This triggers sleep mode which dims the processes leading to alertness, attention, memory and reactions to physical stimuli. Hence, as the level of adenosine increases in brain we feel sleepy. The amount of adenosine is lowest when we wake up after a relaxed sleep and that’s the time we attain maximum alertness and attentiveness.
Considering our Indian way of living, our elders have always stressed the benefits of “Brahma muhurat” a time auspicious for religious activities, marriages, studies and yogasanas. What other than yoga? Food or breathing exercises?? Lets explore.
Solutions to Induce Deep Sleep
Lets discuss some of the easy to practice postures which can help you sleep better.
Step One – For beginners, they may fold a thick blanket or cushion to form a firm support and sit close to one of the edges. Then, stretch the legs out on your torso and remain seated or alternately you may sit against a wall for support.
Step Two – Next, cross the shins to widen the knees, and slip each foot beneath the opposite knee as one moves towards their torso.
Step Three – Relax the foot so that their outer edges are comfortable and the inner arches settle just below the opposite shin. Please remember that their should be gap between the feet and the pelvis.
Step Four – Sit with a neutral position i.e. pelvis touching the floor. Try to balance your pubic bone and tail bone so that they are at equal distance from the ground.
Step Five – Now lay your hands on your knees with palms facing ground and lengthen your tail bone towards floor. Firm the shoulder blades against the back towards your upper torso.
Step Six – Its not a difficult pose, but if you plan to regularly attempt this pose then make sure that you cross your legs alternately.
[ A word of caution – do not attempt this position if you have knee injury, knee replacement or any form of injury]
The benefits of sukhasana are many, the most prominent being relaxation of the brain, strengthens the back and stretches the knee and ankles and help you get sound sleep.
Supta Jaṭhara Parivartānāsana (Supine Spinal Twist)
The name might sound complicated but the pose is not. This pose is also known as supine spinal twist. It’s a restorative spinal twist, that supports the spine and also stretches the spine, shoulder, back, thighs, and neck and stimulates internal detoxifying processes, relaxes the body. Regular practice of this asana helps lower back pain and tight shoulders and induce sleep.
The pose gets its name from the Sanskrit words, “Supta”, meaning supine or reclined, Matsya, meaning “fish”, indra, meaning ruler, and asana, meaning pose.
Step One – Begin with moving the face away in a direction opposite to your legs. Bring both knees towards your chest and rock back and forth. Then bring your arms out into a T form with your hands and let your knees slide over to one side (right side).
Step Two – You can keep both knees bent, straighten the top leg, or choose to straighten both legs. Relax immediately in case you feel any pain. This pose basically stretches your lower back.
Step Three – Feel the stretch in your thighs, groin, arms, neck, stomach and back as you hold the pose. With each exhalation, relax deeper into the pose. Hold for 2-3 minutes and then, slowly turn your head back to the center and straighten your torso and legs.
Step Four – Repeat the pose on your left side.
This pose not only helps you sleep better and relax, it also helps you improve digestion, increases blood flow to internal organs, strengthens spine and muscles.
This pose is a combination of Vajrasana and Veerasana and hence, inter connected.
Step One – Begin with Vajrasana, raise the right knee upright, place the right foot on the ground by the side of left knee. Now, keeping the right elbow upwards, rest the chin on the right palm and take the left palm above left knee.
Step Two – Now, try to keep the backbone and head straight. Try to relax by closing the eyes and take a deep breath.
Step Three – Let the body remain motionless and hold this position for a minute or three. Continue to maintain the erect position and slowly come back to Vajrasana position.
Step Four – Relax for 2 minutes and repeat.
This pose is also beneficial for people suffering from arthritis, spinal disorders, osteoarthritis, high blood pressure, respiratory diseases or any heart disease.
(B) Eat Healthy – Food for sleep
Nocturnal hypoglycemia should be avoided at all cost. Nocturnal hypoglycemia in simple words in the low night time blood glucose level and is considered to be crucial for sleep-maintenance. Every time there is a drop in the blood glucose level, it releases the hormones that regulate glucose level like adrenaline, glucagon, cortisol and growth hormones which in turn stimulate the brain and triggers a natural signal for body to eat. Bedtime snacks or meal can actually help promote sleep by increasing the level of serotonin within the brain.
Chamomile tea contains apigenin, an antioxidant that binds to certain receptors in your brain that may promote sleepiness and reduce insomnia. Though it’s not part of our rural lifestyle, chamomile tea has picked up quite a number of admirers in urban population. It’s easily available in superstores and groceries everywhere.
Best time to have chamomile tea is 1-2 hours before you go to sleep. Other variations of chamomile tea are also useful, such as Jasmine tea, Tulsi tea, decaffeinated green tea and more.
Based on the findings of a scientific study published in BMC Complement Alternative Med. (2011) it was reported that 34 adults who had consumed 270 mg of chamomile extract twice daily for 28 days fell asleep 15 minutes faster and experienced less nighttime wakening, compared to those who did not consume the extract.
Milk (Cow’s or Almond Milk)
It has been proven scientifically that the presence of serotonin in the brain can help to initiate sleep. Healthy serotonin levels in our central nervous system often depend on the presence of tryptophan, which is naturally found in both cow’s milk and almond milk.
Almond milk in particular is high in magnesium and an added benefit for the people who consume it daily. In India, its been a practice in some household to consume warm milk before going to bed. Well, that induces sound sleep and helps you cut down on late night food cravings as well.
Oat Meal/ Malt Meal
Malt based High Fiber Bran Flakes offer up to 137% of the RDI for vitamin B12 in 3/4 cup (29 grams). Another scientific study showed that when participants ate one cup (240 ml) of fortified cereal containing 4.8 mcg of vitamin B12 daily for 14 weeks, their vitamin B12 levels increased significantly.
B12 Methylcobalamin is human body’s active form of vitamin B12. Methylcobalamin has been proven to help people suffering overcome sleep-wake disorder. It has been observed that during sleep wake disorders, taking methylcobalamin (3 mg daily) has often led to improved sleep quality, increased day time alertness and concentration, and elated mood.
Methylcobalamin influences melatonin secretion in the body. In elderly people it has been observed that low levels of melatonin may be a result of low vitamin B12 status. Taking oat meal or high fibre bran flakes in the evening may help them improve their quality of sleep.
(C) Breath Deep – Simple yet effective way of inducing deep sleep.
We are mostly used to hearing words such as “bhastika pranayama, anulom and vilom” due to popularity of yoga. There are few other techniques which are popular in west and are variations of yoga or similar techniques.
4-7-8 breathing technique
Dr. Andrew Weil developed this technique as a variation of pranayama and shares instructions for people who are ready to try this.
Step 1. Allow your lips to gently part.Exhale completely, making a breathy “whoosh sound” while you exhale.
Step 2– Next, press your lips together as you silently inhale through the nose for a count of 4 seconds. Hold your breath for a count of 7. Exhale again for a full 8 seconds, making a whooshing sound throughout.
Step 3– Repeat 4 times if you are comfortable and eventually increase this step to at least 8 -10 times.
Diaphragmatic breathing exercise
This exercise strengthens the diaphragm.
Step1 – To begin with first lie on your back and either bend your knees over a pillow or sit in a chair. Place one hand flat against your chest and the other on your stomach.
Step 2– Now take slow and deep breaths while keeping the hand on your chest still as the hand on your stomach rises and falls with your breaths. Next, breath slowly through pursed lips.
Step 3– After few sessions, you may be able to breath in and out without your chest moving.
Stay healthy and sleep well. Not getting enough sleep can affect mood and may make you irritable, impatient and anxious. Its common in India and a serious problem in 2020. Productivity is hampered, and also adds stress, anxiety and depression and several other health issues. Eat healthy, get into the habit of exercise and adopt some easy exercise which you can do regularly.
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