Walking, driving, shopping, those are all activities. Do you consider sleep to be an activity? Hopefully you said yes and don’t think of it as just the period where your brain shuts off and you are unconscious to the world. Sleep is very much an activity and knowing that you can prepare yourself for it before heading off to bed.
During sleep your brain fluctuates through different waves of frequency, with REM sleep showing brain activity comparable to being awake. Sometimes this is why you feel like you are awake, but actually sleeping. Your body and brain are toeing the line.
Heart rate and breathing rates also change throughout the stages of sleep along with muscle rigidness.
When you head off to bed, what does it look like? Do you turn off the TV, head to the bathroom to brush your teeth, hit the pillow and cashout for the night? Perhaps it is not as easy as that for you. That’s ok. Everyone has different abilities, while some people can sleep super easy, you may be able to draw or sing better. This doesn’t mean you can’t become a better sleeper. Sleeping has a certain skill to it, and because of that you can build that skill.
Let’s keep the theme going that sleeping is an activity. If you were getting ready to go out for a run or working out at the gym what do you usually do? You wouldn’t just start without some prepping. Well for me, I would first change into appropriate clothing and put on the right shoes. I would then do a little warm up to get the blood flowing, muscles loosened, and nerves firing. Then perhaps a little stretching and then I would get into my run or workout. Afterwards, there would be a cool down and stretching period along with rehydrating.
Now for sleeping, what is your prep? Sleep is quite cerebral and dependent on your nervous system. Throughout the day you are balancing emotions, stressors, and processing information. When bedtime rolls around are you coming in hot and heavy? Are you carrying the stress from the day in your muscles and climbing into bed? When we are tense it is a signal from the body that your sympathetic nervous system is engaged. Sleep ain’t gonna happen if you are in this gear. It’s like trying to drive forward while putting your car in reverse. Have you ever done that? Thought you were in drive and hit the gas only to go backwards? Scares the crap outta ya.
You gotta be in the right gear for sleep. How do we do that? Here are a few tools I use personally and also for clients.
1). Downshift before bed – I get it, life is hectic and crazy at times, perhaps all the time for you, but you are not going to get to sleep easily if you come flying into bed with your head going 100mph. That is going to leave your brain crashing into a brick wall when your head hits the pillow. You know that whiplash feeling where you are tired and then lay down and are wide awake. You just hit the wall.
2). Stretch or roll out those muscles – If your muscles are tense before bed, you need to do something about that. More than likely your whole day was spent in some sort of sitting position. Tight and/or tense muscles ache and hurt which in turn makes it hard to fall asleep or wakes you up at night. Get on the floor while watching TV or better yet with the TV off before bed to just close your eyes and relax into the poses. Some great ones to put into a 5-10 minute routine would be seated side bend, seated forward fold, reclined pigeon pose, reclined bound angle, happy baby, and a supine twist. Google any of these if you don’t know what it is.
Release that tension before crawling into bed so you activate your parasympathetic nervous system.
3). Another great one is incorporating a progressive muscle relaxation scan. This is the one I send all of my clients. It is scientifically backed for improving sleep onset. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Euy4YsK_Bgc
4). Focused Breathing – Disordered breathing puts the body into a state of stress so practice this exercise. Get yourself into a comfortable position. For 10-15 minutes before bed breathe in through your nose slowly enough that you can barely feel the cool air coming in. Then exhale it slowly through your nose where you can barely feel the warm air exiting.
5). Change your routine – The brain likes routine because it doesn’t have to think as much. It becomes automatic. If you are having trouble sleeping, try changing up your routine. All of the cues and triggers from your current routine are possibly compounding your ability to fall asleep. By changing up your routine it forms new neural pathways and associations. You know when you are in a rut, sometimes you just need to shake things up? It is quite hard to fix something if what you are doing currently is not working.
I rambled enough. I did not get a lot of sleep last night. Yep, sleep consultants are just ordinary people. Maybe this made sense, maybe not. Questions?? Go for it.