Nothing keeps your stress levels under control like a good night’s sleep. Poor quality sleep keeps you feeling drained as your body struggles to get back into the restorative parasympathetic mode from the stressed out sympathetic mode. But just one night of high quality sleep can help the body restore itself. Here are seven simple things you can do to get that quality restorative sleep.
Scanning your body is akin to doing progressive muscle relaxation, only this is easier.
As you lay in bed, start to feel your body from within starting from the soles of your feet all the way to the top of your head. If you feel pain, discomfort or stiffness in any part of the body, spend a few minutes there and consciously relax this area.
For example, as you feel the soles of your feet, do you feel a sense of warmth? Is there a tingling sensation? Is there a mild pain in some areas? Consciously feel the soles this way and relax them.
It’s prudent to start with the soles because they’re connected to all the major nerve endings and hence relaxing this area can feel highly comforting to the entire body.
As you scan and relax your body this way, you prepare your body for a good night’s sleep. A relaxed body is more likely to experience deep sleep states than a body that is stressed out.
If you fall asleep midway whilst scanning your body, that’s perfectly fine. When you wake up the next day, you will feel fully rested and hence full of energy.
If your mind is racing with thoughts, it’s harder for your body to fall asleep.
Meditation is one of the best means of calming your mind down. The following is a simple meditation exercise you can do right before you go to bed.
While sitting up or lying down, close your eyes and shift all your attention to the sensation of breathing. Take deep breaths and consciously feel the air on the tip of your nostrils as you inhale and exhale. As you divert your attention this way, your thoughts will try to pull your attention back to them. If that happens, simply bring back your attention to your breath. Let the thoughts be; do not try to suppress them or engage with them.
Just a couple minutes of doing this will help calm down your thoughts and before you know it, you will drift off into deep sleep.
If you are not a big fan of meditation, then breathing exercises can be a good substitute. There are hundreds of breathing techniques out there but three techniques that I find the most effective are as follows:
Bee breathing technique: Plug your ears with your index fingers, close your mouth, take a deep breath and make a humming sound through your nose as you exhale. The vibrations created henceforth will deeply relax your mind and body.
4-7-8 breathing technique: This is a powerful technique developed by Dr. Weil, in which you breath in through the nose for a count of 4, hold for a count of 7 and breathe out forcefully through your mouth for a count of 8 making a whoosh sound.
Diaphragmatic breathing technique: Place a hand on your belly and make sure that your belly expands as you breathe in deeply and contracts as you breath out.
You can choose any technique that you find easy and practice for around 5 to 10 breaths before you go to bed or anytime you feel stressed out.
Certain foods can tax the digestive system increasing your body’s stress levels. Sugary foods spike blood sugar levels and can cause mood swings and irritability. Salty foods can cause water retention leading to bloating and increased blood pressure. Stimulants like alcohol and coffee can trigger dehydration and irritate the digestive system.
When you are mindful of what you eat, you are more likely to skip the junk food and go for the healthier varieties.
Be mindful as you chew the food. Consciously feel what it tastes like, notice the various flavors, textures and subtleties. After you have consumed the food, consciously notice the sensations in your body. Does your stomach feel heavy? Do you feel bloated? Do you feel drained? Make a mental note to reduce consumption of foods that make you feel this way.
Similarly, make sure that your stomach feels light as you go to bed. If it feels heavy or bloated, try to make changes to your dinner to make it healthier. You can also consider eating earlir so your body has enough time to digest the food before you go to sleep. Going to bed on a lighter stomach will ensure that your sleep quality is high.
Yoga is the best way to relax your mind and body after a stressful day. And you need not necessarily be a yoga expert to do some of these asanas, as they are very simple.
Some relaxing asanas that you can do before going to bed include the cat-cow pose, balasana (child pose), legs up the wall pose, makarasana (crocodile pose) and savasana (corpse pose). You can do any one or several of these asanas for a few minutes.
Some poses like balasana, savasana, reclined twist etc. can be done right in bed using pillows to aid the pose.
Moving your body is a great way to relax the muscles as well as release accumulated negative energy and emotional stress. Any activity like skipping, jogging, jumping in place or even dancing can be extremely helpful.
You can also consider doing the qigong shake (shaking the tree) that involves standing firming on the ground and slowly hopping on your legs allowing the body to naturally shake/bounce. Bouncing this way for a few minutes can feel very relaxing.
Exposing your skin to bright sunlight for 5 to 10 minutes every day is highly advantageous. For one, you get your share of vitamin D for the day. Secondly, sunlight has been known to boost serotonin production. Serotonin is known as the happy chemical as it enhances mood, well-being, memory and good sleep. In addition, sunlight also helps improve melatonin (sleep hormone) production that aids sleep.
Mukesh is a freelance writer who loves to write on topics related to meditation, mindfulness, conscious eating, alternative healing, introversion and understanding the mind.
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