Whether it’s chronic insomnia or tossing and turning before bed once in a while, sleep deprivation can become a big domino that negatively impacts other aspects of our lives. Lack of sleep can lead to emotional disease, loss of productivity and energy, and other health issues.
When we can’t fall asleep, many of us turn to a distraction like a phone or a laptop screen. However, this blue light is often the worst thing we can do to signal our bodies to sleep. In fact, light will stop the natural production of melatonin, a natural hormone your body secretes that helps to maintain your wake-sleep cycle and can increase cortisol levels.
Swap the screen for a Kindle. Reading gets your mind of “trying” to sleep and puts you in a restful state. Plus, if you can’t sleep anyway, you might as well be enjoying your time and possibly learning something in the process.
Listen to music or a podcast.
Another way to help stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system is to listen to music. According to the Sleep Foundation, “Music has the power to slow your heart rate and breathing, lower your blood pressure, and it may even trigger your muscles to relax. These biological changes mirror some of the same changes that your body undergoes when you’re falling asleep,” per Livestrong.
If you’re not in the mood for music, you can find a podcast on almost every topic that can help reign in your mind and focus. Podcasts can be like bedtime stories for adults.
Chances are, you’re awake because of a busy mind. Integrating a mindfulness practice into your day will help alleviate stress and calm the mind when you are ready for bed. That said, if you are still feeling anxious at night, accept what is happening and come back to those tools.
Try a body scan, from the tips of your toes to the crown of your head, and imagine releasing tension in each little part of the body. If your own meditation doesn’t work for you, consider downloading an app like Calm or Insight Timer, which have many meditations specifically for bedtime.
Focus on the constant inhale and exhale. Notice how the air moves in through your nose, and out through your mouth, and how it feels in the body.
Then, you can practice lengthening the breath.
According to Livestrong, deep breathing “stimulates our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which is responsible for activities that occur when our body is at rest.”
Michelle Drerup, PsyD, director of behavioral sleep medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Sleep Disorders Center explains that the parasympathetic nervous system functions oppositely to the sympathetic nervous system, which stimulates activities associated with the fight-or-flight response. She recommends trying the 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise.
How to Perform the 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise:
- Sit up straight and breathe in silently through your nose to the count of four.
Hold your breath to the count of seven.
Exhale through your mouth to the count of eight, making an audible “woosh” sound.
Repeat the cycle for four breaths, gradually working your way up to eight full cycles.
If your insomnia persists, there could be an underlying issue, and therefore you may seek out a medical professional.