Saturday, August 9, 2014

The way to healthy sleep

One of the things that should come naturally to you but often does not is sleep. Not sound sleep, just sleep, something you take for granted as soon as you rest your tired head on your pillow. But at times sleep can be as elusive as the sight of a wish-making falling star in the night sky. You lie awake in bed tossing this way and that way, your anger and anxiety at your inability to fall asleep mounting with each dreadful minute. You wish the clock would stop ticking for it is like a time bomb, a reminder of the approaching dawn that you don’t want to see. Every few minutes you reach under your pillow and look at your watch or reach for the alarm clock on your bedside table. In both dials, time is flying and so is your frustration. As you lie awake in the dark, you envy the rest of the sleeping household. You want to wake up someone and share your nocturnal misery. At one point you feel like getting out of the bed and starting your day really early, actually feeling good when you think about it, but you know you can’t do that at 2 am. Everyone is still fast asleep—lucky people. 

Your problem is that the more you worry about not getting sleep, the more you are fighting sleep and the less likely you are of falling asleep. As with most things in life, resistance is futile when it comes to sleep. The key is to accept it and to remember you are not the only one who is having a nerve-wracking sleepless night. Most people agonise over sleep and the lack of it, some more frequently than others. For a lot of people sleeplessness is a serious and chronic issue. It can ruin your night and make your next day worse even before you launch into it.

Can you do something about it? Yes, you can. Something can be done about almost anything if you set your mind to it. 

The best place to start is to let go of your restless, wakeful situation. Accept that you are unable to sleep. It is not as if someone is torturing you with sleep deprivation. Be positive, however insensitive it may sound in the circumstances. Tell yourself that your day has stretched just a bit more into the night and that you are going to nod off eventually. The fact is you do nod off eventually, even if it is in the wee hours of the morning, out of sheer exhaustion than anything else. If your mind won’t put you to sleep, your body will sooner or later.

The rest of these hints to help you to sleep, even sleep well, can be applied without any order, depending on what suits you, and how comfortable you are with it. 

My own preferred remedy is a yogic posture called Shavasana, in Sanskrit, which means Corpse Pose. It is a relaxation technique, a state of rest, and is the culmination of all yogic asanas, or exercises. It is always done in the end. I like to think of it as dropping dead. 

Lie flat on your back with your eyes closed. Rest your head on a flat pillow. Keep both your hands straight and a little away from your body, palms upward. Likewise, keep both your legs straight and apart, toes pointing upward. In so doing, if your fingers curl up or your toes twitch, naturally, it means you are beginning to relax.

For some time breathe normally but gently. Don’t hold your breath or keep count. Let your thoughts come and go. Don’t resist them or react to them. Don’t chant any mantra or spiritual word or phrase. Try and keep your mind still. 

Shavasana always begins from the feet up. So first turn your attention to your feet, one at a time, and mentally loosen up your toes, your sole, your feet, and your ankle. Tell yourself that you are relaxing each part. Picture it as you go along. Wiggle your feet and toes slowly, if you like.

In this way slowly work your way upwards, to your shin, your knee, your thigh, your hip, and eventually to your entire leg. Mentally picture the stress and stiffness leaving both your legs and your feet. 

Don’t rush through it.

You then move upwards, to each part of your body, again one at a time, all the way up to your head, your brain, and your mind. Follow the same process as you did with your feet. Don’t forget to picture yourself relaxing every part, every muscle, and letting go. Say it in your mind.

Finally, relax your whole body in exactly the same manner. See clearly, in your mind’s eye, the tension slowly leaving your body. 

As you come to the end of the asana or yogic posture, which should take no more than fifteen minutes, you will feel relaxed and sleepy. If you don’t fall asleep instantly, don’t worry. Just turn on your side. Over time and with practice you will drift off into sleep. 

The important thing to remember during practice is not to exert pressure or become tense or feel burdened. It defeats the purpose the moment you do. 

Shavasana can be practiced any time, even if you don’t have a problem sleeping. It simply helps you to relax. It is nothing but meditation in a reposed state.

This is my way and it works for me. You can devise your own variation of this asana. Do what suits you best. You may consult a yoga teacher if you like.

There are other remedies that can help you to sleep, like taking a walk after dinner or supper, drinking a warm glass of plain milk before bedtime, taking a hot bath or shower, reading a funny book or watching a funny movie, listening to soothing music, giving up smoking, exercising or gymming, reducing caffeine and alcohol, hugging a loved one in bed. These are mostly short-term measures and while they may sound commonplace, they can be effective. 

More specifically, Shavasana should top a twelve-point list of sleep cures that will last longer, perhaps a lifetime. The other eleven are: 

Never go to bed angry. Never have a fight or an argument before bedtime—swallow your pride and make up. It is worth the effort.

Don’t think or brood about how your day went or what happened in the office or wherever—it is never really that important. 

Meditate or chant a mantra either silently or just loud enough for you to hear—it works as well as Shavasana.

Spend time with your family and feel loved and secure in their company—no one else will make you feel as good as they do.

Take LOL out of your SMS and actually Laugh Out Loud—it is still the best medicine around.

Put your mobile phone away. Switch off your computer. Stay away from the internet—cease to be a gadget man at least an hour before sleep time. 

Try not to worry over your past and your future—you have enough going in your present.

Don’t read or watch depressing news in the papers or on television—it can actually make you feel depressed and even give you nightmares. 

Take a few slow or deep breaths before hitting the pillow—it will help take a load off your mind and loosen up your muscles. 

Always pray before you go to bed—you could do a lot worse than underestimate its healing power.

Utter a deep sigh, as many times as you like—and just let go.

If you don’t like any of these, you can invent your own ways, so long as you learn to sleep, and sleep really well.

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