Sleep is like the secret sauce. It affects everything – mood, focus, mental clarity and your general sense of well-being. So why are so many of us not sleeping well?
For many, the culprit is the dreaded BUSY MIND! How do we fix that?
It might help to understand some brain science: when your mind is ruminating and trying to solve all your problems, it’s in an evaluative mode. Your mind is evaluating all of your problems and trying to find solutions. In this mode, you’re usually thinking about something in the future or the past. When you bring your attention to what’s happening in the present moment – like feeling sensations in your body or the movement of your breath – you’ve moved into the experiential mode of the brain. You become aware of sensory information that’s coming in at the present moment. All this is according to researcher, Kelly McGonigal, who studies the neuroscience behind ancient practices like yoga and meditation.
So when you’re in bed and you ‘wake up’ to the fact that you’ve been thinking (pun intended), turn your attention to feeling sensations like tension in your jaw or around your eyes. Feel your breath flowing in and out or just feel the shape of your body. Try moving your awareness sequentially through your body starting at your feet. Feel your toes, feet, ankles, lower legs, knees, etc., moving upward until you finish at the top of your head. Notice how these areas feel. This practice is anchoring your awareness in the present moment (experiential mode). Most people don’t get past their hips before they drift off. This sequential awareness practice is called a body scan.
Even if you wander back into the evaluative mode, remember we called that thinking, that’s okay. Just keep coming back to the experiential mode – keep feeling body sensations over and over.
Here’s a recording of a body scan for you to try.
If you’d like help with your sleep (and you live in the Philadelphia area), scroll to the bottom of this article.
If you haven’t heard by now, sleep has ssssoooooo many health benefits! It’s your biggest immune booster! The body restores itself when you sleep. Also, sleep can help regulate blood pressure and cholesterol levels, process stress hormones and reduce inflammation. Sufficient sleep supports mental clarity, improves memory, helps you process emotional stress and wards off Alzheimer’s disease! Clearly, it’s worth spending time to retrain your nervous system in order to get some good quality rest.
What’s that? Retrain your nervous system? Yes, many of us live with a ramped up nervous system that’s always on go go go! This is an aspect of the stress response (fight or flight) and it’s really hard to downshift from that. Most of us don’t know how.
Many people find a sleep hygiene practice helpful. This means setting the stage for sleep one hour before your target “lights out” time and doing relaxing things, like easy stretches, to send a signal to your body to prepare for sleep.
Sleep is a beautiful thing! What if you not only got better sleep, but also started working with your dreams! According to Andrew Holecek, author of Dream Yoga, you can work with dreams and states of consciousness as a way of creating greater inner peace and contentment. Who doesn’t want that?
Give more value to your sleep – it’s a precious and beautiful thing. Sweet dreams!
Workshop: Sweet Sleep
A five-week course to improve your nightly rest.
Tuesdays, June 11th to July 9th