I can’t sleep. It’s been a few months since I’ve crawled into bed and slept through the night without issue.
Sometimes I can’t fall asleep. I stare at the ceiling for hours, contemplating life and all its intricacies. Sometimes I wake every hour, look at the clock, and silently scream into my pillow so as not to wake my husband, sleeping so peacefully next to me. Sometimes I wake at two or three or four o’clock and resume the pondering of life’s meaning, the importance of sleep, and why I can’t figure out either.
Just about the time I finally fall asleep, it’s time to wake up to work, to run, or to care for our two sons.
I’m functioning on some level of exhaustion that I didn’t even know when our sons were newborns, waking frequently to feed and cuddle. At least then, my midnight hours spent awake were accompanied by a squishy baby and the release of oxytocin while nursing the little one back to sleep.
But there are no squishy newborns in my awake hours right now. Just me, the dark, and sometimes my dog who can’t figure out why we’re awake right now.
I mentioned all of this to my yoga teacher one Monday morning when I rolled into class with eye bags under my eye bags. She sympathized, sharing her own stories of sleep difficulties. I shouldn’t have felt surprised that my super zen teacher experienced insomnia at one point in her life, considering that 30 to 35 percent of adults experience at least brief symptoms of insomnia. She shared a few tips with me that morning before we started hatha class. Since then, I’ve been researching some yogic and meditative ways to help me get to sleep.
Meditation as a preparation for sleep isn’t a new concept, even for me. Last year, I used to meditate sometime within the hour before bed to clear my head of anxiety and to ground myself before sleep. While I used to simply sit in the quiet and meditate on my own, my recent sleep struggles seem to require the help of a guided meditation.
My yoga teacher suggested the (iPhone) app Yoga Nidra Lite. Yoga nidra is a great way to usher in relaxation as it walks you through the process of withdrawing awareness from the senses and turning inward. This app provides a male’s voice leading you through the steps toward relaxation and sleep. Other apps do exist but the one I’ve downloaded is free. (Though I’d pay good money for sleep at this point.)
A quick Google search will bring up a number of “workouts” to do before bed to ensure better sleep. I’ve found that doing a series of stretches that best benefit my own body works wonders. I always do a spinal twist, both seated and supine, as I carry a lot of tension in my lower back. I do a few hip stretches, like my beloved pigeon, as my hips get tight from both working and running. I’ve found if I stretch them before bed, I’m less likely to have pain in the middle of the night, causing me to move around and pop the joint.
You may find a different series of moves will work best for you. Gently working on a few areas where you carry your stress or that tighten during the day may help you find a more relaxed place before you go to bed for the night. I also do some simple, deep breathing in a comfortable position to remind myself how to breathe once I get in bed.
We go through the same steps with our sons every single night when it comes to bedtime—the same steps we’ve done since they were little, bitty babies. A light snack with some water, a relaxing bath (now turned shower), a story, and some time spent calming down by either reading or drawing on their own before lights out. As an adult, I realized I didn’t have any ritual. No two nights looked the same with regard to what I did before bed or what time I went to sleep.
Building your nighttime ritual can help cue your brain that the time to sleep has arrived. Whether you take a shower, drink some “sleepy time” tea, do a bit of yoga, meditate, and then crawl in bed—or any variation thereof—keeping a routine can help you fall asleep a little faster.
I just started doing this at the suggestion of a number of people. Setting a sleep affirmation as you shimmy down under the covers feels quite empowering. It feels as though I’m actually taking control of my sleep problems. When I wake up in the middle of the night, I am trying to remember to repeat my affirmation for the night instead of feeling defeated.
What kind of affirmation helps you sleep? It will depend on your personal wishes and goals. Right now I’m working with a variation of: “I deserve sleep. My body requires restorative sleep. I can sleep.” It’s simple. It talks about what I deserve, what I require, and what I can do. I repeat it as I drift off to dreamland.
Jenna Hatfield is an editor, writer, and storyteller. She also loves to capture little moments of daily life with her camera. She blogs at Stop, Drop & Blog and has also worked as a photographer, though currently she prefers photographing her two sons, her husband, their zany German Shepherd, and six bossy chickens. Beyond writing and photography, Jenna also enjoys running (currently training for her second full marathon), cooking, and reading all the books. You can follow Jenna on Twitter and Instagram.