How to experience deeper sleep

How to experience deeper sleep every night

A recovering insomniac

The topic of sleep is really close to my heart. I used to call myself an insomniac and would regularly survive, night after night, on only 3 or 4 hours of sleep, getting tied up in knots with the whole vicious cycle.

If you sleep soundly and rarely have a problem sleeping, you’re extremely lucky. Unfortunately, most of us really struggle with sleep at some point in our lives for a number of reasons. It can be deeply upsetting and frustrating to be deprived of this basic human need.

These days I mostly sleep pretty well. And on nights when sleep is still elusive, I’ve learnt valuable skills of how to manage this. So, what changed for me?

Over the years, the practice of yoga, and in particular Yin yoga involving long, deep stretches, has allowed me to learn how to reach a more relaxed and meditative state. Over time, this has helped to significantly improve my ability to sleep.

The gift of deeper sleep

But the real game changer for me came more recently, when I attended two sleep training courses. One focussed on the practice of Yoga Nidra (sleep yoga) whilst the other focussed on improving sleep practices, combined with the art of relaxation and tuning the body and mind to prepare for sleep.

One of the greatest gifts you can give yourself is restorative, deeper sleep every night. You can learn to wake up feeling refreshed, restored and renewed by following the simple steps below.

Sleep is magical when it happens, but complex when it doesn’t. If you’d like to learn more about these skills and discover how to sleep better, why not join our next Sleep Is Magic 4-week course?

Tuning into the rhythm of nature

Most people have heard of the circadian rhythm, also known as our body clock. This is the natural cycle that our bodies go through in a 24-hour period: the rhythm of day and night; sunrise and sunset; rest and action. Our circadian rhythm is responsible for regulating our various bodily functions, including sleep, hormones, body temperature and appetite.

There are many theories about when we should go to sleep and for how long, but it seems reasonable to say that our modern lives have led us to override some of these natural rhythms with the increased use of computers and mobile phones.

So, whilst in an ideal world we wouldn’t use a mobile phone when we’re in bed, this might not be realistic for people who use their phone as an alarm clock or who say goodnight to loved ones living far away.

However, we can start to think about ways of limiting our device use a couple of hours before bedtime, as we start to prepare for sleep. It’s thought that the light emitted from our devices stimulates brain function which may prevent falling asleep. Blue light filters on phones and laptops may help, and some people swear by light-blocking glasses.

A great place to start, if you want to achieve deeper sleep, is to try to follow the rhythms of nature, the rhythm of day and night. Obviously, there needs to be seasonal allowances for this, but it’s probably good to rest more during the darker months anyway, preparing us to be more active in the lighter months.

The magical 8 hours: letting go of expectations

Are you the person who’s become stressed and anxious about lying awake, looking at the clock ticking when you have an important day ahead?

I wonder who actually sleeps for this magical 8 hours that we’ve been led to believe is the key to optimal health & wellbeing?

Introducing ultradian rhythms

You may have heard of the circadian rhythm but perhaps not the ultradian rhythm. Ultradian rhythms are your body’s biological cycles, which can include everything from the heartbeat, to blinking, to digestion.

Ultradian rhythms are like mini versions of circadian rhythms, except they’re much shorter. They’re repeated in multiple cycles within these shorter periods to manage the cycles of energy production, output and recovery. Like circadian rhythms, they have a powerful effect on your body, and when they’re disrupted or ignored, they can really mess with your health, happiness and general wellbeing.

Why is this so important? The key thing to be aware of here is that these cycles last approximately 90-120 minutes and run throughout the day and night. During the daytime, we can be highly active for a period of approximately 90 minutes with the need to take a short break as part of the healing response. If you find yourself staring blankly at the computer screen for a few minutes or staring off into space, chances are you’ve just hit the ‘dip’ the body naturally takes as part of the ultradian rhythm responsible for performance and recovery.

These same cycles continue through the night and may explain why some people struggle to fall asleep, are wakeful during the night or both.

Understanding our body’s natural rhythms

Understanding that these cycles are natural rhythms of being active and then restful can help us reduce the anxiety around not being able to fall asleep, feeling that we’ve ‘gone past it’ or staring at the alarm clock feeling stressed that we can’t get back to sleep in the middle of the night.

If we understand these rhythms better, we can maybe relax a little when we’re feeling wide awake. We can accept that this cycle will eventually bring about the natural need for the body to shift into the recovery phase. The stress about this wakefulness is what continues to push us through the recovery phase as we’re flooded with stress hormones. If we start to understand these cycles and maybe use some other skills to ride the wave in a more relaxed state, the chances are we’ll drop off when the wave (or cycle) completes itself.

Hitting the pause button

Understanding the importance of the ultradian rhythm helps to explain the need for breaks throughout the day. We can only be active for so long, then we need to take a break. As mentioned above, zoning out, daydreaming or staring blankly at your computer screen is a vital part of the body’s natural ability to press pause, to give the body and brain a rest.

If we visualise a wave of activity followed by a short period of rest in 90-120 minute cycles throughout the day, we can perhaps start to find ways to tune into these rhythms, which will then contribute to a better night’s sleep.

When we take a moment to chill out, we’re also allowing the body to start the healing process, both physically and mentally. The benefit here is that when we do attempt to sleep, some of the things that may be bothering us have been resolved earlier in the day. We’ve made time to sift through the irritations, worries or whatever else may be on our minds. By making space in the day, we’re already preparing ourselves for a deeper sleep that night.

Practical tips for a deeper sleep

Here are some practical things you can try in order to improve your sleep. They won’t all work for everyone, so the best approach is trial and error.

  • Invest in blackout blinds if your room is too bright with street lights or early morning light.
  • An eye mask can be a good alternative to blackout blinds and especially useful when travelling.
  • Use ear plugs to block out street noise, snoring or other sounds. I recommend the silicone types which cover the outer ear space.
  • Invest in a comfortable mattress that supports your body shape and sleeping position to keep your spine in alignment and cushion your hips and shoulders. If you’re on the Isle of Man, why not go and test out some mattresses at Homeco!
  • Room temperature is worth playing with so that you don’t overheat at night. Ideally, you want to be not too hot and not too cold.
  • Some people swear by a relaxing bath with lavender and Epsom salts before bed. Try lighting a candle and finding a relaxing ritual that works for you to start winding down for bedtime.
  • Using dim lights in the bedroom helps to signal to the body that it’s time to prepare for sleep. Consider buying a Lumie alarm clock that has a gradual sleep/wake-up light to help keep your body clock aligned with the natural rhythms of the day.

How to handle common sleep issues

Sleep apnoea, a snoring partner, a crying baby and the hot flushes of menopause are some of the issues we often discuss in our Sleep is Magic course. We don’t offer a miracle cure for these common problems, but we do offer some practical suggestions of how to cope with them.

These types of issues can be incredibly distressing and stressful when we have a busy day ahead and our sleep is being disturbed. If there’s a spare bedroom available, creating your own comfortable sanctuary could be a great solution. Try to prepare for the night by taking positive action in advance, rather than having to move rooms in the middle of the night when your stress hormones have kicked in.

But what if you don’t have the luxury of a spare room? Then your answer is meditation and relaxation. Learning the skill of the most simple meditation was the turning point for me. When I learnt that a short meditation has been scientifically proven to be as beneficial as sleep, I was able to relax into my wakefulness and still get up feeling refreshed and ready for the day.

Meditation and relaxation

Before you say to yourself, “But I can’t meditate, I can’t switch my mind off,” I’d ask you to consider these simple statements:

  • Meditation is as natural as breathing.
  • We all know how to practise simple ways of relaxation.
  • We have an inbuilt and natural antidote to our stressful lives.

These are the principles of Instinctive Meditation™, the style of meditation that I practise and teach. Finding our own unique way to calm our bodies and minds, no matter what is going on around us, is the key to relaxing when our sleep is disturbed.

There are many recordings available online, you can listen to soothing music, choose a book on Audible (it’s more relaxing to use your ears than your eyes) or even remembering something you love can help calm your mind. You’re in control – you get to choose what works for you.

The idea is that you get to rest your body and mind whilst being in an aware but non-stressed state. Gradually, you’ll start to relax about these wakeful moments and maybe even learn to enjoy them as time to yourself. There’s really nothing to learn, we just need to be reminded that we all have this ability to find our own natural ways to relax and meditate.

Next steps

I hope this article has given you some useful insights and tips for achieving a deeper sleep every night. I know from personal experience how debilitating a lack of sleep can feel, but I also know it’s possible to turn this around.

If you’d like to journey further into the topic of sleep and learn essential skills to help you achieve deeper sleep, join me on our next Sleep is Magic course. Each week you’ll also get to experience a magical Yoga Nidra practice, which is a key part of the course to assist you in rediscovering the ability to rest whilst being aware. It really is magic!

Book a Sleep is Magic Course

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