I've recently had a bunch of conversations about exhaustion, lack of sleep and insomnia and it has completely blown my mind to discover just how many people I know, both friends and students who are bright, productive, fabulous people and yet they are are suffering from varying levels of chronic sleep deprivation and exhaustion.
Where are you at with this?
Are you sleeping as much as you need?
From what I'm seeing, it appears we are in an epidemic of over-working, over-stimulation and over-activity of the mind. We've stopped paying attention to what our bodies need, we've pushed so hard for so long, we've forgotten how to switch off. Sleep requires letting go, and if we are tightly wound, constantly thinking, worrying, holding on we are taking ourselves in the opposite direction of sleep, rest and relaxation.
If you have ever suffered from insomnia, you'll know how completely maddening it is.
You lay down in bed utterly exhausted and yet unable to fall asleep. Or perhaps you wake up in the wee hours and can’t seem to get back to dreamland. Despite your desire for sleep you find your mind racing around, worrying about future, or rehashing thoughts the day, what you should have or shouldn’t have done. The hours slip by and you start to panic about tomorrow. How will you function on only a few hours sleep, if you even manage to sleep?
It's bonafide torture.
In late 2012, I went through a crippling 4 months of insomnia, I had a young baby at the time, so even when I did manage to drift off, I would soon be woken again. I don’t think I got a full sleep cycle for 4 months, meaning I never got the deep restorative sleep that is essential for the body to rest, repair and rejuvenate.
After a couple of months without deep sleep, my mental health had deteriorated fast and I was having persistent thoughts of self-harm (for the first and only in my life). I did lots of reading about natural ‘cures’ for insomnia because there was no way I was going to take pharmaceuticals while I was still breastfeeding. I tried reducing screens before bed, reducing caffeine and going for a run in the afternoon to create physical exhaustion… all to no avail. I tried calming/sleep inducing herbal teas, deep breathing and magnesium supplements, which may have helped slightly, but not consistently.
The ONLY thing that truly worked was YOGA NIDRA.
I’ve been a Yoga Nidra evangelist among my friendship groups for a couple of years now and have turned a bunch of dear friends on to it and they too have found it worked.
Here's what a few of my friends have said about the practice...
"The specific (yoga nidra) recordings I used gave me three tailored options for the three different types of insomnia I was experiencing and immediately worked to give me a good sound sleep. let me fall asleep easily and/or just simply relax. Can't rate it highly enough. A real revelation." Mel F
"When I first started a regular practice of yoga nidra I didn’t do it specifically to manage my sleep, although that was also an issue for me at the time and it successfully addressed this as well. The regular practice of YN allowed me to more comfortably access parts of myself that COULD relax. Initially I wasn’t aware of this aspect of myself and when I discovered it I found it took a lot of effort and focus to cultivate my ability to relax. My YN practice was a space where I explored relaxing consciously and in a wakeful state. One of the effects of becoming more in tune with that relaxed state was that sleep more naturally unfolded of an evening. It became more like falling or drifting to sleep, moving towards it easily rather than relying on other things or passing out from exhaustion." Sarah de Graaff from the Mind and Movement Centre
So what is Yoga Nidra?
Yoga Nidra is yogic sleep. It is both a practice and a state of being. Nidra means ‘deep sleep’ and it occurs while the person is still technically awake/ conscious. During a process of guided relaxation and visualizations the brain waves are slowed down to replicate a state of deep sleep.
This practice produces a profound state of calm, quiet relaxation in the body/mind. It can be used for supporting mental health, in particular post traumatic stress disorder and anxiety and is particularly effective because it pacifies the nervous system from being in an over active state of ‘fight or flight’.
You can listen to Yoga Nidra recordings during the day with the goal of topping up the ‘sleep bank’ (as I like to call it). They say a 20minute Yoga Nidra is equivalent to 3hours of sleep because you can by pass the light dream sleep and dive in deep to access the benefits of nourishing sleep. I found this enormously effective to restore energy when I was completely running on empty—insomnia or not, new motherhood is exhausting!
Then there are some Yoga Nidra practices out there specifically for insomnia, which have the goal of actually sending you to sleep. This is not a classical yoga nidra practice, however with the rise in stress, mental health issues and use of sleeping pills, if there is a way to help the population naturally combat insomnia, then I’m all about it!
I’ll be recording some of my own Yoga Nidra practices in the new year, but for now I wanted to direct you to two of the best Yoga Nidra experts I refer to: Dr Siddharth Ashvin Sha and Richard Miller PhD
In addition to yoga nidra for sleep, you can check out my Yoga for Sleep Sequence (VIDEO) designed to be done right before bed to calm the nervous system and relax the body, creating ideal conditions for drifting into dreamland.