Insomnia affects a large number of people in our population. People resort to sleeping pills to overcome insomnia and be able to sleep better. Sale of sleeping pills has soared significantly and the fact is that our country is suffering from an epidemic of insomnia. People in all kinds of profession suffer from sleep deprivation and it impairs our physical, cognitive, and intellectual functioning. In addition, the total of monetary cost of insomnia and other sleep disorders, including medical, property damage, industrial accidents, employee absenteeism, and lost productivity, approach $45 billion per year. Besides, sleeplessness adversely affects our health, relationships and productivity.
The positive side of the sleep is that it has the restorative quality. It gives us energy, elevates our mood, reduces anxiety, and enhances our ability to learn and remember. We relate to our family members and co workers better when we are fully rested. We demonstrate more patience and compassion to our fellow beings, show more creativity and feel happier when we have got a good night rest. Sleep deprivation depresses the immune system. Sleep is definitely the most effective stress reduction technique. The fight and flight response is triggered due to the demands of daily life and it arouses our mind and body. However, deep sleep rebalances the system by triggering the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system. Sleep tends to reduce the effects of stress and heals the body and mind on a daily basis.
Medical sciences currently recognize 8.4 hours of sleep per night as the average requirement for general health. Some people need more than 8 hours of sleep.
Here are some solutions to overcome insomnia. These techniques have been taken from the book, The Insomnia Solution by Michael Krugman, MA GCFP.
1. Breath Surfing:
Place your hands on upper chest and follow the rising and falling movements of the breath with your finger tips. Simply monitor the movements of your own breath would provide a calming effect. Later, add gentle, voluntary movements of your thumbs, synchronizing the movements with the rising and falling of your chest. These gentle, synchronized movements will slow down your breathing. Gradually your pulse would slow down as well. Your whole body will become still and quiet and this will help your mind to slow down as well. Little by little your thoughts would become synchronized with the slow, steady rhythm of your breath. Since insomnia is the result of hyper arousal of the brain, breath surfing offers an antidote to this hyper stimulation.
Use of healing chants is also instrumental in inducing sleep. Chanting is a powerful healing practice that involves voice, breath, physical movement, and mind. Chanting has the potential to induce rapid change in blood pressure, immune function, posture, and mood. People use chanting while doing yoga and it is very beneficial in balancing, healing, and strengthening the human body. Simply select any mantra, like, “Peace”,” Om”, or whatever suits you and chant slowly in mind to drive the extraneous thoughts away from your mind. This practice can help you get a restful sleep at night as it remedies the very core cause of insomnia, e.g. racing thoughts.
3. Meditation During the Daytime:
We all know the therapeutic benefits of doing meditation. It helps you concentrate better and also reduces anxiety significantly. Daily practice of meditation during the day time for five to twenty minutes will trigger the parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for promoting relaxation. Sit with your eyes closed in a relaxing posture, and focus on your breathing. Notice how the air you inhale and exhale produces the calming effect in your mind. Sometimes, playing soft music in the back ground like flute could also produce desired effect. You will feel more tranquil and serene when you do the meditation. Meditation prepares you so that you can sleep better at night. The more you practice, the calmer, steadier, and more stable your mind will become. Meditation tends to break the vicious cycle of overstimulation and hyper arousal, which causes insomnia.
In yoga, they teach something called “corpse meditation”( Shava Asana), which is also helpful in relaxing your mind and body. All you need to do is to lie flat on your back, relax each muscle group one at a time, close your eyes, and put your hands facing the ceiling. Five minute of staying in this posture has the beneficial effect of relaxing your mind and body.
4. Use of Mini Moves as proposed by Michael Krugman, MA, GCEP:
Mini Moves are designed to relax your body, calm your mind, and induce sleep. With movement meditation, you do not direct your attention to a sound, concept or the breath, but to gentle physical movements. Physical movements are much easier to focus on than sounds, concept or breath alone. The mini moves presented here will enhance the quality of your sleep and also decrease your symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Mini Move # 1:
Get ready and lie down on your back on the floor or in bed, observe yourself by quietly resting and notice how you breathe. Now place your hands side by side, palms down, on your lower abdomen. Gently spread your thumbs apart from the rest of your hands. Arrange your hands so that the tips of your thumbs touch each other just above the navel and the tips of your index fingers also touch each other below your navel. The space between your hands forms a heart shape opening. Continue breathing naturally and watch what happens. As you inhale, your belly rises and expands. You will feel your hand rise too. When you exhale, your belly falls, and your hands fall with it. Do not move your hands. Your breath will do the movement. Continue breathing for a few minutes. When you inhale, your fingers move apart, when you exhale, your fingers move together again.
Now allow your hands and arms to lie comfortably at your sides and explore the middle breathing space. Place your right hand on the lower most rib on the right, palm down, so that the rib is cradled in the crease of the palm of your hand. Place your left hand in the same position on the left side. With your hands cradling your lower ribs, simply breathe easily and notice what happens. Your ribs will also be rising and falling like your abdomen because breathing happens in the whole torso in order to direct the air in and out of the body. Rest and observe your breath. You will notice a change in your breathing.
Now explore the breathing in the upper breathing space. Bring your hand to the upper part of your chest, below your collarbones and above your breasts. Arrange your hands so that the tips of your middle fingers lightly touch each other in the middle of your chest. Make sure you are comfortable in this position. Again notice your fingers rise as your chest rises when you inhale. The tips of your fingers move back together as your chest falls when you exhale. Continue resting, enjoying that slow, soft quality of breath. Do not feel rushed or hurried and you will find peace in this movement.
A slight variation of this movement could be in the position in which you lie on your right side on a bed or on a mat or carpet. Bend your knees and hips, your left leg lies on top of your right. Place your arms in any position that is comfortable for you. You may want to place a pillow between your knees for greater comfort. Rest and breathe quietly for a time and let your breathing be natural and easy. Do effortless breathing, observe the movements of your breath and look for sensation of movement. Your ribs expand as you breathe. Turn your attention to the ribs on your left side and notice how those ribs move as you breathe. As you inhale slowly, your ribs will expand.
Mini Move # 2 Touch Your Heart:
Sit, stand, or lie down in any comfortable position. Place the center of the palm of one of your hands over the center of your heart. Close your eyes and breathe normally. When you inhale, your chest rises and expands and your hand rises with your chest. As you exhale, your chest sinks and your hand sinks with it. Allow your hand to ride up and down with the gentle rising and falling of your chest. Continue touching your heart for several breath cycle. Rest and feel your breath. Try the same thing with the other hand. Breathe easy and allow your hands to ride up and down with the gentle rising and falling of your breath. You can do this with a smile to reduce your anxiety.
There are many more mini moves described by the above author and I would recommend the readers to read the book, The Insomnia Solution for further details.
5. Maintain a Sleep Schedule:
Research shows that consistency in sleep schedule is also helpful in reducing insomnia. This helps in promoting healthy, regular sleep- wake rhythm. When you go to bed too late, the body produces more adrenalin and it interferes with your ability to sleep at night.
Bright sunlight in the morning helps regulate the sleep- wake rhythm too. People who live in areas where bright sunshine is not regularly available, you might want to get a light box which provides a sun supplement for a half an hour or more each day. Bright sunlight suppresses daytime melatonin secretion and thus keeping you alert and vigorous. Depressed people want to live in dark and they do not open their curtains and blinds during the day time. However, lack of day light interferes with their ability to be in good mood and it depresses their mood even more. Therefore it is advisable for them to get out in bright sunlight and engage in pleasurable activities to elevate their mood.
7. Keep Your Bedroom Dark:
Research shows that we are extremely sensitive to light therefore light can interfere with the quality of sleep you get in early morning. Make sure that your bedroom is dark. Blinds and curtains that have room darkener can help block the sunlight to enter your room and thus promote better sleep. Illuminated clocks, computers, or appliances with glowing and blinking LEDs can also impact on your sleep as they tend to distract you. If you must use night lights, make sure they are not visible from your bed. Wearing an eye mask can also prevent you from mid AM awakenings.
8. Regular Exercise:
Daily exercise also promotes aerobic effects, lifts your mood, and promotes restful sleep. Avoid late night exercise as it can delay the onset of sleep. People who are depressed and anxious need to engage in regular exercise schedule to get restful sleep.Regular exercise also functions as an antidote to “fight or flight” response and oxygenates our brain, which further helps in promoting better sleep at night.
9. Avoid Caffeine Intake:
The effects of caffeine can last for up to eighteen hours. Caffeine suppresses the natural hormone melatonin. Caffeine also stimulates secretion of stress hormones like Cortisol and ACTH, which adversely affect the sleep pattern. It will be beneficial to improve your nutrition and avoid chocolates, soda drinks and colas. A healthy diet, full of nourishment, will help improve your sleep too.
10. Avoid Being Over worked:
People who are putting in too many hours at work and not getting enough sleep suffer from insomnia too. By cutting down hours, you will sleep better, look better, and be more creative and productive.
11. Early to Bed, Early to Rise:
When you go to bed late, and try to sleep in late, the rest you are getting in the morning is not the quality sleep. It is because the circadian clock, which synchronizes your body with the rhythms of night and day, boosts your blood pressure and the hormone Cortisol starting around 7 in the morning. Therefore your sleep is not deep and appears more fragmented. When you go to bed early and get restful sleep, you will not be sleeping in and this will help you function better because you will feel fully rested.
12. Avoid Computer Work before Bedtime:
It is not advisable to do computer work two hours prior to your bedtime. The internet, video games, e mail can stimulate your brain and the hyper arousal can interfere with your sleep pattern. In this day and time, it is hard to be away from computers but if you suffer from insomnia, it is advisable to tune in to some soft music and unwind yourself before bedtime so that you are not hyper aroused before bedtime.
In summary, we need to learn to manage our stress to get restful sleep. When you go to bed with thoughts of worries, anxiety, and uncertainty, you are more likely to stay awake. It is good to be a problem solver and try to tackle all your problems during the day time and keep the bedtime free from these worry thoughts. Associate sleep with positive thoughts and leave your problems at the door step of your bedrooms before you go to bed. Visualize that all your problems have become like clouds and they are up in the sky. You will deal with them when you are up the next day. Scheduling a worry time is also a behavioral technique to help you with sleep. Schedule a time when you will think about your problems every day for half an hour. If worry thoughts come any other time, let them wait till your next scheduled worry time. This way, you will learn to be worry free for the rest of the day. By worrying, you do not really solve anything. Becoming a rational problem solver is the key to getting good night sleep. Making a list of things to do and working on them during the day time, will also eliminate the risk of getting those thoughts at night and thus interfere with your sleep.