Even though my mother claimed I could sleep through lawn mower noise outside my window as an infant, that blissful sleeper ceased to exist sometime in early childhood. Once I had my own room, every foundation-settling creak, wild thunderstorm or nightmare would launch me bolt upright in bed, prompting me to stay awake for the rest of the night, waiting for dawn with blankets pulled up to my nose. I slept with a bedside lamp (not a nightlight) until I was 11 years old. (Read more about this in my blog, “Lean Into Discomfort.”)
I became a very light sleeper, easily awakened by everything. I got pretty good as a teenager at faking sleep so that my younger brother would leave me alone (which only sometimes worked.)
As a young adult, light sleeping gave way to insomnia. Sleep disturbances increased when I was working multiple jobs, doing internships and taking classes in graduate school. After graduation the problem did not subside. In my first job post-graduate school serving as a chaplain to at-risk youth, I was staying asleep only one or two nights a week. I’d wake up about 3 AM, wander to my living room and put on a well-loved movie and doze off again for maybe another hour of sleep. I found myself nodding off at my desk on quiet afternoons in my isolated office in the back of the chapel.
Then, I started practicing yoga.
Initially when I started practicing, I felt better, but the sleep didn’t improve. However, when I did my first teacher training, my teachers gave me two things to do: a specific morning practice that I did for 40 days to raise my energy and a bedtime routine. Not too far into the 40 days, I not only could sleep through the night – I wanted to sleep. All. The. Time. I continued to do the bedtime routine until just a few years ago when I became attuned to do reiki (energy healing).
I’ve never really stepped back into my old pattern. Sure, I’ve had my share of bad nights when worry overwhelms or I know I have to wake up very early for a flight, but in general I sleep OK. In the early days of the pandemic, however, I did find myself more restless than usual. The strangeness and worry about the very unknown situation seeped into my muscles and nerves, making me jumpier than before. So, in recent months, I’ve had to turn to nighttime practices more than I have in 15 years.
I know I’m not alone. I’ve heard many complain about sleeplessness during this pandemic time. It’s not surprising, given that we are constantly trying to understand and avoid a silent, deadly virus. That fact alone — notwithstanding any personal worries and challenges — is enough to have us wait for dawn with the blankets up over our noses.
Here are a couple of practices that can be used for falling asleep or as preparation for sleep:
Put a yoga block or hard-cover book under your calf and simply roll it around on the hard surface gently to release the muscle. The release often will extend to the hips, back and even shoulders.
Supported Child’s Pose
Prop up folded blankets or pillows between your knees while sitting back on your heels. Lengthen the spine and then lay gently down on the supports beneath you. Adjust the height of the supports if needed. This can be done with the blankets and pillows in bed. No need to get up. Forward folds, especially if supported, will relax the nervous system. Try putting the center of your forehead on the supports if comfortable. Pressure on the third eye point also helps to quiet the mind and release tension.
I’m always eager to hear of your experiences of these postures. Don’t worry if they don’t work for you right away or at all. There are plenty of other postures and practices that might help! You can always schedule a consultation with me or attend one of my upcoming classes or events.
Get Better Sleep: All of my classes this month are geared toward reducing stress and getting better sleep. Sign up for one or all:
- Getting Restful Sleep: Yoga/Meditation of the Month, Sunday, June 20, 2021, 8 PM EDT
- Happy Hour Networking: Returning to the Office, Tuesday, June 29, 2021, 4 PM EDT
- Freedom from Stress: July 4th Restorative Yoga and Meditation, Sunday, July 4, 2021, 2 PM EDT