“To sleep better every night, it’s important to have a regular sleep schedule, a relaxing bedtime routine, and exposure to sunlight,” says Donna Arand, PhD, clinical director of the Kettering Sleep Disorders Center in Dayton, Ohio. “Regular sleep times reinforce the body’s sleep and wake rhythm, making it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep.”

Better Sleep Starts Hours Before You Turn In

What you do during the day can set the stage for better sleep:

IN ADDITION to Yoga Nidra meditation in the afternoon or early evening:

  1. Enjoy some sunshine. Spending a little time in the sun helps your body differentiate between day and night. “Getting out in the sun for at least 20 minutes every day sets the body’s circadian rhythm through its effect on hormone and endocrine systems,” Arand explains.
  2. Exercise…at the right time. It’s important to exercise regularly to expend energy and help your body get tired, but don’t exercise too close to bedtime. Finish your workout at least three hours before you’re scheduled to turn in.
  3. Cut off all stimulants early. “People should avoid alcohol and caffeine in the evening,” says Arand. “Caffeine-containing products will make it difficult to fall asleep, while alcohol will cause awakenings during the night and shorten sleep time.” This includes chocolate.

Create a Good Bedtime Routine:

You can train your body to get a good night’s sleep. Try these steps:

  1. Allow time to wind down and relax about an hour before your scheduled bedtime. Turn off ALL electronics. Enjoy a warm bath or shower, or spend some time reading. Maybe sip a glass of warm milk or sleepy time tea*.
  2. Avoid working or doing anything physically-demanding during the hour before bed.
  3. If you’re stressed or anxious before bedtime: Write down negative thoughts in a bedside journal to get them off your chest. Keep a list of positive alternatives. When a negative thought appears, repeat an alternative.
  4. Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, and a comfortable temperature. Keep the room electronically quiet without any electromagnetic devices around you like a computer, cell-phone…
  5. Position your clock so that you can’t see it. Staring at the numbers creeping closer and closer to morning can cause stress when you’re having trouble falling asleep or getting back to sleep.
  6. Eat a little something before bed. A piece of cheese or turkey or some pumpkin seeds contain tryptophan that triggers the sleep hormones serotonin and melatonin.
  7. Researchers say it’s important to go to bed AND GET UP at a regular time. Even if you end up going to bed late or can’t sleep, it’s important to get up at your usual time in the morning.

Yoga Helpers:

Legs-up-the-wall (Viparita Karani) for 5 minutes before bed. Sleep better and boost your immune system too!

— A slow, quiet yoga practice can be done before bed — mostly calming floor poses.

— Make an intention that you will have a sound and restful night’s sleep.

Breathing Techniques – Pranayama options:

— Begin with slow diaphragmatic (belly) breaths. Soften your upper palate at the roof of your mouth, your cheeks, forehead, jaw and brow line…

Elongate your exhale so it is twice as long as your inhale to create calm and relaxation (1:2 breathing).

Mental Alternate Nostril Breathing – counting down from 27 or 54

— Brahmari or Bumble Bee breath – low pitch mmmmmm – 2-5x

— Circular Moon Breath (Chandra Bhedana) — inhale left nostril to a count of 5, exhale right nostril for a count of 5, inhale left for 5, exhale right for 5… (15X)

— In addition to 1:2 breathing above, you can begin counting breaths as follows:

8 breaths lying on your back

16 breaths lying on your right side

32 breaths lying on your left side.

Meditations/Imagery options:

— Mentally repeat a passage or mantra that is memorized.

— Mentally move backwards in time in 30-minute increments – no judgment, just observation like looking at a postcard or snapshot, then go back another 30 minutes…

Yoga Nidra can also be used to induce sleep: After getting into bed, adopt the savasana position (on your back with arms at side, legs long), and rest your head on the pillow (should not be too high). Allow your hands to relax into the most comfortable position. Start by listening to external sounds and then become aware of the meeting points between your body and the bed – back of head, shoulder blades, back, hips, sacrum, legs, heels, arms, hands. Follow this with two or three rotations of consciousness around the body (similar to in class – around points of the face, down one side of the body, back body, etc.), and this will normally put you to sleep. If necessary, you can continue with mental alternate nostril breathing, starting at 54 and counting backwards to 1 – (inhale left 54, exhale right 54, inhale right 53, exhale left 53, inhale left 52, exhale right 52…)

Resting at the Heart: Lying on your back in bed, close your eyes, bring your attention to the heart, and think “one.” Bring your attention to your left shoulder and think “two”; left thigh, “three”; the navel center, “four”; the right thigh, “five”; the right shoulder, “six”; back to the heart, “one”; and so on, moving with relaxed attention at a comfortable pace. Let the mind busy itself moving in this pattern and it will tire and come to rest at the heart center, its sleeping abode. As you begin to drift off, break the counting pattern to avoid straining the mind. If you have a personal mantra, you can settle into mental repetitions, which will bring you to rest at the center of your being. Or you can also simply roll over and sink into sleep.

If you wake up and can’t get back to sleep: Get out of bed, find a warm cozy place to read something light, and maybe drink a warm glass of milk or sleepy time tea. When you feel sleepy again, go back to bed.

Ideas from Ayurvedic Traditions:

Rub Your Feet

Spend 10 minutes before bedtime massaging pressure points on the inside and outside of your heels. They can “take your consciousness into your body to relax,” says yoga therapist Jnani Chapman.

Think about going to bed earlier:

Every hour of sleep before midnight is worth two hours of sleep after midnight. In addition, our body clocks are typically programmed to awake at 5 am.

Sleep Formulas (first consult with your physician or healthcare person):

— Essential oils of lavender, chamomile, ylang-ylang, and vanilla help the brain regulate the stress hormone cortisol. In a spray bottle, mix a few drops of essential oil with filtered water. Spray on your pillowcase.

— To hot milk, add 1/8 tsp. fresh ground nutmeg & a dot of honey. (Maybe add a few anthers of saffron, pinch of cinnamon & cardamon.) According to The Yoga of Herbs by Vasant Lad and David Frawley, nutmeg is “one of the best medicines for calming the mind.” Also, it reduces high Vata in the colon and nervous system promoting sound sleep.  Maybe add a teabag or two of chamomile or Yogi Tea “Soothing Caramel Bedtime” tea?

– CALM magnesium supplement and Holy Basil supplement

— For the “mental squirrel”: Kava Kava tincture (Terra Firma Botanicals is OG & local) is helpful.

— Valerian root, especially for restless muscles.

— Lemon Balm tincture, a great herbal remedy for not being able to sleep. Just take several drops before bedtime.

— If you have been told that you are a heavy snorer, you might consult your physician regarding sleep apnea.

I hope some of these ideas help. Sweet dreams!