September 19, 2013

Gratitude: The Revolutionary New Sleeping Pill.

Ever have trouble falling asleep?

Let’s get real…who doesn’t?

According to the New York Times Health Guide, as many as 25% of Americans ‘report regular sleeping problems’ and another 10% have ‘chronic sleeping problems.’

I feel blessed to have fairly regular sleep (thank you yoga lifestyle!) but there are definitely nights where I lay awake, my thoughts whirling and that beautiful dreamland of sleep seemingly so dang fleeting and unattainable.

And of course, as with most things, the more I worry about getting an adequate amount of z’s or the  dreaded exhaustion that will surely ensue the following day, the more elusive a restful slumber turns out to be.

And then a few months ago, it hit me like a ton of feathers: I remembered what I would employ as a little girl to put myself to sleep over and over again—gratitude.

In my innocent and heartfelt way, I would lay awake and start to name off the things that I felt thankful for. I’m not sure where this idea came into my head but it was always there and it just felt right.

As a 10 year old, it was plain and simple (i.e. thank you for my mom and dad; thank you for my dog Nikki; thank you for my friends; thank you for the s’more I got to eat today), but who says it can’t be now?

This technique often takes longer as an adult than the 60 seconds that it took as little girl, but there are still some nights that within several minutes and bam!..I’m out like a light.

So cheesy it may be, but this is why I consider gratitude to be the revolutionary new sleeping pills.

It’s since become a major topic of interest for me. Partially because Nyquil never really did the trick for me and partially because when I lack sleep, I feel like a walking dead zombie resembling a raging bull with a medusa head about to bite your head off in traffic. Nobody wants that; trust me, myself included.

On the other hand, when I get a fantastic night’s sleep, the world seems my oyster, somewhere between Fantasia and Candyland.

Yes, please.

So in my newfound zeal for finding comfortable and regular sleep, I’ve compiled a list of techniques that have helped me and numerous others to settle into dreamland oh so nicely.

1. Gratitude.

As I mentioned above. It doesn’t have to be anything complex. On the days when it’s really rough and it’s hard to find much to be grateful for, sometimes I just say ‘I’m thankful for my ability to lay here, breathing in and breathing out.’ Usually after that, plenty more blessings come to mind. It’s ok to repeat.

2. Deep Belly Breathing.

Easy peasy lemon schneezy. Place a hand on the belly. Breathe into your hand. Feel it rise with your inhale and fall with your exhale. Enjoy.

3. Count Breath Downwards.

Inhale Nine…Exhale Nine. Inhale eight…Exhale eight. All the way down to zero. If you lose track, start over again. If you get to one, begin again at nine.

4. Body awareness.

This is a technique I often apply in the Yoga Nidra classes I teach. Yoga Nidra is the yoga of sleep, putting you into a state of deep relaxation somewhere between asleep and awake. The idea is to move through certain parts of your body and allow them to relax completely. ‘Breathing in, I relax my toes (fingers, forehead, legs, stomach, ankles, etc.), breathing out my toes are completely relaxed.’ One of my favorite Yoga Nidra exercises for full body awareness and relaxation can be found here.

5. Don’t think about falling asleep, just try to relax.

A brilliant sleep doctor once told me that half the battle with sleep deprivation is the anxiety that stems from a bad sleep cycle. She suggests lying down and simply focusing on relaxing, in whatever ways work for you. When the pressure is off from trying to fall asleep and the focus is solely on unwinding, most people find slumber after all simply because they are no longer in their heads about it. How refreshing is that? To simply take the pressure off and just relax!

There are a million other ways to get good sleep including a balanced diet, yoga, and regular exercise. But no matter the lifestyle, the above techniques are here to help. And when trying them out, remember that there’s nowhere to go or nowhere to be, just the opportunity to keep coming back to it.

Human existence is challenging enough, why not be easy on ourselves and just see where it can take us?

Have a favorite sleep method yourself? I’d love to hear it in the comments below!

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Ed: Bryonie Wise


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Leanne Witt Jan 19, 2015 4:32pm

I have tried yoga nindra and its really awesome. One feels very fresh and energetic after it. Though now a days I am trying something new like Nodpod. It is an eye cover attached to a pillowcase. You could say it is a sleep mask, but reinvented!

It helps me take a sound sleep and keep fresh.

Erica Sep 22, 2013 1:56pm

I've always done something similar, meditating on a simple prayer word by word and starting over if I my mind wanders. Calming my breath… relaxing. It takes some of the *stress* out of not sleeping if you consider that you are giving your body rest and downtime. That has value too! Thanks for your nice articles! Gratitude is a lifestyle!

Alison Sep 20, 2013 6:52am

I love the idea of practicing gratitude when I can’t sleep. Sometimes I do it, but I’d like to try making it my default. Thanks for the idea. Chronic sleep problems run in my family, and I’ve tried dozens of things over the years (including all the lifestyle & nutrition choices). I suffered terribly during pregnancy and after my baby’s birth, lying awake for hours during the night between feedings. Perfect hell. I’ve discovered a few tricks. Magnesium glycinate helped immediately with the hours-long night wakings (other magnesium forms didn’t). Wearing amber sunglasses before bed for a couple of hours helps me feel sleepier. Most of all, NAET (Nambudripad’s Allergy Elimination Technique) has improved my sleep *dramatically* in the past 4 months. It’s been truly life-changing. Now I fall asleep faster and quickly go back to sleep after all my baby’s night wakings. It’s amazing!

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Jessica Cartwright

Jessica Cartwright is on a mission to make the world a better place, one happy mom at a time. She provides mothers with the tools they need to support themselves, so that they can support their loved ones. She teaches pre and postnatal yoga locally in her hometown of Bozeman and through her virtual course, Mamas with Spirit. Her obsessions include making sourdough bread, sunshine, and her daughter Bella. Stop by and say hi on Instagram or her website.