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January 23, 2016

Sleep as a Spiritual & Healing Practice.

woman sleep eyes closed blanket sad

“Life is too short to sleep on low thread-count sheets.” ~ Leah Stussy

According to the Dalai Lama, sleep is the best form of meditation.

Like Einstein, I’m a ten hour a night person. Although I’m in good company, there are an awful lot of personal and professional involvements that I must forgo to get the sleep that I need.

Sleep is what I value most in life, and I’ve made peace with amount that I need in order to function at my best.

I have very vivid dreams, most of which serve to process my current concerns. This morning as I began to wake up, I gave myself a few more minutes to try to recall my dreams. I was in a state of bliss as waves of comfort passed through me making me feel as light as a feather.

The basic elements of meditation are a high regard for returning the body to its natural rhythm, and the recognition of the need to let go. It seems that this is a perspective about sleep that we do not generally consider. By being so concerned with the value of being awake, modern society has lost this sacred connection to a time when we can embrace a peaceful and serene state of being.

Sleep is often treated only as a way to recharge for the waking world. And we do need a good night’s sleep in order for many of the body’s functions to regulate themselves. But, in addition to meeting our physiological needs, we could also meet some spiritual ones. We can begin to regard sleep as a part of our lives that has intrinsic value in and of itself. Instead of pushing it aside until we can no longer resist it, we can prepare for it and embrace it. By approaching sleep in this way we can do more than just recharge our battery.

We can re-set our bodies to its natural rhythm.

A new perspective is one that changes the emphasis of how sleep serves us to how we can honor the realm of sleep.

Sleep can be an exquisite, personal, spiritual experience. Rubin Naiman Ph.D., the author of Yoga of Sleep—Sacred and Scientific Practices to Heal Sleeplessness, said “Sleep onset is an important transformative experience that involves not only leaving the waking world, but also a surrendering to sleep. We don’t just leave the waking world; we go someplace else.”

Falling asleep can be an experience to look forward to each night. In this here that we experience the process of surrendering. In order to really derive enjoyment and true peace in this sublime state of being, we must be relaxed. Relaxation does not begin until after we’ve completed the last thing on our list. It is cultivated in intervals during the day.

Taking moments to slowly enjoy a meal taking a walk in between meetings can help our bodies to slow down.

The single best way to foster good relaxation is to exercise. While it’s true that many of us work so hard that we drop off to sleep the second we hit the pillow, this is not the way to get a good nights’ sleep.

A truly nourishing and restful sleep is one that is embraces various forms of relaxation long before we hit the pillow.

In order to prepare ourselves to sleep better, we need to become more night-minded. That means when the evening hours set in we shift from our “day selves” to our “night selves.” We change out of our day clothes into less constrictive clothing and honor the night by lowering the light in our homes.

One of the problems with too much light is that it reduces the melatonin that our bodies naturally produce when night arrives. If darkness or subdued lighting never arrives, neither does this natural sleep-inducing hormone. So in addition to reducing overhead and lamp lighting, we must also consider the television and the computer. When we turn off our televisions and computers at least an hour before bed, we also reduce the amount of information that we take in just before sleep.

We are in a time where we take in excessive amounts of information. Along with an overconsumption of light, this overconsumption of information fills our bodies with immense amounts of energy to process. When we add the day’s events into this equation, it is no wonder that insomnia is rampant. I really wish that I could say that all it takes is a good mattress, but just like with everything else, there is no quick fix—lifestyle changes are a must to reap the rewards of a deep sleep.

Even if you do not suffer from insomnia, this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting good quality sleep. 

Unless you are reducing light and information and making relaxation a priority, your sleep will be compromised. Some signs of compromised sleep include an excessive amount of energy that makes one easily prone to agitation. This happens when sleep is not effective in discharging the huge amount of energy from the previous day(s).

When our bodies are not in a truly restful sleep there is no effective way for it to balance the numerous metabolic and other physiological processes which reduce the toxins that we take in on a daily basis. These toxins arrive in many forms, including polluted indoor and outdoor air, processed foods, and negative influences from stressful people, media, and highly dramatic television shows and movies.

To figure out how we relate to sleep, we can examine our sleeping environment. It’s best to sleep in clutter-free area that’s free electronic devices in order to physically cut off incoming light and information, as well as decrease the electrical current running through the body.

The mattress should be suitable for your comfort level. Comfortable bedding that “breathes” is important since bodies change temperatures during the different sleep cycles. This article in the New York Times suggests that cooler temperatures (60-68 degrees Fahrenheit), create an optimal sleeping environment. Purchase pillows with the right firmness for you and replace them when worn.

These steps will help to prevent you from tossing and turning.

Playing soft music and enjoying a soothing warm shower before going to sleep are conducive to returning the body to a slower rhythm that invites sleep. A night clock should have soft-lighting as opposed to the bright digital light. Rooms should be made as dark as possible. Since waking should be as soothing as falling asleep, offensive noises like the sound of a buzzer or loud music can spoil the journey into wakefulness.

Ease into the waking state with a more gentle sound like Tibetan bells that “ring” from a Zen alarm clock.

Lastly, if your partner prefers late night television or can’t let go of their phone or PC, it’s okay to explore the option of sleeping in separate rooms (even sometimes).

Pleasant dreams.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author: Elaine Miles

Editor: Renée Picard

Image: KariHak at Flickr

 

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