Good quality sleep is more important than ever. Here's how a yoga teacher prioritises it

Tossing and turning at night? Trainee yoga teacher Margaret Young has a few tips 


As a trainee yoga teacher, I have been holding 1 to 1 practice classes with friends for a while now. While my focus has been on providing a positive experience and a workout, the biggest piece of feedback I have been getting is that my clients are having a great night’s sleep afterward.

While this is a known benefit of yoga, it got me thinking about my own sleep and my issues with insomnia. I can drop off anywhere including planes and trains, even the dentist, but staying asleep has always been my issue. This is known as sleep maintenance insomnia.

Now, more than ever, we all desperately need good quality sleep. Why we need sleep and the problems that can arise from not getting enough are well documented, so we don’t need to rehash it here.

In fact, I feel like the more we dwell on that, the more pressure we put ourselves under. Like when you wake at 2am and start doing math and working out how many hours we can get if we just fall asleep this minute! We have all been there.

It might be more beneficial to us during these extremely distressing and challenging times to put the focus on tapping into our parasympathetic nervous systems instead, our “rest and digest”, because that is what is going to help us sleep and boost our immune systems. For me, even though falling asleep was never my issue, activating that nervous system and drifting off in that relaxed state, is what helps me stay asleep and have better quality sleep.

Rituals

Let’s start with hydration and nutrition. I certainly can’t fall asleep if my stomach is rumbling but nor can I sleep comfortably while really full. A really good evening snack idea I got from one of Rosanna Davison's cookbooks is a banana, nut butter and cinnamon combo — “bedtime banana bites”.

Apparently nut butter is a good source of tryptophan and bananas contain vitamin B6, both needed for the production of that all-important sleep hormone melatonin. Did you need an excuse to eat nut butter?

I also like to drink nighttime herbal teas early in the evening, for you, it might be possible to drink them in bed with a book. Lots of people like to leave water by their bedside too, to stay hydrated. Whatever works for you.

Even if you have been working very hard all day at a desk, your body might not be as exhausted as your mind. The muscles have to have worked. Bearing in mind social isolation, I would recommend movement in your day, every day.

Have you noticed after a very lazy couch day that you lie awake for hours? If I want to be sure of a deep sleep I will definitely up my movement, run longer or lift heavier weights, to deliberately knock myself out (figuratively speaking!)

If you know your mind is going to be racing or very worried, make twice the effort to tire your physical body. At the very least to get some movement in and help you wind down, try some nighttime yoga routines on YouTube that you can do on your bed in your PJs.

Stretching

These often end with “legs up the wall” pose which is very relaxing. When we can, whatever is going on in the world, if it’s possible for us to do small things for ourselves, we should take that opportunity to make ourselves feel happy and relaxed even briefly, even just to produce the hormone serotonin which again is connected to melatonin production.

Finally, the fun part. There are few things more lovely than drifting off to a blissful sleep and waking up feeling refreshed and ready to take on anything. Keeping the focus on that, instead of REM stats and number of hours, experiment with a few rituals, and see what works for you and what you enjoy.

I keep all my sleep kit beside my bed. I use a journal (very woo I know but 3 minutes of writing to clear the head helps), hand cream, foot cream, lip balm, eye mask, and pillow spray. You will hear lots of advice about not having your phone in your bedroom, but how realistic is that anymore when we have family and friends internationally and in the middle of a global pandemic?

Turning off

What we want to do though is turn off any non-essential notifications and apps that will distract you if you happen to look at your phone if you wake up during the night.

Lastly, I return to some yoga principles here. Pranayama (breathing exercises) and meditation. Again, an abundance of resources are online so we might need our phones or other devices after all.

Often guided meditations work for me but mostly I like to use nature sounds apps, my favorite being the sound of rain falling. I set a timer for 20 minutes and just breathe deeply and I’m gone.

Sweet dreams.

Margaret Young is a trainee yoga teacher and business owner from Dublin. You can follow her on Instagram here 

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