Last week I jammed on the power of mornings, and today I want to talk about what needs to happen in order to have a magical morning – a good night of sleep. And of course, bedtime yoga.
I honestly can’t believe I haven’t written about sleep before. I’m a huge sleeper and a big proponent of getting enough quality sleep. I do not negotiate or mess with my sleep, and I don’t allow anyone else to either.
This is my big non-negotiable. More than moving my body. More than eating well. I will sacrifice in all other areas before I sacrifice sleep. You might be thinking I’m completely nuts, and that’s cool, but I stand by it and I always will, because sleep is critical to health and wellbeing throughout life.
You don’t have to take it from me, take it from the Harvard Women’s Health Watch. They suggest six reasons to get enough sleep:
- Learning and memory: Sleep helps the brain commit new information to memory.
- Metabolism and weight: Chronic sleep deprivation may cause weight gain by affecting the way our bodies process and store carbs, and by altering levels of hormones that affect our appetite.
- Safety: Sleep debt contributes to a greater tendency to fall asleep during the daytime, which may cause falls and sometimes fatal mistakes and accidents.
- Mood: Sleep loss may result in irritability, impatience, inability to concentrate, and moodiness. It’s like hanger, but because of tiredness…I don’t know what you’d call that. Too little sleep can also leave you too tired to do the things you like to do (like too tired to get on your mat – ever felt that before? I know I have!).
- Cardiovascular health: Serious sleep disorders have been linked to hypertension, increased stress hormone levels, and irregular heartbeat.
- Disease: Sleep deprivation alters immune function, including the activity of the body’s killer cells. Keeping up with sleep may also help fight cancer. Cancer, guys! Cancer!
Ok, so hopefully I’ve convinced you of the power and importance of sleep, but you might be wondering how much sleep you should be getting. As a general rule, you want to aim for 7-8 hours. Some people need less; some people need more. It’s a personal thing. You shouldn’t feel tired when you wake up – if you feel tired, it’s because you haven’t slept enough. Play around with the number of hours you get and find what works for you.
Now for my top tips and tools for quality sleep!
Bedtime vs. Sleep Time
My first tip is to have a separate bedtime and sleep time because they’re two different things. Sleep time is when you need to turn the lights out and get to sleeping. Depending on how much sleep your body needs, you want this to be about 7-8 hours before you need to wake up. Bedtime is the 30-45 minutes before sleep time, when you’re gradually easing the body and mind into sleep mode. I call this pre-sleep zen time and there’s more to come on this below 😉
For example, one of my jobs is teaching English online to kids in China, and my first student is usually at 5am, which means I need to be up at 4:30am. Because I’m an 8-hours-a-night kinda’ gal, my sleep time is 8:30pm, and my bedtime is no later than 8pm. Non-negotiable.
For the 30 minutes before bedtime, slow everything down. Imagine you’re living in slow motion for those 30 minutes; move slowly, speak slowly, brush your teeth slowly. Whatever your bedtime routine (more on that in a minute), s l o w – i t – d o w n n n n.
If you don’t already have a bedtime routine, I suggest starting one. Having a bedtime routine in place tells your body and mind that sleep time is coming, and to start switching to that mode. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy.
My routine is to take a shower, brush my teeth, put on pajamas, turn down the bed, turn on my diffuser, and get into bed with a book. Then I’ll read for at least 30 minutes, while practicing some restorative yoga poses (this is that pre-sleep zen time; it’s coming up below, I promise).
Set the Scene
This can be part of your bedtime routine: making your bedroom inviting to sleep. You want to lure sleep in so it joins you on the pillow with no effort. You don’t want to be chasing after it, wondering when it might grace you with its presence. How can you set a scene that’s alluring to sleep?
Aromatherapy can work wonders for calming the mind and preparing for sleep. I use a diffuser with calming essential oils, like patchouli and lavender. Find a scent that’s calming to you and surround yourself with it as you prepare for sleep.
I highly recommend a bedside lamp with a dimmer setting for your 30 minutes of zen before sleep (see next tip). I also recommend eliminating all lights for sleep – so no electronics with lights on them. In fact, no electronics at all (more on this below).
Keep it Clean:
This might not be that important for you, but it is one of my biggest sleep/bed rules: Sleep on clean sheets and make sure you’re clean when you get into them. Dirty clothes never go on the bed…bags never go on the bed. Really nothing but clean bodies in clean clothes go on the bed.
My partner thinks I’m a little nuts about this one, but he abides by the rules and I appreciate it immensely. Keeping the bed a clean space makes it all that more inviting to get into; and chances are it’ll be inviting for sleep too.
Ok here it is; the pre-sleep zen time! This is my favorite part. Once you’ve gotten into bed, spend the 30-45 minutes before going to sleep doing something not screen related. For me, it’s reading a book while practicing some restorative bedtime yoga poses.
Sometimes I’ll practice some soothing pranayama or a guided meditation, but I make sure that whatever I’m doing right before I turn the lights out is zen AF. By the time I turn those lights out, I’m already sliding right into sleep.
Yes, you read that right. Not just off…out. My last tip is to keep electronics out of the bedroom. Part of this is because most electronics have little lights on them that you might not think will bother you during sleep, but the body notices them. For optimal sleep, you want a room that’s as dark as possible.
The other part of this is specific to your phone. Even if your phone is off or on airplane mode, your mind is aware of its presence.The instinct is always to pick up it up; to check it. When it’s sitting there on your nightstand, your mind is aware that notifications could be coming in…connection to the world is sitting right there! It’s best to eliminate this potential distraction entirely. Phones out of the bedroom.
I know, I know, but your phone is your alarm! My friend, get an alarm or use a wrist watch. They’re cheap and you can get ones with no lights. Problem solved.
Yoga Tools for Sleep
Yoga honestly has tools for everything. If you’re looking to prepare for sleep, there are a number of bedtime yoga tools that you can employ to help you.
Calming, restorative poses that you can practice right in bed are perfect for pre-sleep zen time. We tend to carry stress and emotion in the hips, so some gentle hip openers are great for releasing the stress of the day. Some gentle twists will also help to wring out the day and reset the spine from any sitting or standing you did all day.
The class below has all of these elements and it’s just 15 minutes. So if you’re looking for a restorative bedtime sequence, this is it!
Soothing breathing practices, like alternate nostril breathing, will help ease the mind into a restful state. Other pranayama practices that are great for bedtime are a Box Breath and Bees Breath.
Covering the right nostril and breathing in and out through the left side is also a great aid for falling asleep or falling back asleep if you’ve woken in the night. This is because the left side of the body is our lunar side; our cool, passive, quiet side. The right side of the body is our solar side; our fiery, active, energetic side. When preparing for sleep, we want to block our solar side and open up our lunar side.
I think it goes without saying that meditation is a wonderful way to prepare the body and mind for restful sleep. You can listen to a guided meditation while resting in some restorative poses, or simply lying in bed.
Insight Timer is a wonderful resource for guided meditations, where you can search by theme or topic (or by teacher – you can find me on there if you’d like!). You can also listen to this Yoga Nidra for Sleep meditation, recorded by yours truly 😉
The last tool I’ll mention is Yoga Nidra – yogic sleep. The true purpose of Yoga Nidra is not to fall asleep during the practice, but many people use it as a tool to aid with sleep. And frankly, if listening to a Yoga Nidra recording helps you fall asleep and sleep well, then to hell with the true purpose. Get your sleep on. You can read more about Yoga Nidra in this post, which goes into more detail.
Your Restorative Bedtime Yoga Practice
This week’s class is a 15-minute restorative bedtime yoga sequence that you can practice in bed during that pre-sleep zen time! So go grab those PJ’s, set your sleep-alluring scene, and prepare for a blissful night of sleep.
Goodnight, my friends <3