I teach at a yoga studio that is doing a 28-day challenge around wellness (called “Wellnesspalooza 2015”). Each week participants aim to “attend 3 yoga classes and implement a new sustainable wellness habit”. This first week is focused on good quality sleep. This morning when I woke before the sunrise (as usual), it occurred to me that I’ve been exploring “sleep” and ways to improve my sleep for nearly 20 years. Wow. That’s a long time to feel a need for improvement, and then of course, there is progress, so I feel I have something to offer in this conversation. 🙂
As with one’s diet (i.e. “way of eating”), I believe those looking to improve their sleep would benefit from following these 3 simple steps:
- Experiment: there are always new techniques to learn and try out for yourself. Listen to what other people have done, and consider what they’re telling you with an open mind and heart. Initially sometimes you’ll hear something that brings up resistance (e.g. giving up your morning coffee), other times a technique will seem to automatically “speak” to you and you’ll feel eager to try it (e.g. turning off your devices an hour before bedtime). Try to give all the tools that come into your awareness a fair shake and generate some curiosity about them. Think of yourself as a scientist or explorer, then experiment for a long enough period of time (about 3 months) before you change things again (that includes not adding anything new, as it will help you with step 2!).
- Pay attention: this is the most important step, as it is where you discover whether what you’re experimenting with is truly helping you or not. But if you’re not present with your own mind-body, you may not be able to detect the often subtle shifts that can occur. Are you falling asleep just 5 minutes faster? Waking up 1 time fewer a couple nights a week? Returning to sleep just a tad bit more quickly than you did when you randomly woke the night before? Look for the little indications of progress from the change you made, not immediate perfection. Cultivating a little patience can help too, since it may take a little while to recognize progress.
- Keep what helps & ditch what doesn’t: everyone is different. What may have worked for your mother or your best friend who swears by their way may not actually work for you, and that’s OK. You have permission to try out the idea and then let it go if it’s not helping YOU. Alternatively, something that didn’t work for someone else–who may even “poo-poo” the idea you mention–might have the power to significantly improve YOUR life. Try to be OK with your uniqueness, and the journey to your own way! Also, know that even ways of being that worked for you before might change over time because you’re always changing too. This fact can sometimes be frustrating, but it also helps us to be a little more accepting of ourselves and a little more adaptable! It also provides us with opportunities to learn something new, whether that’s a new technique or something new about ourselves.
For good quality sleep, I can talk with you about anything from lab-based sleep studies and medications to Yoga Nidra and Ayurveda. And even after 20 years of playing with sleep, I recently discovered putting amber light bulbs in various places in my house (as I’ve always been sensitive to light in the evening). Yesterday I learned that there are also amber-lensed goggles one can buy. Who knew? I’m trying the bulbs for now. It’s an experiment. 🙂 What will your sleep experiment be?