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Yoga – as a Solution for Sleep Disorders

1 April 2013

According to the National Sleep Foundation 65% of all Americans suffer from a lack of sleep or have trouble getting sufficient sleep on a daily basis. Additionally, more than 40% of adults experience daytime sleepiness that is severe enough to interfere with their daily activities at least a few days each month, and more than 20 percent report problematic sleepiness a few days a week or more.

Sleep is a basic and vital biological function. It is essential for a person to maintain their physical and emotional well being. Scientific studies have shown that with a lack of sleep, a person’s ability to perform even the simplest tasks declines dramatically.

It is common for the sleep-deprived individual to experience impaired performance, irritability, lack of concentration, and daytime drowsiness. They are less alert, attentive, and find it difficult to concentrate effectively. Also, since sleep has been linked to restorative processes in the immune system, sleep deprivation in a normal adult causes a biological response similar to the body fighting off an infection.

When sleep deprivation becomes regular or persistent it can cause significant mood swings, erratic behavior, hallucinations, and in the most extreme (although rare) cases, death. Research in this area is continuing as scientists examine the negative effects of sleep deprivation on the immune system.

The amount of sleep a person generally needs depends on a variety of factors, including age. For example:

  • *Infants require about 16 hours a day.
  • *Teenagers need about 9 hours on average.
  • *Most adults need 7 to 8 hours a night for the best amount of sleep, although some people may need as few as 5 hours or up to as many as 10 hours of sleep each day.
  • *Women in the first 3 months of pregnancy typically need several more hours of sleep than usual.

The most common treatment plans for sleep disorders include drugs, with a variety of prescription and non-prescription sleeping aids available. Going to a sleep clinic and/or engaging in behavioral therapy has also been proven to help. But there are other, more natural options and yoga practice includes a number of them, such as…

  • *Remembering or reconnecting with the natural, outside world. “Smriti” is the practice of mindfulness of inner processes (witnessing) and is especially helpful when done outside during the day. Not just outside surrounded by concrete and steel, but somewhere where “green” predominates; where you’ll find lawn, trees, flowers, bushes, shrubs etc. Mindfully stand in that space and breathe it in. Study after study has shown that immersion in nature soothes us. Additionally, just getting outside, and noticing the earth, helps to remind us that our ego/self is a tiny part of this great big universe. Reconnect with this feeling at bedtime.
  • *Power yoga, hot yoga, Kundalini yoga, even a strong, dynamic Hatha yoga class will burn the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. The general consensus is that these hormones actually remain in our system long after a stressful experience has passed, or they may even be released every time our minds re-live past stresses. But everyone agrees that exercise (especially yoga) and meditation helps relieve them.
  • *Noticing your restless mind. Yogic philosophy (Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras) encourages us to use our mind as a tool, rather than consider it our master. We start by viewing our thoughts, no matter what they are, as just thoughts passing by; similar to clouds in the sky. Sometimes seeing our thoughts in this manner, no matter how urgent our incessantly active mind wants us to believe they are, helps us find distance between our inherent, peace-full, joy-full selves, and our constantly chattering mind. Try using the simple mantra: “I Notice my thoughts” while inhaling, and “I’m Letting them go” during exhalation.
  • *Melting into your own asana. Try taking a 15-minute Viparita Karani (Legs-up-the-Wall Pose) within an hour before going to bed. You can cover yourself with a blanket, put something comfortable over your eyes, and simply let allow yourself to be. Get out of the way of your breath and simply watch it; after a short time your breathing will naturally become deeper, slower and calmer.
  • *Pranayama can help; Bhramari (Bee Breath) is a very effective Pranayama for use as a sleep aid. Performing this breathing exercise helps to induce a calming effect on the mind almost immediately. But there are other Pranayams that work well, too; Nadi Shodhana helps to balance our prana, bringing it evenly into both nadis (energy channels) spiraling on either side of our Sushumna channel (spine), and bringing our system into a state of equilibrium. Try it for 10 minutes, seated comfortably before retiring for the night.

The above tips are known to significantly improve sleep efficiency, speed up sleep onset, increase total sleep time, and prolong wake time after sleep onset.

Happy sleeping and…

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