5 Ways to Sleep Better

Awareness Living Yoga Restorative Yoga

When I hear stories of friends having trouble sleeping, I often think to myself, “Wow. I am so lucky that I sleep so well.” But, the truth is that there is a lot more to it than luck. There are reasons why I sleep well, and there are changes you can make to sleep better too.

1. Value sleep

Sleep deprivation is linked to depression, anxiety, cardiovascular problems, weight gain, an inability to concentrate, moodiness, poor immune system function, and car accidents. Getting enough sleep is one of the most important things you can do for your health, and one of the easiest ways to sleep more and sleep better is to make sleeping a priority in your life.

2. Learn to relax

When a human body is under stress, hormones are released into the body that cue the body to prepare for action. This release of hormones is commonly known as the stress response. When you are lying in bed wanting to sleep and, at the same time, have stress hormones communicating to your body that it needs to be alert, your system gets confused.

So, when I say “Learn to relax,” I don’t mean sit on the couch and watch TV. I mean learn to attend to the physiological changes in the body that occur with relaxation, such as a slower heart rate and breathing rate, lower blood pressure, and a decrease in muscle tension. As you improve your ability to intentionally relax, falling asleep will become much easier.

If you’re not sure how to begin learning how to relax, try practicing Restorative Yoga. It is one of the best ways to begin retraining your body to relax.

3. Create a sleeping environment that supports sleep

If you live in the city, it can be harder to control all aspects of your sleep environment, but do your best to create a dark and quiet sleeping space.

Why dark? – Even when your eyes are closed, your body can sense the light from down the hall or the street lights outside your window. This light can cue your body to be alert, which makes it hard to sleep. Some ways to address the light include:

• Wear an eye mask

• Turn off ALL the lights in your home

• Make sure your blinds can be completely shut

• Use dark curtains

Why quiet? – Just like light, noise cues your body to attend to what is happening in your surroundings. Possible ways to address noise include:

• Wear ear plugs

• Keep a fan on as soft white noise

• Shut the door and the windows

4. Set a Sleep Intention

When I am going to bed, I look at the clock and set a sleep intention. For example, I might say to myself: “It is now 10:30pm and the alarm is set for 6:30am, so I am going to sleep for the next 8 hours and I am going to wake up at 6:30am.”

This informs my subconscious that I am not interested in staying up for a couple hours to think about the day and that there is no point in walking me up at 3am to remind me of something I forgot to do because I am not going to get up and do it. I am committed to sleeping 6:30am.

5. Stay present and let your body rest

We’ve all experienced the frustration of a restless night. You have already been trying to sleep for 45 minutes, so you start to get restless and you start watching the clock more intently. 60 minutes pass, then 90 minutes, and then your focus shifts to how little sleep you are going to get if you don’t fall asleep as soon as possible. At the most, 6 hours, 5 hours, 4 hours…

The irony here is that the more we get stressed about not sleeping, the less likely we are to fall sleep because our stressful experience of not sleeping is flooding our body with hormones that cue us to be alert. It is a vicious cycle!

The trick to sleeping is avoiding the fixation on sleeping. Commit to a meditative practice of bringing your awareness back to your body, to your breath and to an appreciation of rest and relaxation. Set yourself up in a comfortable position. Make sure you are warm enough. Gently deepen your breath and consciously guide your muscles to relax. When your mind starts to focus on a lack of sleep, remind yourself that time spent actively relaxing is much better for you than time spent being restless and agitated.

Simply, soften into the present moment – whether it holds rest or sleep – and trust that both deeply support the healing and restorative needs of your body.

Sarah Jamieson

Allow Your Body to Heal

Restorative Yoga Yoga

Not too long ago a picture of a little cat lying on its back was regularly showing up in my Facebook news feed. The text at the top of this image read:

I may look like I’m doing nothing but on a cellular level I’m very busy.

Not only cute and comical, but true. The practice of Restorative Yoga, which can also be described as a practice of active relaxation, is based on an awareness of what happens (on a cellular level) when we allow the body to rest, when we lay on our backs and do nothing – just like the little cat.

I want to specifically address using Restorative Yoga to address injury in the body. If you’re like me, you’ve probably spent hours (days, weeks or even months) of your life trying to “solve” your injuries. Perhaps you too have bounced from practitioner to practitioner trying one approach after another in search of something that will help you find your way to feeling healed. I don’t want to devalue to the wisdom and insight we can gain from practitioners of all different modalities, but I believe that in this outward seeking of healing we may lose sight of our greatest source of healing.

Having an injury can be very stressful. An injury might prevent you from staying active (which helps to combat stress), it might impact your ability to work (creating financial stress), and it might make day-to-day tasks more challenging and more tiring. Seeing someone for your injury can also be a large source of financial stress – especially if things don’t improve with the first practitioner you see. A number of things happen in the body when it is under stress, and one of those things is that the body directs energy away from systems that are not an immediate priority, including digestion, elimination, repair, and reproduction. Simply put, the stress of an injury can prevent our body from repairing that injury.

In contrast, the soothing and quieting poses of Restorative Yoga help our own internal healing processes to work. The body has an incredible ability to heal itself and Restorative Yoga offers us the possibility of connecting to this source of healing. By resting deeply in the poses, we can begin to release ourselves from the destructive and limiting forces of chronic stress.

Restorative Yoga often involves a paradigm shift from “doing, fixing and solving” to “being and allowing,” and if you are habitually an active problem solver, Restorative Yoga can require a leap of faith. I am incredibly grateful that I took this leap because among other things, Restorative Yoga has empowered me to believe deeply in my body’s ability to heal itself and it has taught me to value taking time to rest so that my body is able to direct its energy in this way.

If you would like to explore this approach to healing, I teach Restorative Yoga on Sunday evenings at South Granville YYoga. I would love to see you there.

Photo Credit: Chris Yakimov

5 Things I’ve Learned from Restorative Yoga

Restorative Yoga


Most of us need to be given permission to switch from the doing to the being mode, mostly because we have been conditioned since we were little to value doing over being. – Jon Kabat-Zinn

Practicing yoga has been life-changing for me and incorporating Restorative Yoga into my practice has taken the transformation to an even deeper level. I could easily write five rambling pages on what I’ve learned from Restorative Yoga, but instead I’ve narrowed it down to five concise lessons.

  1. Relaxation is a skill

Before I started practicing Restorative Yoga, I thought relaxation was something that automatically happened when I sat down on the couch after work, lay down to sleep or lay out in the sun. I’ve since learned that on a physiological level my body may not be anywhere close to relaxed in those situations. Relaxation requires intention and attention. In Restorative Yoga, we place the body in a comfortable supported position and then consciously shift the body into a Relaxation Response, a physiological state characterized by a slower heart rate and breathing rate, lower blood pressure and slower brain wave patterns.

  1. Being is as productive as doing

In her book Relax & Renew, Judith Lasater writes, “Restorative poses are poses of being rather than doing.”

When I first started practicing Restorative Yoga, I was constantly trying to get something “more” out of the practice – usually in the form of a deep stretch. I was seeking productivity in the pose. What I have come to understand is how much there is to be gained from non-doing in the pose. The stillness and the slowing down of the Restorative Yoga practice allows our bodies to devote time and energy to healing and restoring natural processes in the body.

  1. My body is the expert on my body

Practicing Restorative Yoga helped me to realize how often I looked outward to find more ease in my body. I had a well-developed pattern of seeking the advice of an expert to heal and recover from injury. Restorative Yoga has empowered me to start considering the expert on my body to be my body. I am learning to turn inward for answers, and Restorative Yoga allows me to find enough stillness to listen to what my body has to say.

  1. More ease is accessible in every moment

At first glance, Restorative Yoga might seem like laying around on a bunch of bolsters. But as your relaxation skills and body awareness deepen, the practice starts to spread out into the rest of your life – and it is nothing short of amazing! Whether you are holding a Warrior 2 pose or carrying your groceries, Restorative Yoga teaches you to be aware of how you can find more ease in your body.

  1. Ease can be found without movement

I originally came to the practice of yoga because of persistent pain in my right hip, and this pain still bothers me when I sit for a long period of time. Historically, I would fidget and stretch trying to find more comfort and ease, but Restorative Yoga has taught me to explore the possibility of finding ease without movement – and that has been far more successful than fidgeting ever was!