5 More Ways to Sleep Better

Living Yoga Pranayama Yoga

Sarah Jamieson Yoga

In the late Fall, I wrote a post called 5 Ways to Sleep Better. Shortly after writing that piece, I had some stressful things happen in my life and I started consistently having trouble sleeping. In this recent struggle with sleep, I realized I had made an oversight in my original piece. The tips I offer are great ones, but they primarily attend to the night time.

If you are consistently having trouble sleeping, you need to attend to what you are doing during the day to help or hinder sleep as well. The focus of this post is on exactly that – things you can do during the day to help you sleep well at night.

1. Be mindful of what you eat

Learn what foods help you sleep and which foods might keep you up – and avoid the foods that keep you up for at least 3 hours before bed.

If you Google “what to eat before bed” or “what not to eat before bed,” you will get lots of lists and reasons for eating certain foods and avoiding others. This information can be helpful in guiding your exploration of how food affects you, but let your own observations be more influential in the decisions you make. From personal experience, I can tell you that dark chocolate before bed sometimes keeps me up, but warm almond milk doesn’t seem to hinder my sleep. You might find the opposite – or the same.

2. Spend time outside

There are lots of reasons to get sunlight and fresh air, but one of the simplest comes down to the process by which your body regulates your sleep-wake cycle. The hormone melatonin regulates this cycle, and it is controlled by light exposure. When it is dark, your body secretes melatonin to make you sleepy; when it is light, your body doesn’t secrete melatonin so you can stay alert and awake.

Long days in the office away from natural light and evenings spent in front of a bright computer or TV screen can disrupt a pattern of melatonin production that supports sleep at night and alertness during the day. Whether it is a walk on your lunch break or a warm cup of chamomile tea on your balcony in the evening, being more in tune with the rising and setting of the sun will support sleeping when the sun has set.

3. Exercise early in the day

Similar to light exposure, exercise decreases the secretion of melatonin, so it is a great thing to do earlier in the day to wake you up, but not the best thing to do in the 3 hours before you want to go to bed.

Exercise is also known to significantly reduce the presence of stress hormones in the body, which can be a huge hindrance to sleep, so you might find that exercise – no matter when you do it – supports sleep. So, as my teacher Yogi Vishvketu says, “Don’t listen to me, listen to your body.”

4. Practice pranayama

Pranayama is a Sanskrit word used to describe the breath work we do in the practice of yoga.

In 5 Ways to Sleep Better, I recommended learning how to relax as a way to support sleep. Specifically, I suggest learning 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.

One of the best ways to attend to this skill is to practice it regularly throughout the day.

I have recorded a simple guided breathing exercise to support you in regularly attending to your breath. Try practicing it a few times a day. For many people, a mindful breathing practice helps relax the body and calm the mind – both of which will support sleep. Try the practice and tell me what you find.

Sarah Jamieson Yoga – Breath Awareness (6:30)

5. Reduce stress

The other points in this article are steps towards stress reduction. Mindfulness, time outside, exercise and practicing pranayama are all things you can do to reduce the experience of stress in your body.

Sometimes we will want to change our external circumstances to support a less stressful lifestyle, but a large part of stress reduction is simply about recognizing that there are things we can do to help guide ourselves through the physiological experience of stress with more ease.

Another beautiful way to decrease stress is to regularly follow a guided relaxation, and I have recorded a simple guided relaxation to support you in relaxing your body. Our inclination is often to do these sorts of things before bed, but I encourage you to try practicing it earlier in the day.

Sarah Jamieson Yoga – Guided Relaxation (7:40)

Rest well.

Sarah Jamieson

Photo credit: Chris Yakimov

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