Treat Insomnia with Yoga
- Wednesday, 09 July 2008
Millions of people suffer from insomnia. As many as one in 10 Americans suffer from insomnia and one in four has trouble falling asleep on occasion. The Department of Health and Human Services defines insomnia as too little or poor quality sleep caused by one of the following: trouble falling asleep, waking up during the night with trouble going back to sleep, waking up too early in the morning, and/or feeling tired or unrested after seven or eight hours of sleep.
The amount of sleep an individual requires varies from person to person. Some people need only five to six hours of rest per night while others need eight to nine hours of uninterrupted nightly rest. Without proper sleep the adrenal glands become exhausted and this causes imbalances in the production of cortisol, a stress related hormone. The adrenal glands are responsible for maintaining hormone balance which stabilizes mood, appetite, and many other human functions. Without proper rest, an individual is more susceptible to aging and illness. Many choose to take medications to adjust their sleep patterns. Common choices include Ambien, Rozerum and Lunesta. While one should always discuss medical treatment with his/her doctor, there are other alternatives to help treat sleeping problems.
In addition to specific restorative poses which help treat insomnia, in general, the gentle practice of yoga will help the body de-stress and relax. The gentle movement of a vinyasa flow class coupled with deep breathing and calming music relaxes the sympathetic nervous system which, in today’s society, is often over stimulated due to high stress levels. Practicing yoga even two or three times each week can help with relaxation and aid in sleep disorders.
When the problem of insomnia persists beyond an occasional yoga class, there are specific restorative postures that can help:
Forward bend: Bending at the hips, allowing the upper body to relax and the chest fall near the thighs, stretching the sits bones toward the sky while the arms fall toward the floor.
Shoulder stand: Resting solely on the shoulders and not in the neck to avoid injury, gently supporting the lower back with the palms and reaching the feet up to the sky over the abdomen.
Plow: In a supported shoulder stand, allow the feet to reach above the head toward the ground. The toes may or may not touch the floor, allowing the weight of the body to rest in the shoulders, again, avoiding the neck.
- Corpse Pose: Lying on the floor, completely relaxed. Feet falling open, palms facing upward. Breathing in and out through the nose and allowing the breath to take stress out of the body. Relaxing every part of the body including the brow, jaw, teeth, neck, shoulders, arms, fingers, abdomen, back, pelvic muscles, glutes, hamstrings and thighs, calves, ankles, feet and lastly toes. Continue to breathe in this relaxed posture for several minutes. This silent, meditative time will send signals to your brain that it is time to slow down, stop thinking, and rest.
If sleep issues persist, B.K.S. Iyengar has a series of poses used in a particular order which will help combat insomnia. In his book, Yoga—The Path to Holistic Health, Iyengar carefully explains the positions, the length of time to remain in each pose, and props to use in order to assist beginners thus making the series accessible for anyone suffering from insomnia.
In addition to yoga, lowering the amount of caffeine in the diet as well as eating dinner at least three hours before bedtime can help one fall asleep soundly and timely. One more tip—healthy carbs! You can feel good about a dessert that will help you sleep at night. Try eating half a pear laden lightly with agave syrup, a low glycemic index natural sweetener. You may find that in addition to yoga, this delicious after dinner snack will help you sleep soundly all night long.