Why can’t I sleep?

autumn equinox
Better Sleep

Some days you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall asleep again. Your mind goes round and round in circles. Finally, you might fall asleep again at 5 am with one more hour to go until you have to get up.

Why do you have problems going back to sleep?

There are two ways of reacting to waking up during the night. If a ‘normal’ sleeper sets her alarm for 6 am, but wakes up at 3 am she probably just turns over and goes back to sleep. She might even think “Excellent, 3 more hours of sleep left!”.

If an insomniac wakes up at 3 am instead of 6 am her thought process may go “Oh no, I won’t be able to go back to sleep!”. She will start worrying about how tired she will look and feel the next day, that she has an important meeting or exam coming up and she may even have read up on the detrimental health impact little sleep has. From here it spirals downwards.

Waking up during the night is normal

We sleep in cycles. These cycles last 90-120 minutes in total. There are deep resting phases and then there are more alert phases (REM sleep) which are linked with memory and learning. It is very difficult to wake somebody during the deep resting phase, however, it is easy during REM. One explanation for this may be, that back in the cave days you wouldn’t have survived the night if you would have slept for a solid 6-8 hours. That’s why we ‘wake up’ every two hours or so to check everything is still fine and nobody is trying to get us.

What lifestyle changes can you implement

These days our circadian rhythms (our sleep and wake cycles) are being messed around by spending our days inside with bright lights, computer monitors and televisions. Our body doesn’t know when the day is finished and the night starts. To help your brain get back into its natural sleep pattern go for a walk outside at lunch time, get some sun or at least natural light. Dim or reduce your lighting from 8 pm onwards, so your brain starts to register a change. No more screens after 9 pm and how about trying to go to bed for 10 pm?

Having a consistent evening routine can help your body start winding down. Every night I drink a cup of chamomile tea (yes I used to hate it and now I love it) and when lying in bed I do a couple of stretches. Sometimes I read my book while I am doing them and sometimes I focus on my breath. Stretching can be a great way of releasing tension you are storing in your body. Try to find an evening routine that suits you. You could write in your journal, meditate or read.

What are other factors that can have an impact

Other factors which can have an impact on your sleep may be medical issues, pain, alcohol, drugs etc. For instance, a glass of alcohol can make you feel drowsy before going to sleep. However when the alcohol wears off your body actually asks for more.

Similar with caffeine. Caffeine has a half-life of 5-6 hours. Which means after 5 or 6 hours half of the caffeine is still in our system. It is only eliminated from our bodies after 10-12 hours. Please remember, even the doses aren’t as high, non-herbal teas, like green or black tea, contain caffeine as well. (By the way chocolate also contains caffeine. Sorry!)

Age can have an impact too. We may have been able to drink 3 coffees a day in our twenties, but as our bodies get older they just aren’t as efficient in eliminating these substances. Also, we may suffer from pain more regularly or have to go to the toilet during the night. Just remember waking up is normal and don’t start to stress.

These are a few things you can experiment with and see how changing them impacts your sleep. Usually, it takes about 40 days to assimilate a change. If one doesn’t work for you try another one.

 

You may also be interested in my upcoming course Yoga for Better Sleep

 

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How to look after your back

Yoga for back care

You have probably heard how yoga can help with back pain. Yoga can do that however not every yoga class is going to help you with your back problems.

Here are some tips on how you can support your back health during a yoga class (and beyond):

 

  1. Firstly if you feel a sharp pain in any posture, come out of that posture. A sharp pain usually means you are aggravating a nerve, which is never a good idea. Go into a gentler variation of that pose or wait for the next one, maybe in child’s pose (unless this is the posture that causes you pain) and tell your yoga teacher that it is causing you pain.
  2. Even if your yoga teacher cues to have a “flat back”, we don’t actually want you to have a straight back. What we mean by flat back is keeping the natural S-curve of the spine, with a slight inward curve of the lower spine, a slight outward curve of the middle and upper spine and a slight inward curve of the neck. These curves are important for the optimal health of your spine. You might even want to remember this throughout your day especially when sitting at a desk.
  3. When in a forward bend, any forward bend standing or seated, bend your knees unless you can comfortably get your belly to rest on your thighs. If you are keeping your legs straight and your hamstrings and hips aren’t as open yet, you will start rounding your back. Most people spend the majority of their day working on a computer or driving and doing this their back probably rounds. Repeating this posture during your yoga class will aggravate those tired muscles even more.
  4. When you are getting up from a standing forward bend, use your core muscles (a slight pull of your navel towards the spine could be enough) and again, bend your knees. Standing up with a straight back can compress the front part of your spinal discs.
  5. You probably heard that having a strong core will help to prevent back pain. That is correct, however first the muscles need to be relaxed to then get strengthened. Starting a strength routine with very tight muscles can cause them to become even shorter and tighter and they might even start to spasm. Relaxing those muscles first will help to lengthen them first and then you can work on your core strength.
  6. When working on increasing your core strength don’t just focus on your abs, think of your core muscles as a cylinder and the core muscles to protect your inner organs. The main ones are the Transverse Abdominis and Obliques in the front and sides, in the back the Multifidus (the muscles along your spine), the bottom is the pelvic floor and the lid your diaphragm. I also add the psoas muscles to this, which are also known as hip flexors. If you work only your abdominal muscles, these will shorten and with weak back muscles they can actually cause you to hunch over and cause even more back pain.

Medication for back pain can give you almost instant relief from the pain however, they don’t address the underlying causes of your pain. This can end in a vicious downward spiral with the drugs you are taking becoming stronger and stronger over the years and your body still not getting what it actually needs. A dedicated yoga class can help you with building awareness, slowing down, releasing tension and building strength, which will help you rediscover your mobility and support an overall wellbeing.

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