I used to be a HEAVY sleeper. Just ask my mom - I'd yell, roll around, mumble incoherently, and when awoken, ask some question that seemed to make sense in the context of whatever dream I was having, but in actuality sounded like total gibberish that I later giggled about.
These days, although I have the occasional deep slumber, I go through periods of fitful, light sleep that leaves me pretty depleted. All of this year's changes have left me more than a little restless, and it's frustrating because I'm so excited about so many things and want to make sure I'm rested enough to actually enjoy them and do them well.
Turns out there's something to having those extra few hours of sleep!
Black & white image via here
So why the big, carefree smile above? More sleep=more happiness. Getting just one extra hour of sleep per night has a bigger effect on daily happiness than does making an additional $60,000 per year, according to a recent University of Michigan study I came across in Wired mag.
The study also found that the sleep-deprived study participants were wayyy more sensitive to negative emotional stimuli. I'm definitely sensitive enough to negative emotional stimuli without adding fuel to the fire. And if those two reasons weren’t enough, a lack of sleep has been shown to have a direct link with being overweight. I’m sure most of you are dying to get an extra hour of sleep as it is – but maybe you feel like you don’t have enough time, you have too much to accomplish, you’ll fall behind if you let yourself sleep another minute, or you just can't turn your brain off and relax. But sleep is so essential, and it makes us so much better able to accomplish all of those things we want to do! I’m glad I can finally point to these facts as an incentive to make sleep a priority.
My occasional bouts of insomnia last for a few weeks (like the one I've been having lately); they usually come as a result of a particularly high-stress time. It was really important for me to figure out ways to combat insomnia totally naturally – and I’m happy to say there are plenty of ways to do it! They all center around turning off our sometimes racing minds and bringing them back to a place of relaxation. We’ve become so constantly wired for stress – especially because we’re always plugged in – and I think learning how to let go of that stress is of paramount importance for not only mental but physical health. Stress, especially if we have no habit of intentionally de-stressing, makes us sick in the long run.
Here are some things I’ve tried that have worked wonders for sleep-inducing relaxation:
The Relaxation Response
Sometimes I’m really concerned about the lack of focus on the mind-body connection in conventional medicine. I believe that how we think and feel and treat our bodies has a huge effect on our outlook in life and our general well-being. I feel so lucky to have found an absolutely fantastic therapist with whom I connect of a variety of intellectual and spiritual levels. She has introduced me to so many fascinating ideas, one of which is a theory called the relaxation response. The Harvard physician who coined the term, Herbert Benson, is one of the pioneers of mind-body medicine and today heads up the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine at Mass General. Dr. Benson describes the relaxation response as “a physical state of deep rest that changes the physical and emotional responses to stress... and the opposite of the fight or flight response.” You know that feeling when your stress level immediately peaks, your heart beats fast, you get that roller coaster feeling in your stomach, and adrenaline starts pumping? Well, this is literally the opposite of that – something I think we all need. When we experience the relaxation response, our metabolisms decrease, our hearts beat slower and our muscles relax. Our breathing becomes slower, our blood pressure decreases, and our levels of nitric oxide (important for many of the body’s key functions) are increased. Here's how the relaxation response goes - I HIGHLY encourage everyone to try it at least once. The results are pretty astonishing:
You can also buy the book, which provides a seriously in-depth look at the theory and is one of the most influential books in the realm of mind-body medicine. As a fun little bonus, I’ve created a downloadable, printable card you can tuck into your wallet. If you want to get really fancy, I’ve formatted it to business card size, so you could use these perforated sheets and even laminate it. It’s helpful to be able to turn to this word series in stressful moments on the go (travel is a big one for me) as well as before bedtime.Download Wallet Card
On the handful of occasions I've used Advil PM or Nyquil to get to sleep when sick or stressed, it led to fitful, inconsistent slumber. Nowadays, I really try to avoid using any kind of drug whenever possible to put less stress on my body and let it do its thing naturally. Valerian root and chamomile, like in Clipper's Organic Sleep Easy blend, have been shown to have naturally relaxing, anti-anxiety properties. Plus, I find that the ritual of preparing and drinking herbal tea is so comforting. The process of putting water in the kettle, waiting patiently for it to sing, pouring it over a tea bag into a mug, and then sipping it slowly as it warms my hands (preferably while bundled in a cozy sweater or blanket) is incredibly calming.
Tibetan Singing Bowls
Say whaaaa? My mom actually introduced me to these. She’s been exploring lots of different ways to meditate, and these bowls are meant to induce a completely relaxed state. Singing bowls have been around for centuries and centuries in Asia and have traditionally been used as a starting and ending prompt for meditation. My mom recommended using headphones (like the kind that go all the way over your ears; these are so pretty!) to fully experience the depth of sounds – the first time I did this, I fell asleep while listening! It might sound a little strange and other-worldly at first, but stick with it and I promise you’ll be drawn in.
Take a listen below:
Essence of Vali Aromatherapy in Sleep: A Bedtime Ritual
I discovered Essence of Vali through my subscription to Quarterly, a fantastic service which works with experts & influencers in various fields to curate a quarterly goodie package. A thoughtful friend gave me the No More Dirty Looks subscription, created by the women behind the blog, and I’ve been enjoying all sorts of eco-friendly, non-toxic beauty treats. One of these goodie packages included Essence of Vali’s Sleep aromatherapy oil; it’s absolutely unbelievable. For me, it’s like magic sleep fairy dust. I just let a few drops fall onto my pillow, and it’s lights out for the night. So what’s in it? Just good old-fashioned, used-for-centuries essential oils of lavender, marjoram, cedarwood & ylang/ylang. The blend of these scents is insanely heavenly.
Hopefully, this extra-lengthy post didn’t put you to sleep before you can try these! Some may work for you and some may not – but I firmly believe it’s all about finding what’s best for your own body. Here’s to sweet dreams…
Do any of you have tried & true natural methods for falling asleep? Would you try any of these?