Bedtime Tips to Nourish and Restore the Body and Mind

The practice of asana is to train the body, release excess energy, and provide strength, stability and flexibility so the body can be in a comfortable seat for long periods of time (meditation). This is why it’s important to know that your yoga practice may not consist only of what you do on the mat, but also in the art of mindfulness, which helps us fall asleep when it can sometimes be difficult.

-Livi De Rooy – 2020 VYC Ambassador- Port Alberni 

Livi’s journey with Yoga started at a young age, when her mother sought out alternative health methods to assist challenges she grew through as a child. Some of her first introductions to meditation and breathing techniques were led by her, and that she still holds dear in her own practice today. She has had the pleasure of many guides and teachers in her life since, gently guiding her to be of service in holistic offerings. Livi’s path lead her to opening Twisted Willow Studio in 2014, when she took on instruction as a 200hr Yoga Instructor, from Red Door School of Yoga in Lantzville, British Columbia. Since 2014, she has had the pleasure of growing, as has the offerings in the Alberni Valley. Currently she is finalizing both her 500Hr Ayurveda Yoga Training, and BCRPA Personal Fitness Training: While offering Indian Head Massage, Reflexology, and Botanical creations. When leading community classes she looks to create intimate and safe space for individuals to make connection between the many layers of our being and begin to work through the lessons on our path in small pieces: nourishing their self-growth, and compassion for themselves and others. 

Sometimes sleep evades us. If you’re struggling to sleep, it could be from an over-active mind, daily stressors, a long to-do list, or perhaps a restless sleep routine. We’ve all experienced a rough night’s sleep at some point, some more often than others. When it begins to become a persistent pattern, it can become frustrating and exhausting. Plus, the possibility arises for it to turn into a more serious and chronic conditions if left untreated.

It may not come to you as a surprise that yoga is one of the activities studied to be a beneficial lifestyle factor to add into your routine to help with those sleepless nights. Several studies indicate that utilizing daily yoga practices can help improve sleep among people suffering from chronic insomnia. Harvard Medical School investigated how a daily yoga practice would affect the sleep for people with sleep disorders and found broad improvements to measurements of sleep quality and quantity. They found improvements in several aspects of sleep including total sleep time and sleep efficiency. The study also found that yoga linked to lower stress levels and enhanced sense of quality of life.

Remember that yoga is not just about physical movement. The practice of asana is to train the body, release excess energy, and provide strength, stability and flexibility so the body can be in a comfortable seat for long periods of time (meditation). This is why it’s important to know that your yoga practice may not consist only of what you do on the mat, but also in the art of mindfulness, which helps us fall asleep when it can sometimes be difficult.

But, where do we start? You don’t have to run off to your local studio or gym to get started on cultivating a nourishing yogic bedtime routine. The lessons that yoga provides us exist in every day habits that benefit our daily lives. Here are four bedtime activities that can be easily added to your routine to aid in attaining a more restful evening and better sleep.

Mind Dump – Write it down:
At the end of your day, perhaps after a warm meal or warm drink, find a comfortable seat, grab a pen and journal (or note pad) and offer yourself 5 to 15 minutes to unload your busy mind. You may write down your to-do list, thoughts, feelings, upcoming dates/appointments. It doesn’t have to be in any specific order; allowing the mind to unload and writing down your tasks to not forget anything lets us organize our thoughts, let go of the stress of possible forgetting something important, and not constantly trying to remember small tasks. If you’d like, after making the initial list, you could even sort it, perhaps putting things such as appointments and dates onto a calendar you see often and creating a secondary task list you can pick away at (again, planner, or pad of paper works great, also… there’s probably an app for that. <3) Writing something down helps me to organise my thoughts and make sense of what’s going on from a more objective viewpoint. When I have lots on my mind, I “mind dump” while soaking my feet, or having a quick cup of tea.

Offer yourself down-time:
Yes, that includes time off your mobile phone and other electronics! Switch off your mobile phone, for at least 25 minutes to 1 hour before bed. If you’re on-call, then perhaps put it to one side that is still easy to hear if you are being called; but remove the phone from your immediate space. Out of reach, out of mind. Checking emails, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other social media can overstimulate the brain and cause unneeded stress right before bed. Browsing keeps your mind switched into “doing mode”, which interrupts the parasympathetic nervous system’s job of “rest and digest”. We all know we spend too much time on our devices than is good for us. The blue wavelength light from LED-based devices (phones, computers) increase the release of cortisol in the brain, making us more alert, which inhibits our ability to create melatonin. Robust melatonin production is necessary for a good night’s sleep. This is why The National Sleep Foundation recommends turning off all devices a minimum of 1 hour before bedtime. The “digital-detox” will give you time and space to support your wellness in other ways that will also aid your ability to sleep!

Incorporate a restorative practice:
Restorative yoga welcomes the practice of stillness and support. It is deeply nourishing to our nervous system because we welcome ourselves into a state of non-doing while still being in experience with the body and breath. This promotes a relaxation response and reduces stress in our bodies. The action of slowing down will facilitate a more rhythmic breath, which signals to our vagus nerve that all is well so it can settle into a rest, restore and digest response. Instead of being in a constant “on” state, try to incorporate 15 to 20 minute restorative yoga practice, 2 times per week to reap the benefits. Even a 5 minute practice is beneficial. If you just take up a supported child’s pose, or other restorative favourite, your body and mind will reap the benefits before settling down to sleep. You may find a local teacher or class to get you started, or if you’re joining us at the Victoria Yoga Conference you may enjoy one of the juicey Restorative (or Yin!) classes! 

Focus on the breath:
Our breath communicates with the body and signals that all is well. Breath helps to settle us into a state of steadiness, prior to settling us into a state of deep rest. Utilizing pranayama techniques is a wonderful way to bring focus inward prior to settling into bed. Benefits of lengthening the exhale in our breath include relaxing the nervous system, reducing anxiety, and releasing tension. If you’re already familiar with a rhythmic breath (matching the inhalation/exhalation in length), try the Long Exhale Breath technique: 
Lie on your back or sit in a comfortable position. This can be done in bed, prior to going to sleep. Bring one hand to your abdomen and feel the belly expand with each inhale and relax with each exhale.
Start to count the inhale and exhale. It doesn’t matter what the number is as long as you are feeling comfortable and not forcing the breath. Begin to make the inhale and exhale equal in length, however long as is comfortable for your body.
Once the inhale and exhale are equal, slowly lengthen the exhale until you get to a 1:2 ratio (so if your inhale is 4 counts then the exhale will be 8). Be mindful to keep the breath comfortable, and not forced it. Remember that if at any time the body feels short of breath or agitated to return to a regular breath pattern.

While we always recommend checking in with your health care professional for appropriate choices to ensure you’re getting the rest you deserve, yoga and other regular forms of activity and exercise are beneficial tools for the basis of a long-term, sustainable lifestyle that helps you get a more beneficial sleep.

Try to incorporate one or two of these activities into your bedtime routine, and before you know it you will be drifting away, and reaping energetic benefits the next day when you awaken well rested. Sleep well.