Sleep. Some, like myself, relish it. Others find it unproductive, preferring to stay up late, jump out of bed at dawn to get going, and not take the time needed to regenerate. But more and more evidence is pointing to the fact that a good night’s sleep is imperative for optimal health—at least six to seven hours per night. Me? I’m an eight-hour girl, strong and steady. I can get by on less only if I’ve meditated at some point to make up for a deficit of rest.

I know some people pride themselves on operating on as little sleep as possible. To me, ‘busy’ is not a badge of honor. Nor is it healthy. Sleep improves immune function, helps boost memory, can aid in maintaining a healthy weight, and helps you recover from a hard workout and avoid injury—to name just a few benefits. Perhaps most importantly, quality sleep makes us less stressed and more optimistic in general.

However, a good night’s sleep can be an elusive ideal. The fact is, you can’t run all day with all your apps open and constant email chimes and expect to hit the pillow and fall asleep without a struggle. These days, our brain is stimulated 24-7 and unless you actually prepare your mind for rest and recovery, your brain won't stop buzzing just because you’ve decided you want to sleep. It’s like running a race with no warm-up. You need to prepare your muscles to work, and you need to prepare your brain to release tension.

Even if you do manage to drift off after a stressful day, without the proper lead up to sleep, your night of rest will likely not be as restorative as it could be. Your brain is part of your nervous system, so if you've been racing all day, you need to signal it to calm down before sleep. During stressful days, we are in a fight-or-flight response mode. We need to switch the body and mind to a parasympathetic state, which is our rest-and-digest mode of recovery. It is only in this state during your deep sleep hours that your muscles repair, emotions, and cellular rejuvenation can happen, which is essential for every aspect of our bodies to recover from daily stressors and get ready for a new day ahead.

Getty Images
Getty Images

Here are a few tips you can adopt before bed, to ensure that when you drift off to la-la land, your brain and body are able to drop into deep rest to restore and revitalize every part of you.

  1. Hit the lights. Eliminate the use of overhead lights a few hours before bed. 
  2. Turn your phone to Do Not Disturb at night. Give yourself a limit of half an hour to read or check social feeds and skip all email—it will be there in the morning.
  3. Drink warm, soothing herbal tea before bed. I love chamomile, also known as ‘Sleepytime’ or my new favorite is a rose tea with vanilla. For a truly nourishing bedtime beverage try a vegan golden milk latte
  4. Keep a journal. I find that writing down lingering thoughts offer some insight into challenges that linger in my head. If I still feel unsettled before snoozing, I will close my eyes and ask that the night’s sleep offer some guidance and clarity. Alternately, I write down ‘gratitudes’ or things from the day for which I am thankful. If you're more task-oriented, make a list of what you accomplished today and what you intend to tackle tomorrow.
  5. Take deep breaths. Finally, try this yogic breathing practice before bed to soothe the mind and calm the nerves. 
  • Close your eyes and begin to breathe in and out of the nostrils if possible (or in through the nose, out the mouth) with slow, smooth deep breaths. 
  • Try to make the breath rhythmic, like an ocean wave. Sense the breath moving in and out the nose as it skims the back of the nasal passages. 
  • Begin to shape the breath to an even inhale and exhale. Depending on your capacity this can begin at a 4-count inhale and a 4-count exhale and extend as long as 8 counts in and out, as long as there is no stress or strain on the breath in any way. 
  • After 5-6 rounds of this, extend the exhale so it is longer than the inhale. If possible, double the count. For example, in for a count of 4, out for a count of 8 or 6 and 12, etc. 
  • If after 5-6 rounds, the breath remains even, smooth and comfortable, you can briefly pause the breath after inhaling, as long as it does not create any tension or stress. You can hold the breath up to the same length as the inhale. For example: in 6, hold 6, out 12. Or in 5, hold 3 out 10.

Do what is comfortable for you. The more you practice these types of breathing patterns, the more effortless it will become and your capacity for longer breaths and holding your breath before exhaling will increase. It is said that a conscious gap in the breath is a gap in thoughts. So as you hold the breath, notice that thoughts cease to exist and rest the mind in relaxing emptiness.

Have a sleep tip to share? Comment below. We'd love to hear how you get the sleep you need!

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