We’ve all been told and know by common sense, that replenishing sleep is key to good health. The challenge comes when despite our desire to sleep, we don’t seem to be able to get proper rest.
One of the things that I find the most challenging is waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to go back to sleep. Those following mornings are the occasions when I feel the most tired. I get up and feel like a ton of bricks hit my head. It is like I’m in some sort of different dimension. Everything feels heavier, louder, I’m slower, I can’t hear very well, etc. These are the days when the butter ends up in the bathroom cupboard and the toothpaste in the fridge.
I have found breathing exercises to be helpful. I even make my husband do them when he awakes with a head full of thoughts and is unable to fall back asleep .
Yes, breathing exercises. I can read your mind and I know you may be thinking, “Yeah, I've tried that. It doesn't work”. Tonight I’d encourage you to try it again. But before I tell you how it works, I need to remind you that you must be patient and consistent. Carry out the entire exercise before deciding if this is something that works for you or not.
If you have been up for more than half an hour in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep, this likely means that your mind is already busy thinking. Perhaps it’s errands that you need to run the next day or problems of all sorts that you are dealing with. You probably say to yourself, "Ok, I need to sleep.” You turn around, and then keep thinking some more. Trying to make your mind go blank is absolutely impossible. We can’t just stop thinking out of the blue. This is not how we are wired. This is why we need to introduce some type of technique.
The technique that I created for myself is a combination of different cycles of square breathing and the Savasana yoga pose. I like breathing exercises because they are one of the few things that can help us get grounded, come back to our bodies, and calm the mind (exercise has the same effect but you don’t want to go out for a run when you are trying to fall back to sleep).
We refer to it as mastering the mind through the body. You need to do something physical to change your mind state and help your body relax.
Square breathing is great because it requires of your full attention, which makes it quite effective to break stressful thinking patterns and take the body to a state of deep relaxation. Again, it can’t just be focusing on good thoughts.
Square breathing is a type of deep breathing that helps regulate the flight/fight response when we are stressed. The more we breathe, the more we activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for slowing down our heart rate and relaxing our muscles. Most of the healing in our bodies occurs when our parasympathetic nervous system is activated.
It is performed by creating a cycle of inhalations and exhalations that last the same amount of time.
Savasana or corpse pose is a yoga pose that consists of lying down on your back with your legs and arms partially opened. You let go of all tension that you can identify in your body bringing consciousness to this parts by breathing.
The benefits of this pose include:
- Relaxing the nervous system
- Stress relief
- Decreased beta waves and a shift to slower brain waves
- Reduced insomnia and improved sleep
- Reduced headache and fatigue
Now, the way in which I’ve put this together goes like this:
1. Start by lying in bed in Savasana pose.
2. Start doing belly breathing (deep breathing) at a slow pace. About 10 deep breathes
3. Do 7 repetitions of square breathing (described below) counting 7 seconds each step (inhaling, sustaining, exhaling, sustaining)
4. Take a break and take 5 deep breathes.
5. Do 5 repetitions of square breathing counting 5 seconds each step.
6. Finalize with another 10 deep breathes.
If you feel like you need to repeat the whole exercise, go ahead. Sometimes I have to as well.
If this is the first time you do this and you are getting dizzy, stop, take a break and start again counting only 3 seconds each time. As you gain practice you can add more time (seconds) to each step.
This is what the 7 count square breathing looks like:
1. Inhale counting 7 seconds
2. Hold your breath for 7 seconds
3. Exhale for 7 seconds
4. Hold your breath for 7 seconds
Then start again until you complete 7 repetitions.
For the 5 count cycle you would do the same.
I always include the 5 count cycle because one of my main spiritual guides (my doctor in Colombia) taught me that square breathing also makes you resonate with different vibrations in the universe. The number 5 is the one that connects you with the vibration of Love. I like this very much because it makes me feel like I’m doing meditation, and so far has helped me fall asleep.
If this doesn't turn out as effective for sleeping, be sure you have given your body some time to relax, repair and regain some energy.
Try this out and let us know how it works for you.