Hum yourself to sleep
Is it just me or is everyone exhausted these days?
I recently wrote a post about undoing in yoga. It seems to me as I grow ever more busy in my life, less is definitely more. If there’s one thing I have learnt by practising a more mindful form of yoga and being lucky enough to be able to go on retreats now and then, it’s that although it often feels counterproductive to slow down, recharging my batteries in such a way ultimately makes me more efficient.
So if I know that, why don’t I pay as much attention to my sleep hygiene as I do to my physical practice? Don’t I want to improve my sleep?
I recently read that a few minutes a day practising Brahmari – or bumblebee breath as it’s known in the yoga world – before going to bed stimulates the body’s production of melatonin.
Otherwise known as the sleep hormone, melatonin is produced in the pineal gland of the brain when you find yourself in a dark environment. But stress, diet, work and lifestyle factors (one of which is looking at your social media just as you tuck yourself in for the night – yes, guilty as charged) can all affect hormone imbalances. These in turn are largely responsible for sleep disturbances.
According to former insomniac turned sleep guru Anandi, breathing is key to a good night’s sleep. “We can’t control our heart or our hormones or our mind, but when you change your breathing patterns, you change your heart rate and you calm your mind.”
It’s about joining up the dots. I’ve written before about how Brahmari breath stimulates the vagus nerve. This has a profoundly positive impact on your nervous system, promoting your “rest-and-digest” state. Now, here it is, being promoted as an essential part of your sleep toolkit.
“If you deepen your breathing, the parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for the body’s systems while at rest, takes charge so you go to bed in a calm state and can sleep,” Anandi says.
Three tips for a good night’s sleep
- Brahmari Pranayama – or humming bee breath. This yogic breathing creates a deep, healing vibration. It relaxes the mind and the nervous system, gets rid of negative emotions and helps the body make sleep-inducing melatonin. Close your mouth, inhale through your nose and hum on the exhale.
- Viparita Karani – or legs up the wall pose. Anyone can do this restorative yoga position. It stretches and relieves tiredness in the back of the legs and feet and revives the spine and nervous system, thus promoting a good night’s sleep.
- Go outside – every day. Natural light boosts production of serotonin and melatonin. The quickest way to do this is to go outside. Plus, if you live in a city, the effects of going outside are even more profound. It also helps with your production of Vitamin D, another contributing factor to a good night’s sleep. Like I said, it’s all about joining up the dots. And if you go on your phone last thing at night it joins them up in the wrong order.
It seems so simple, but it’s not necessarily a quick fix. For true insomniacs, Anandi warns it can take 6-9 months to bring the body back into equilibrium.
I’m no insomniac, but I don’t get enough sleep and am chronically tired. As a consequence, in an effort to improve my sleep this month I’ve embarked on a bit of a lifestyle overhaul. Having already decided to give up alcohol (shock horror!) for October I also inadvertently gave up coffee when we ran out of pods and I was too lazy to go to the shops and get more.
So, this is my slightly random and completely uncontrolled experiment to see what happens – if anything – to the quality of my sleep. I might even throw a bit of bedtime humming in there too. Can I ditch the phone though? I’ll let you know.
Inadequate sleep also accelerates the skin’s ageing process. If that’s not enough of an incentive, I don’t know what is! What are your tips for a good night’s sleep?