A few days ago, a student asked me how she could improve her sleep.

I get this all the time.

Lots of folks are dogged by difficult sleep patterns—and yogis are no exception.

The great teacher, Krishnamacharya famously said, “Food is the first yoga.”

But I think if he’d reflected a sec, sleep would’ve jumped in front of food.

We can go without food longer than sleep–and a deluge of recent research says good sleep is key to avoiding innumerable public health problems.

(Accomplished yogi that K was, he probably slept well.  He probably thought sleep was no problem!)

Getting good rest, like doing yoga, eating right, and cardiovascular exercise, ain’t rocket science.

Most of us know the right path–but choosing it is the challenge.

If you want to sleep well, here’s the good and bad news: you must change a handful of your habits.

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Yoga and the Indian medical science of Ayurveda give straightforward advice on how to support sleep patterns, and the greater your dozing difficulties, the more such strategies you’ll want to apply. 

In Indian myth, the sustainer god, Vishnu, brought forth the universe while he slept.  (Of course, he slept on the cosmic ocean—before all time and space boomed forth!)

This myth suggests that effort, creativity, and focus come from surrendering to deep sleep.

Sleep gives us the peace of mind that fosters inspiration.  It accelerates our reinvention of the world we live in.

Sleep and meditation both strengthen our nervous system.

Ayurveda gets specific, telling us these activities produce a nerve-stabilizing substance called Ojas. Ojas has been identified with the myelin found in our nerve-casings, spinal cord, and brain.

Steady nerves and strong Ojas are a prerequisite for effective physical and mental activity.

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Here are 19 ways to cultivate the good rest we all crave.  Practicing them, you’ll expand your health, stamina, and mental action.

For maximum effectiveness, use as many of these strategies–as often as you can.

1. Take a warm bath before bedtime.

2. Hit the hay before 10:20. Most folks’ biorhythms reset to “awake” at this hour (hence, the second wind we get near 10:30pm).

3. Don’t drink coffee or other stimulants after 3pm.

4. Hold a stock-still standing forward fold (the yoga pose, Uttanansana) for 3-5 minutes before slipping underneath the sheets. (This moves blood to the head, and re-sets the parasympathetic nervous system—as recommended by Harvard Medical School.)

5. Do a shoulderstand before bedtime–if your body handles this well.

6. Drink warmed cow’s milk or vegetable-based milk before bedtime. Cow’s milk contains tryptophan, an amino acid that helps produce serotonin and melatonin—which are key to our sleep-wake cycle.

7. Get your body clock on your side. Go to bed at the same hour each night.

8. Move by degrees toward sleep, doing more and more relaxed, low-energy activities as your sleep hour nears.

9. Put uncooked sesame oil on your feet and/or head before going to bed. (Note: this is VERY powerful.)

10. Do Savasana or Yoga Nidra as you lay in bed before sleeping. Relax the body intentionally, limb by limb.  Slow and regularize your breath.

11. Do something strenuous and purposeful during the day. Do what you know you must do. Do what you love.  Resolve unsettled issues with the people in your life—living or dead.  Neurosis, unfulfilled potential and regret make the mind spin and keep you from good sleep.

12. Drink warm chamomile–or another sleep-formula tea–before bedtime.

13. Exercise at some point during the day.

14. Do self-massage before going to bed.

15. Take a calm walk before going to bed.

16. As you sit in bed, review your day and say thanks for all of it. Accept and bless everything that happened in your life that day—all that is bad and all of that is good.

17. Think of something that gives you pleasure.

18. Say a mantra.

19. Play white noise, a guided sleep meditation, or binaural beats as you go toward sleep. Example.: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WTIzIunvvDo 

If the thought of doing any, or all, of these things feels “dreadful” to you, it’s probably a sign that your ever-chattering ego (the master that keeps you awake at night) is resisting surrendering control.  The simplicity of this list is deceptive–the acts might seem minor or meaningless.  But the test is in their application.  Experiment.  Notice if they work. Then keep on doing them if they do!!!!

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Do as many as these strategies as possible.  Repeat them nightly to establish a functional pattern.

Trust they will be successful.

Your simple intention to get a good night’s sleep and the fact that you are doing something (anything!) about will be 50% of your success.

The “placebo” is real.

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Best of luck!

Try a number of them—and tell us if they work in the comments below!

A fan of the first yoga,

Eric