sleep - our best medicine, the brave why's, hows, won'ts, and wants of a restful 40 winks
Sleep, along with breathing, one of the most fundamental natural processes we all experience as living beings, and yet with all our mastery and technology, a process none of us can truly command…
nor do without …
we all spend a large part of our lives, at least a third – somewhere else –
most with absolutely no recollection of anything happening around us while we sleep,
let alone within us, during sleep.
What we do all recall vividly though, is not being able to sleep!
The Tossing and turning in an eternal fight for slumber and the consequence if it doesn’t come. We’ve studied it in depth, created Sleep councils, National Sleep Foundations, sleep myths & sleep mysteries... we've made up nursery rhymes, songs involving sand men, funded sleep labs to study those sleeping, mattresses that cost more than most small cars, we’ve even tried to scare ourselves to sleep with vampires, ware wolves and over sexed night prowling tiny tokoloshis
… in our quest for some decent shut eye, all to no avail...
Reliable stats for the majority of countries are always as rare as hens teeth, but we can count on the US to tell us that 40 million Americans alone each year suffer from chronic, long-term sleep disorders like insomnia, circadian rhythm disorders, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, night terrors, sleepwalking and snoring WITH ONLY 35% saying they get enough sleep at night.
Addiction to sleeping medication is near global epidemic proportions .
Some 15.3m prescriptions were handed out in 2010/11 in the United Kingdom. In 2013, nearly 9 million Americans regularly used sleeping pills to help them sleep every night, as much as 21% had suicidal thoughts related to their drug use.
Sleep is blamed in more than 100,000 crashes and 1,500 deaths each year.
Corporatized “modern” medicine is always in pursuit of a magic bullet in the form of a patented, often expensive drug – because it is OUR preferred method of solving our problems. Sleep is treated SYMPTOMATICALLY i.e. if you can’t sleep you receive a pill that will falsely induce sleep. And sleep issues are predominantly treated as a physiological malfunction. At best the modern systems, including psychology, will acknowledge a link between the mental stressors and strains of modern living, or by stressful events
– a death, a move, a violent event etc.
But in integrated medicinal systems we hold that sleep, or anything else for that matter, doesn’t happen in isolation. Rather we hold that any experience is all encompassing –
and that sleep in particular, is your direct pathway to a place of unlimited peace, freedom from the demands of the body, heart and mind and so, it is an act of restoration,
a direct experience of oneness in the field of ever expanding consciousness…
a spiritual necessity
you in, AND, you as… the greater cosmos.
And You, the greater cosmos, in a natural rhythmic cycle.
This is why no matter how desperate our situation, no matter how strong our resolve, we sleep. Even in extreme situations where the mind undoubtedly wants to stay awake and conscious, stay in control of events, for example a Mother at the bedside of a desperately ill child, after 3 or 4 days ……will ‘fall’ into a sleep.
So what then is Insomnia? A sleeping DIS order? Or even excessive sleep?
Why can very healthy people, even those living privileged lives in safe and comfortable homes, develop erratic and turbulent sleeping patterns?
Why does a Dad, no matter how physically fit and healthy, have challenges falling asleep if he has neglected his financial responsibilities ….
what of the night shift worker?
Or , the converse, those that “sleep their lives away”?
The yogic texts say that while we may see thoughts, fears, imaginings , memories, feelings and even dreams, as being non-material and the body, it’s wastes, functions & changes as being material…
all are fundamentally the same thing on a quantum level – nothing but waves of energy –
we could use the term MOVING intelligence - which when caught and held for a moment, manifest as a particle, a body, a thought,a stress, a pain, an emotion,
therein lies the magic… energy in motion…..continuous CHANGE.
But this continuous change, all of these trillions of light waves emitting sound and manifesting momentarily as matter Science tells us –
are precise, ordered, and the same in over-all characteristics,
from the tiniest microwave to the unimaginable ‘audible stream’ of the universe expanding and contracting, nothing but waves of energy, manifesting as matter... in a beautiful unimaginable order.
And, a reality we often choose to ignore is that since we too are a little wave
we too are manifesting on the surface of a giant ocean of CHANGE –
we MUST go WITH THE FLOW
which is remember –
eve n though we usually get caught up in our tiny wave experience and think the opposite
all is chaos,...
that we are separate, even alone,
that we the tiny little wave can somehow control our ebb and flow and go against the tide, against the EBB AND FLOW…
That is why the yogic texts are so concerned with teaching tools to “stay in the present”, to not race too far into the future or get stuck ruminating in and on the past.
Why all religions implore us to wake with the sun, and sleep with the moon, to fast with the seasons and practice little rituals as reminders of when and how we should follow Mother Nature in Her Cosmic Dance.
Now, we’re not going to go into the in’s and out’s of what sleep in its scientific definitions are, nor it’s phases , what constitute Circadian rhythms , nor are we going to get into all the academic rationale in the various systems, the prescribed meds etc –
you can easily find all of that for yourselves online.
And we have to say that in our own personal experience, one shouldn't underrate google trawls on this topic as a miracle cure!
they surely are a quick way to MAKE SURE YOU DOSE OFF IMMEDIATELY :) ))
Some may say these blog posts can do the same :)
but remember that as Yogis and Integrated medicine practioners, we are looking to address the root of the problem, the true cause,
not just the symptom, the physical manifestation of a problem,
and we are looking to EMPOWER YOU as your own best healer,
your own best prescription…
which is why we are going to share with you what we have found to work…
At brave we deal with sleeping issues as part of any Recovery, because:
Traumatic EXPERIENCES bring ENORMOUS CHANGE - they always impact on us, in every part of our being
They also hurl us out of the natural cycle because they bring catalytic CHANGE to our routines, our norms, even our beliefs
Because many in our community have a certain identity and personality one instant for example, one may be a healthy, active, athletic person and in the blink of an eye, find yourself fighting to live, immobile, paralyzed and having to depend on have others to do the most basic, intimate things ... CHANGE in our persona, who we thought we were, who we think we are...
often those in recovery woken regularly to be ‘turned’ because of their lack of mobility – every 4 hours is the norm. Imagine, being woken every four hours, every night for a week, let alone a year or the rest of your life. CHANGE
Most are given heavy medications out of necessity, but these often cause changes in physiological and neurological, even hormonal function so sleep disruption is common
it’s easy to see why many also leave hospitals or rehabs using meds to sleep,
given the amount of physical trauma, surgery, amputation etc .
So as we can clearly see the foundation of the answer lies In understanding and accepting CHANGE.
CATALYCTIC CHANGE - whether through trauma, diagnosed DISease or just aging , cause us to let go of who we think we were and be someone else. Ideally we have the support and love, to explore WHO THAT IS! Rather than simply adopt another veneer, another personality or outer covering we are doomed to let go of again. We are the ocean remember, we are not just the little, rebellious, constantly changing wave.
MENTAL & EMOTIONAL CHANGE - In Sanskrit, the oldest language known to mankind, the main term used for mind is MANAS, this translates into mindHEART (HENCE mankind) and here we diverge form Allopathic medicine, for us, every thought will have an emotional & even sometimes a physical response and every emotion and physical event will have an e MOTION. STRESS – is nothing but emotionally charged WAVES of anticipated CHANGE. These are easy to see… but what is often overlooked is CHANGE in the natural rhythm or cycle: Allopathic Health chiefs have voiced concerns that frequent use of sleeping pills can lead to "psychological dependency” we would argue that is a given, because they treat only the symptom and not the cause.
BIOLOGICAL CHANGE – Often the simplest, obvious cause and usually not even considered. CHANGE in routine, CHANGE in season, CHANGE in environment, CHANGE in temperature. We can tell you how many people we have helped at brave that became insomniac in this way. The young entrepreneur who takes so many flights their body cannot cope with the continuous change in altitude and literally jumping into seasons weekly. The P.A. who suddenly can’t sleep only to realise it began when her desk was moved directly under an air conditioner . The athlete who hasn’t enjoyed a good night’s sleep since he began having to work out during lunch break because he began to work a regular job, the new Mom who can’t get back on track after breast feeding… is she really suffering from Baby Blues, is she really depressed? Or is she the opposite – over wrought, burnt out and simply needing more support and a few nights of deep sleep.
HORMONAL CHANGE – Often in the West, we look first to the mind or emotions as a causation for sleep issues and over-look the obvious. We know as people age their sleeping patterns alter and change dramatically. We know that around menopause, both men and women will experience disruption to their sleeping rhythm. We know that when we experience shock and trauma the same will happen – all of these will usually rectify themselves once the hormonal upheaval settles down into a more constant ‘new normal’. Yet we seldom look to hormonal change when people outside of these broad categories, present with sleeping disruption. Given the placebo effect, a case could be made’ in reverse’, when these people are treated as if this is Unnatural, abnormal – that as human beings we are somehow expected never to change, never to age, never to present with discomforts, disruptions, or UNEASE. When this is re-enforced with prescribed medications, we set up a chronic condition. Millions upon millions of Western woman are given sleeping tablets around menopause and take them for life. And yet their menopausal ‘symptoms’ (lets remember menopause isn’t an illness) may only last a few weeks, months or years. The same can be said of teens, even young adults. We know very little about hormones or how the brain or body produces and uses them – we do know that this dance is far more subtle, refined and ongoing than was every imagined, let alone proven.
ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE – In the yogic and Ayurvedic systems, sleep disturbances will present in generally healthy people during VATA time. This is because VATA time is a time of extra external change – SPRING & AUTUMN in temperate climates and SPRING & WINTER in more tropical climates. Although as we move more towards extreme climate change, for us in Cape Town for example, we are living in one long season of extreme change. We experience all the seasons, wind, drought & rain in a week. This means your body must adjust continuously. Now given that WIND is the main aggravator of VATA, because it too creates extra sensory inputs for us, In Cape Town, your body has IT HAS IT’S HAND FULL. So the smallest little extra demand, can set you up for a sleepless night. We also divide the months, weeks, days, minutes – even seconds!
but to keep it simple Guna times are:
KAPHA - 6am – 10am
PITTA - 10am – 2pm
VATA - 2pm – 6pm
KAPHA - 6pm – 10pm
PITTA - 10pm – 2am
VATA - 2am – 6am
Using modern time keeping of course!
Most develop problems when that time of switching around kapha time
If in the evening we go past the 10pm, into Pitta Time we feel like the proverbial midnight snack!
Which means we are digesting – not sleeping, even if we get to sleep – it wont be restful, because your body will have to remain awake ‘cooking’ all that food.
THIS IS ALSO WHY AS YOGIS WE DON’T EAT A LARGE EVENING MEAL …
it’s kapha time, stove is cold, kitchen is closed.
Now if you go even further into vata time – well – your fate is pretty much sealed :)
it’s VERY VERY VERY hard to fall asleep from 2am – 4am.
Vata is the time for dreaming, your imagination runs wild to detox the day, that’s why so many of those brilliant ideas we have at 3am in the dark appear crazy in the cold light of day.
So what to do to then to get those 40 winks…
VATA, the lightest elements on the periodic table, HIGH VATA, the state responsible for all the trouble, is PACIFIED by...
gentle MOVEMENT, WARM temperatures, SWEET, SOUR & SALTY tastes, HEAVY, MOIST environments & foods, REGULARITY in ROUTINE, REPETITIVE gentle TOUCH , sweet SMELL, reduced STIMULATION
Try and wake with the SUN – if this is not possible –
YOU MUST BE AWAKE BEFORE 7.30am
Practice GENTLE YOGA ASANA & PRANAYAMA at least 3 times a week – avoid hot yoga (stimulating/depleting) and acro yoga (it’s up in the vata !)
Don’t drink or eat anything COLD after 4pm
Eat a light, warm supper –watch your food combinations *see our previous blogs, especially sour or salty tasting food with dairy eg. Cream based sauce with tuna
Take a little stroll if you can after eating for no more than 20 mins – this should not be heating nor cause exertion
Don’t do anything that winds you up J in the evening, nothing that aggravates, nor should you be over excited or mentally stimulated so it sure isn’t the time to do all those outstanding things you ‘never had time to do’ all that will happen is you won’t get a restful sleep – far better to rest and wake up refreshed and energised and tackle the then.
Wait an hour and then have a warm bath before bed, during kapha time 6pm – 10pm
follow this with a full body massage using WARM OIL , you can add sweet scents. ( sesame, grape seed or nut oils are good) Remember to use continuous soft strokes ( see the brave booklet) if you are prone to pitta ( you get hot easily)or high KAPHA ( you hate oil because you have wet, clammy skin) although most HIGH Kapha people cannot even relate to the idea of insomnia let alone will experience it - you can just massage your hands and feet ( coconut is best)
you can also massage the two main massage points for vata… the eyebrow center/forehead and the sacrum… at the base of your spine.
– you have 72 000 Nadi / nerve endings in your feet alone. kids love this before story time!
Make sure your bedroom is neat, organised, gently lit (especially if you are prone to pitta conditions) no violent movies or crime channels! , get into bed at least 30mins before you intend to sleep.
colour is important - colours have an effect on our mood - a bright red bedroom may be a little alarming - if you'll pardon the pun :) a dark blue one could leave you feeling like your a drift at sea - you get the idea, which is why these words are tinted lavender, it's a favourite colour and essential oil for sleep in the West.
NO AIR-CONDITIONING OR DRAFT – these are vata – WIND and so will surely disturb you! we wish for a day when hospitals return to windows that open rather than icy air-cons.
10pm IS the right time to sleep – there are no night owls or night people J it will catch up with you or manifest unease in other ways
Cover your body, even in summer, the less skin the less stimulation to the system, wear long sleeves & leggings, use a light sheet or blanket
Have a WARM drink before bed – ideally sweet and heavy, like milk with natural brown sugar, in Ayurveda we boil milk so it is more easily digestible. If you dislike milk like many Tridoshic people do, raw ginger grated into boiling water or simply hot water with cardamom & sugar is great. IT MUST BE SWEET TO THE TASTE. Whichever you choose, always add a few cardamom pods (it’s a natural sedative)
As crazy as it sounds, get into bed on the left side, and try to go to sleep on your left side. This will mean you are on a right brain cycle, more conducive to sleep. Your left nostril should feel more open.
In the morning, spend a few moments lying on your right side until you feel the right nostril is dominant and get out of bed on the right side.
If you can’t sleep by 10pm STICK TO THE WAKE UP RULE – ALWAYS BEFORE 7.30 use a gentle sounding alarm if need be. If you sleep past this time, your digestion WILL become your next problem.
Always choose waking earlier over going to sleep later J
Last but not least – PRACTICE RELAXATION & YOGA NIDRA (YOGA SLEEP)
It’s the yogi’s prescription for vata problems. Unfortunately, this must be a guided practice – use the Brave Restorative practices for Recovery – the last track is yoga Nidra, we also have a yoga Nidra group on Fridays - 5.50 to 6.30 pm
We use the following natural aids to sleep:
Passion flower leaves & flowers
But remember, if your problem is chronic and entrenched,
while you practice all of the above, you are going to need help from a pro,
and you are going to have to do the one thing we all find the hardest but we all have to do ....
and that is
life is a doing word, we all need fulfillment, a purpose, a sense of belonging, happiness
deep seated fears, resentments, unhappiness. hurts...unhappiness
so called negative eMOTIONS
will keep you awake at night!
LEARN TO ACCEPT CHANGE and MAKE changeS –
change is all there is, resisting a particular situation, trying to CONTROL everything, make it all perfect or ‘right’ is a sure prescription for DIS EASE, let alone, INSOMNIA. LEARN TO CHANGE WHAT YOU CAN.... the causation's of your unhappiness and not try and change what YOU CANNOT.
BECOME A CHANGE AGENT – sometimes we are so busy trying to hold onto the past we can become stuck there, trapped, bound to our past patterns… the very thing we resist CHANGE is actually the breath of fresh air we need most, the new environment, job, relationship… the best medicine.
The past is history, the future is a mystery so stay in the gift of the present :)
GO WITH THE FLOW - know that you are a divine being having a human experience, you are not alone, you are loved and supported – by Mother Nature Herself… you are one with the seasons, the sun and moon, all living things - so Live in Her rhythm, keep the beat of Her dance ….
Om Tat Sat, braves,
now You have the tools, use them, become your own best sleep pundit
SEE you in Dream Space!