Guest Blog: Alyssa Ennis - Community Outreach - Purple.com
The simple act of training our minds is something that yoga practitioners discovered more than 2,000 years ago. Western medicine is only now beginning to catch up.
For insomnia treatment, medical researchers have found that "cognitive behavioral therapy" is a better approach than simply prescribing sleeping pills. Instead of adding chemicals to the body, cognitive behavioral therapy addresses the root causes of sleeplessness.
Mindfulness is a key component of cognitive behavioral therapy. Patients are taught to "challenge negative thoughts and replace them with more accurate, positive sleep thoughts," writes John Cline, Ph.D., in Psychology Today. Patients are also given techniques for "calming an active mind that won’t shut off," according to Stanford University Health Care. The insomnia treatment program of Virginia Runko, Ph.D., CBSM, of the Ross Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders, includes training in diaphragmatic breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and visualization. Sound familiar? It will if you do yoga.
A recent study randomly assigned two treatment paths to a group of older adults suffering from poor quality sleep. Half of the group received a sleep hygiene education program. They were educated about sleep biology, and told about behaviors to avoid before sleep, such as late-night eating and overconsumption of alcohol.
The other half of the group received training in mindfulness awareness practices. Exercises included different types of meditation, including sitting meditation, and "mindful movement."
After going through their selected training, participants reported their sleep patterns in a questionnaire. Folks who went through the mindfulness training showed significant improvement in sleep quality over the sleep hygiene education group. The mindfulness group also reported fewer insomnia symptoms, fewer depression symptoms, and less fatigue.
Another study showed that cognitive therapy is so powerful, even online training can make a positive difference. More than 8 in 10 people with chronic insomnia who participated in online cognitive behavioral training reported improvement in sleep. Participants rated the cognitive therapy session, where they learned about "coping with an overactive mind and worries," as the most useful part of the training.
Poor sleep quality is a major public health problem. More than half of people 55 and over report some form of sleep disorder. Sleep studies of college-age students show that more than 60 percent suffer from poor quality sleep. The phone and tablet screens that people are increasingly glued to emit damaging rays that suppress melatonin production and disrupt sleep cycles.
Unfortunately, poor sleep quality often goes undiagnosed. People may not even realize that they aren't sleeping well. Losing the regenerative power of sleep can lead to higher levels of anxiety and depression.
By practicing yoga, we help free our minds from thoughts that cause suffering. We expand our consciousness beyond the daily frustrations that can consume us. We're training our bodies and minds to relax—just as we need to do every day to get to sleep.
More than 40 million Americans practiced some form of yoga in 2011—up from just 4 million in 2001. That's a good development for our overall mental health. But we could be doing more. If your friends or neighbors mention sleeping problems, suggest that they consider practicing mindfulness through yoga. It's scientifically proven to work.
Yoga + Focused Concentration = Less Stress
Stress from work, school, and family can build throughout the day until, when it’s finally time to get some much needed rest, you have trouble closing your eyes. You need a full night’s sleep, that’s a solid seven to eight hours every night, to rejuvenate, energize, and refresh the body for a new day. Yoga and focused concentration both offer ways to help clear your mind, slow your heart rate, and prepare your mind and body for better sleep.
Yoga, especially those forms that use directed breathing, reduce the inflammation brought on by stress. Focusing your mind and body before bed has measurable benefits by reducing the activity of proteins that cause stress-related inflammation. Yoga Asana also helps relieve tension and tightness in muscles.
Focused concentration that centers on mindfulness is another way to help center your mind, putting stressful events and thoughts in the background for better sleep. Mindfulness concentration encourages practitioners to focus on the moment so that thoughts and emotions center in the present rather than dwelling on the past or speculating about the future. This type of concentration helps relieve symptoms of depression, chronic pain, and conditions like high blood pressure.
Yoga for Better Sleep
Yogic and concentration techniques can be performed before getting into bed or after you’ve laid down. When doing poses in bed, your mattress type may prevent you from getting a stretch with the same intensity you are used to on the floor, but that doesn’t reduce the relaxing benefits.
Standing Forward Bend
Stand with the feet hip-width apart, folding from your hips toward the ground. Reach your arms to the ground. You can grab your elbows with your hands and let your arms gently dangle for a better stretch. Slightly bend your knees to relieve any strain. Breathe deeply using your diaphragm.
Seated Spinal Twist
Start by sitting on a mat or your bed with both legs out straight in front of you. Bend your left knee, bringing your left foot over your right leg. Gently hold your left leg with your right hand, and twist your torso so you’re looking over your left shoulder. You can keep your right leg straight or bend it toward your left hip. Take up to eight deep breaths, release, and repeat on the other side.
On your knees, sit with your knees wider than your hips and bring your big toes together. Lengthen your torso between your legs. Extend your arms out in front or rest them beside your legs. Let your forehead drop toward the ground or your bed. Take up to eight long, deep breaths before releasing.
Focused Concentration works well once you’re lying in bed. Start by focusing on your breath. Breathe deeply using your diaphragm and listen to the sound of the air entering and leaving your lungs. Focus your mind on the calming sound of your breath. If it helps, focus on a calming word with each inhale and exhale. As you continue breathing, keep your mind focused by pulling it back to your breathing when it begins to wander. Continue until you feel calm, quiet, and relaxed. You may even drift off to sleep.
Special thanks to TUCK for their contribution of this blog and active work in the study of Mindfullness, Sleep and accessing Dhyana (Meditation).
Tuck Sleep Foundation is a community devoted to improving sleep hygiene, health and wellness through the creation and dissemination of comprehensive, unbiased, free web-based resources. Tuck has been featured on NPR, Lifehacker, Radiolab and is referenced by many colleges/universities and sleep organizations across the web.