Friday, May 9, 2008

Sleep Less?

I cannot believe how long it has been since my last post! We had a transformative trip to San Miguel de Allende in Mexico where I taught yoga, and time has gotten away from me. I've got some new content coming, but as that gestates, check out this good info from Harvard's Health Beat (May 8, 2008 edition) on how to deal with insomnia -- sleep less!

Surprising advice for insomniacs — sleep less

Changing your behavior, rather than medication, may be the first step to a better night’s sleep. And surprisingly, for chronic insomnia, the best treatment may be to cut back on the time you spend trying to sleep.

People with insomnia often find that spending less time in bed promotes more restful sleep and helps make the bedroom a welcome sight instead of a torture chamber. As you learn to fall asleep quickly and sleep soundly, the time in bed is slowly extended until you obtain a full night’s sleep.

Some sleep experts suggest starting with five or six hours at first, or whatever amount of time you typically sleep at night. Setting a rigid early morning waking time often works best. If the alarm is set for 7 a.m., a five-hour restriction means that no matter how sleepy you are, you must stay awake until 2 a.m. Once you are sleeping well during the allotted five hours, you can add another 15 or 30 minutes, then repeat the process until you’re getting a healthy amount of sleep.

In the 1970s, a Northwestern University professor developed a technique to recondition people with insomnia to associate the bedroom with sleep. These are the rules:

* Use the bed only for sleeping or sex.
* Go to bed only when you’re sleepy. If you’re unable to sleep, get up and move to another room. Stay up until you are sleepy; then return to bed. If sleep does not follow quickly, repeat.
* During the reconditioning process, get up at the same time every day and do not nap.

The idea is to train your body to associate your bed with sleep instead of sleeplessness and frustration.
Relaxation techniques

For some people with insomnia, a racing or worried mind is the enemy of sleep. In others, physical tension is to blame. Fortunately, there are ways to release physical tension and relax more effectively. Relaxation techniques that can quiet a racing mind include meditation, breathing exercises, and progressively tensing and relaxing your muscles starting with your feet and working your way up your body — a technique known as progressive muscle relaxation.

In biofeedback, people use equipment that monitors and makes them aware of involuntary body states (such as muscle tension or hand temperature). Immediate feedback helps people see how various thoughts or relaxation maneuvers affect tension, enabling them to learn how to gain voluntary control over the process.

Biofeedback is usually done under professional supervision. Other relaxation techniques — such as progressive muscle relaxation or meditation — can be learned in behavior therapy sessions or from books, tapes, or classes.
Progressive muscle relaxation

Looking for a drug-free method to help you relax, free your mind of worries, and fall asleep? Progressive muscle relaxation is a tried and true technique for achieving both physical and mental relaxation.

* Lie down on your back in a comfortable position. Put a pillow under your head if you like, or place one under your knees to relax your back. Rest your arms, with palms up, slightly apart from your body. Feel your shoulders relax.
* Take several slow, deep breaths through your nose. Exhale with a long sigh to release tension.
* Begin to focus on your feet and ankles. Are they painful or tense? Tighten the muscles briefly to feel the sensation. Let your feet sink into the floor or the bed. Feel them getting heavy and becoming totally relaxed. Let them drop from your consciousness.
* Slowly move your attention through different parts of your body: your calves, thighs, lower back, hips, and pelvic area; your middle back, abdomen, upper back, shoulders, arms, and hands; your neck, jaw, tongue, forehead, and scalp. Feel your body relax and your lungs gently expand and contract. Relax any spots that are still tense. Breathe softly.
* If thoughts distract you, gently ignore them and return your attention to your breathing. Your worries and thoughts will be there when you are ready to acknowledge them.

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I'm an organic gynecologist, yoga teacher + writer. I earn a living partnering with women to get them vital and self-realized again. We're born that way, but often fall off the path. Let's take your lousy mood and fatigue, and transform it into something sacred and useful.