By Nancy B. Loughlin
Published in News Press on January 21, 2014. Posted with permission.
The nighttime mind breeds dragons, and insomniacs are vigilant.
There is no reliable remedy for insomnia. Every night, insomnia shape shifts like jazz, a familiar tune’s movements morphed by personal idiosyncrasies and mood.
Individual as it may be, insomnia is a widespread woe. Some polls indicate that as many as 60% of Americans experience some form of chronic sleeplessness. According to the National Sleep Foundation, a majority of Americans believe that lack of sleep negatively impacts work, relationships and health.
Some insomniacs fall asleep quickly only to awaken within a few hours, staring at the ceiling for the remainder of the night. Other insomniacs lie in bed, fists clenched, and wait in vain for the eyelids to drop.
With good reason, sleep deprivation is considered a form of torture.
But before people stress that their sleep may be inadequate (causing more stress and sleeplessness) ask first what normal sleep is. Circadian rhythms are individual. Babies can sleep as many as 18 hours a day, and adults with normal sleep routines sleep between seven and nine hours. But the number of hours isn’t the yardstick for evaluating if you are getting enough sleep. Plenty of adults feel refreshed with only six or seven hours per night. But daytime grogginess, irritability and losing focus and productivity could signify a sleep issue.
There can be numerous physiological reasons behind sleeplessness. Pain, heartburn, sleep apnea, hot flashes, diabetes and so on. The possibilities are even more abundant for what is really causing daytime grogginess such as stress, diet, medications, caffeine, alcohol, lack of physical exercise, weather and so on. Insomnia is, after all, a symptom not an illness.
Fixing the cause of sleeplessness isn’t easy. Perhaps that’s why people just treat the symptom.
Drugs can be helpful with short-term insomnia. Sleeplessness caused by temporary stress such as the death of a loved one, a difficult job or illness can be remedied pharmacologically. Yet, research has indicated that drug success with chronic insomnia is nominal at best and dangerous at worst.
Drug commercials are tantalizing. Smiling, well-rested models prancing across pastoral landscapes are so seductive that the insomniac is going to miss the side effect warnings. The over-the-counter products, some subtly suffixed with PM or potions laced with alcohol, don’t have the same stigma as prescriptions. But both prescription and non-prescription meds yield the potential for habitual use. The sleep that they deliver is not of the same quality as natural sleep, and the pills may leave you groggier than the sleep loss you’re trying to avoid.
Yet, the real mistake in taking medication is abdication of personal power to rock oneself to sleep. The answer is not necessarily an external one. It’s about changing attitudes regarding sleep as well as your own life and mind.
Energetically, insomnia is a blockage of the sixth chakra, the third-eye center in the middle of the forehead. Interestingly, the sixth chakra is aligned with the pineal gland, the producer of melatonin.
The body is wise, and the insomniac remains awake because there is a lack of trust in life’s processes. There is resistance to life’s flow and refusal to see truth. Most importantly, the insomniac is prompted to wakefulness because he is forgetting his own power.
Personal power lies in intention. Prepare to sleep, but first you have to believe.
Address your bedroom. This room is reserved for sleep and sex only. The bedroom should be sparse and free of clutter. Remove televisions, phones and computers. If you have an alarm clock, face it away from the bed. Lowering the bed closer to the floor can enhance its grounding energy.
Commit to a set bedtime. If lying awake for over 30 minutes or early waking is the norm, try going to bed an hour later. The room should be cool as elevated body temperature increases alertness.
Clear the mind with the Yoga Nidra. Stand in Mountain Pose, eyes closed and shift to diaphragmatic breathing. Direct the awareness to the scalp. Slowly lower the senses down the body, imagining warm, soothing water sliding down the skin, taking all thoughts to the feet and to the earth.
Now bring the up body to the low body with sun breaths. Moving with deliberate intention, slowly inhale while raising arms overhead. Swan dive forward, leading with the heart, exhaling to forward fold. Inhale and dive back up, arms reaching overhead, and exhale hands to the heart. Repeat three times, and move to the floor.
Extend the legs long, sitting directly on the sitting bones. Inhale arms overhead and fold up body to low. Breathe and feel the mind grounding into the body, belly to thighs. Hold for nine breaths.
Move to the knees, and sit on the heels for Child’s Pose, breathing deeply for nine counts. Press the third eye into the floor.
Finally, move into supine twists. Lie on the floor, and pull one knee into the chest and drop it over the body, relaxing into the twist. Twists are calming for the full body, realigning the vertebrae and taking pressure off the spine. Hold for nine deep breaths before switching sides.
Believe, and climb into bed.
If sleep doesn’t come within 30 minutes, embrace wakefulness. Step to the window and place your hands on the glass. You are not alone. Close your eyes, and with your third eye, gaze into the night. There are dragons, and it’s time for you to wake up.