That moment when your alarm goes off in the morning, you open your eyes and wonder if you ever fell asleep at all: those mornings are not fun. Whether that happens occasionally, or all the time, I want to help you. As someone who used to struggle with anxiety-induced insomnia, and both a teacher and a student of yoga therapy, I’ve discovered some really accessible tools to help change your sleep, and therefore, change your life.
If you’ve ever had a night where you don’t sleep well, you know at least some of the negative effects that happen in our body and minds when we are sleep deprived, but according to this article from the Cleveland Health Clinic, there are many including:
- Lack of alertness
- Impaired Memory
- Daytime sleepiness
- Relationship stress
- Quality of life
- Higher likelihood of getting into car accidents
According to Dr. Foldvary-Schaefer, a doctor who specializes in sleep, “We need sleep so we can restore nutrients, replenish the spirit and refresh the mind.” Dr. Foldvary-Schaefer continues, “Hidden health hazards accumulate during periods of sleeplessness, and they can’t be covered up with concealer or reversed with caffeine.”
So let’s get into it. There are many therapeutic tools to help improve sleep that I teach my clients as a Yoga Therapist. I want to share three easy tips for getting a good sleep with you, but know that every body is different, and with anything else, sometimes these practices take a little bit of dedication and consistency to learn and truly see the effects from them.
Using Your Breath as a Natural Remedy to Sleep Better
One of the most important things to understand when it comes to sleep is that your body needs a certain amount in order to function properly. Our nervous system cannot function optimally, and therefore our body does not function properly, when we are sleep deprived.
One of my favorite ways to help bring the nervous system into balance is by utilizing your breath. That’s right, you can sleep better by paying attention to and shifting your breath–it really is THAT simple. Our breath is directly connected to our nervous system, so it’s no wonder that the way we breathe can create a certain effect on our bodies. According to CBC, with a slow and steady inhalation and exhalation ratio, we send a signal to our nervous system to calm the body.
Here are a couple different breathing patterns for you to explore that will help you fall asleep more easily and allow you to sleep more soundly. If these breath practices help but you want more support through audio, I have an affordable yoga therapy monthly membership program called Aligned that includes a bunch of different breathing, and sleep specific, practices to help you.
- Pay attention and slow down your breath. It’s nearly as simple as that. Start to notice your breath, and if possible, start to create a more balanced inhalation and exhalation. Let both parts of your breath get longer, slower and more steady.
- Let your exhalation get longer. When we focus on elongating our exhalation, we can send an immediate signal to our body to relax. You can do this by starting to pay attention to your inhale and exhale: notice and count the length of both, then start to slowly let your exhalation get longer, one count at a time. It may take several rounds but see if you can stretch your exhalation so that it becomes double the count of your inhalation.
Give these two exercises a try before you go to bed at night and watch your mind and body start to calm the more you do it.
Legs Up the Wall and Stretching
Another go-to sleep aid is putting my legs up the wall before I go to bed. Sometimes I do this on the ground, and sometimes when I can’t sleep, I turn around on my bed and put my legs up the headboard. Whatever way you choose, this is a really good pose and practice to support better sleep patterns.
For starters, this pose targets your nervous system promoting better sleep. Bonus points by adding in some slow breathing practices to help. In addition, this improves your circulation and it helps to relax the muscles of your back, shoulders, your facial muscles, and your jaw, helping to reduce unnecessary tension in the body.
Try this by sitting on the ground with one of your hips next to a wall or your bed and your legs bent. Slowly start to lower your spine onto the ground as you move your legs up the bed or the wall. If it’s too intense of a stretch, you can move your hips away from the bed or wall and/or start to bend your knees slightly. I recommend staying here for 2-5 minutes at minimum to get the full effects.
If you want to find more poses and practices like this easy one that will help you sleep better, consider joining Aligned Online Membership, an affordable yoga therapy program to help you ditch pain, live without stress and anxiety and feel more awake and alive within your body!
Body Scan and Guided Relaxation to Help You Sleep Better
A guided body scan meditation is one of my all-time favorites for going to sleep, or when I randomly wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back asleep. And it’s SO EASY! According to The National Sleep Foundation, 30 to 40 percent of adults have trouble sleeping, and 10 to 15 percent suffer from chronic insomnia. This is the exact reason meditation can be a powerful tool for improving your sleep.
You can do this before, after, in addition to or separate from the previous two practices I shared with you. You can do this seated but I find it most effective when you’re lying down. There are many different ways to practice this doing a body scan guided meditation so explore the practices below and see which one tickles your fancy. If you want to try being guided by someone else’s voice through this, check out the meditations on Aligned Online here.
Before you dive in make sure your body is in a comfortable position, supported, and free from tension. Start by connecting to your breath and closing your eyes if that feels safe. As you bring your awareness to different parts of your body, try to allow your body to find it’s own sense of relaxation, free of the mind’s work. Don’t stress about relaxing each area fully, as simply bringing your awareness to each body part will aid in relaxation.Head to toe. Start from your head and work your way down to your toes.
- Move your awareness from top to bottom of the body, slowly and consciously relaxing different parts of your body, then moving on to the next until you reach your toes. If your mind is still active, you can work your way back up to your head.
- Left to right. Start by naming different parts of your body on the entire left side, then when you are complete, switch to the right side of your body.
- Back to front. You can start by bringing awareness to all of the areas on the back side of your body then slowly move your awareness to the front of your body including the muscles of your face.
My best recommendation is to follow the one that feels most relaxing with the least mental strain. This can take a while to get comfortable with so be patient with the process. If you find that guiding yourself through it does not support relaxation, jump inside Aligned Online Membership and enjoy some guided ones for you.
Sleeping Better Will Change Your Life
When you start to implement these three practices into your daily life, I can promise you that you’ll start to feel a difference. As I talked about earlier, when our nervous system is functioning optimally, the health of our whole body is set up for success. Since all of these practices positively affect your nervous system, you are doing an amazing thing for your WHOLE BODY.
If you’re interested in getting further support and practices that will improve your sleep, and also help you to say goodbye to aches, pain, stress, and bad posture, check out Aligned, my monthly membership program. If you have any questions at all about these practices, don’t hesitate to comment below or drop me an email so we can chat: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cheers to healthy sleep and a happy life!
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About the Author
My name is Caitlin, I’m a chronic pain survivor, Certified Yoga Therapist, Registered Dental Hygienist, and founder and CEO of Caitlin Parsons Yoga Therapy, a yoga therapy and wellness company. I recently made my dreams a reality by quitting my full-time job as a dental hygienist to pursue my passion and purpose helping others get back into alignment.
Now I use my personal and professional experiences with chronic pain, stress and anxiety, and injury recovery to help women step back into their own alignment – in their bodies, minds and throughout their lives. I help empower women to create balance in their bodies and minds so they can access greater levels of freedom in their lives inside my monthly membership program (Aligned), group coaching program for hygienists (The Aligned Hygienist), a Yoga + Coaching Program for Dental Teams, and private yoga therapy coaching.
I love to share my knowledge and expertise on mindfulness and therapeutic yoga for back pain through my blog and social media platforms as well as guest appearances on other inspiring and like-minded podcasts.
Client Success Stories
“I started working with Caitlin because I was tired of being in pain all the time and had learned about yoga therapy from a friend. I had such bad hip pain, it hurts to sit down, get up, exercise and walk around. The pain moved down my leg sometimes and up into my low back.
Now I feel amazingly strong, am able to actually bend down and reach my shoes so I can tie them! I gained an immense amount of strength in my hips as well as have learned many things I can do on my own to keep going in the right direction. I really enjoyed the one on one time! And the fact that Caitlin came to my house was amazing. I had no excuses to not show up for myself and the results paid off! I have already recommended Caitlin to my friends and will continue to do so.” – Cary
“I started working with Caitlin because I had recently gotten surgery from a brain tumor. I had very little mobility in my shoulder and arm. I was concerned that the lack of mobility, discomfort and reduced strength would increase chances for more pain and injury. Working with Caitlin was amazing, I would recommend her personal approach to anyone. She is dedicated to her work, has great knowledge and communication. Caitlin does a wonderful job guiding you back to your body and yourself.” – Ania
“I started working with Caitlin because I had chronic low back pain and regular flare-ups. I was told by multiple doctors that I would always be in pain and my posture would never improve unless I had surgery. The pain got so bad that I couldn’t play volleyball anymore, which created a negative spiral in my mood, energy and throughout my life. The results I got with Caitlin was amazing. I no longer have chronic pain or chronic acid reflux which I was on medication for. I’m much healthier and happier now than I ever have been!” – Russ M.
“I started working with Caitlin because I had neck pain, shoulder pain, neck congestion and ringing in my ears. I was working a lot, taking care of my family, and I was beginning to spiral downwards in a state of stress and pain. With all of that, life became a chore. I wanted to learn how to take care of myself so I could live a happy life and take care of my responsibilities from a place of joy, not dread. I wanted to get my neck to a place where it wasn’t painful and tightening every time I was stressed.
Now I no longer have neck pain or tightness, I’m stressed and ear ringing has greatly reduced. My body feels so much better as a whole. Caitlin helped me find peace. Caitlin has an innate sense of knowing how to tailor each session to fit how I’m feeling in my body and what I need. Caitlin helped me change the way I react to stress; now I’m more mindful of my reactions and the way I take care of my body. I’m stronger in my body and mind now which has positively affected my entire life.” – Donna M.
“I started working with Caitlin because I was completely disconnected from my body because of a genetic disease, having constant, chronic pain, extreme trouble sleeping and anxiety living in my own skin. I wanted to feel better- I wanted to have less pain and have a better quality of life–building strength and reconnecting with my body were a bonus. Working with Caitlin exceeded my expectations- I sleep so much better now and my pain has improved significantly. I’m less anxious and have practices to help when my symptoms flare. I’m more grounded and embodied, I have a daily yoga practice that continues to build on the foundation Caitlin helped me create.
Caitlin is incredible, she validated me and helped me work on my whole self. She customized everything to work specifically for me. I 100% recommend working with Caitlin. She believed that healing was possible and she held that vision for me and brought it to each session, and eventually I believed and embodied it too. She helped me find the power in every single baby step towards a more whole and healthy life, and I am completely transformed by it. This work isn’t the quick fix, it’s deep, holistic, soul-led healing.” – Hayley
“Working with Caitlin was the best thing I ever did for myself. I thought that I would always have pain because I’ve done so many things to try and help but they haven’t worked, until yoga therapy with Caitlin. Now I am living with less pain, my posture has improved, I am getting stronger, and my clothes are getting looser.” – Joan
“Before I came to Caitlin, I was taking Motrin and Tylenol on a daily basis like clockwork. I would skip going to the pool or out with my family after work due to the pain in my body. I was very depressed and isolating myself from activities that I really enjoy doing with my family and friends. I had pain on a daily basis in my lower back, shoulder blades, hips and left knee. Some days I had so much pain and inflammation in my body I felt like I couldn’t make it through the day.
Since starting FTF I am slowly starting to get control of my pain and inflammation through the online program one-on-one sessions with Caitlin. Inflammation is decreasing, I’m sitting up taller and I’m more aware of my posture both at work and in my daily routines outside of work. I am no longer having to take Motrin and Tylenol on a daily basis and I am able to walk longe distances without pain in my knees. “
“I never thought I would get out of back, knee, and postural pain. I also have a curvature in my back that I have been told most of my life cannot be changed. When I came to Caitlin, I wasn’t playing my favorite sport and I was miserable at work. Even doing simple things was really painful. Caitlin completely personalizes her services based on your needs. She takes considerable time to answer all of my questions and targets my sessions for exactly what I need that day and what my goals are. Caitlin always asks me what is going on and listens really well. She is a wealth of knowledge about yoga, human anatomy, and how humans should move. No two sessions are the same. We changed the way I move while doing simple things like sitting in a car or at my desk, putting dishes away and bending over to clean dog poop so that my back is protected from re-injury. I am healing my back partly to return to playing volleyball. I now understand how to be in my volleyball stances and movements so that I can avoid injury when I get back to playing. I am already standing up much straighter and feel more confident. I never thought I would feel this good in my body and I am so wow-ed by Caitlins mastery of her craft.” – Russel
“Caitlin really knows how to curate yoga program for sustainable strengthening. My shoulders and core used to be weaknesses but after a few sessions I see my posture has improved and the range of motion in my shoulders. She’s caring, fun, and a pleasure to work with. I’d recommend her to anyone interested in trying yoga therapy.”
“Caitlin is fantastic. I’ve gone to many of her classes, specifically those with a focus on healthy backs. I’ve worked with her as a therapist on issues I have with my neck and shoulders from work. She’s patient, attentive and offers focused one-on-one sessions. The exercises I’ve done really help me combat the negative effects of sitting at a desk all day, highly recommend working with this lovely and professional woman!!”
“Caitlin has helped me grow and learn a lot about myself. She helped me realize the strong power of breath when I was over stressed and unaware of my mental needs. Caitlin helped me focus my energy, both good and bad, on my breath. With every deep inhale and cleansing exhale, I felt my stress and anxiety lessen and lessen. Eight years later, my main mantra is to ‘just breathe.’ It has literally changed my life. Along with the power of breath, Caitlin has helped me keep a constant awareness of how I physically hold myself. Not only has my posture changed, but I have also become stronger and my confidence has increased. I recently began running and was having pain in my hip and side leg. Through working with Caitlin, my pain subsided. She put together an easy to follow yoga sequence that helped my muscles and ligaments heal. I fully trust in Caitlin as a yoga professional, and recommend her gentle way of teaching to anyone.”
“This program has been so amazing for my pain. In just one class, my neck and shoulder tension released more than it has in years. This program has been so instrumental in managing and controlling my stress. It’s so easy to be “on the hamster wheel”. I look forward to my yoga time and meditation and have noticed a huge difference in my pain level. My family has even noticed my calmer demeanor. I couldn’t believe how much my pain was linked to my stress.”