Kaiyum’s useful guide about sleep – research and experience from his personal and professional life.
It is very important for a meditator to see to it that he sleeps properly and enough. And one more thing needs to be understood – right sleep will be different for everybody. It will not be equal because the body has needs which are different for everyone – according to age and to many other elements.”
Osho, The Inner Journey, Ch 3
As a therapist, sleep is one of the most complicated subjects I’ve yet had to deal with. There are so many reasons why sleep is disturbed, why it’s hard to get to sleep and have ‘a good night’s rest’.
Here’s a list of at least some possibilities that may help you. After all, if you’re sleeping badly, what’s to stop you changing your patterns and trying something different?
- Eat a light evening meal without protein and be finished preferably by 6 p.m., 7 at the latest. Carbohydrates (rice! quinoa! pasta!) and vegetables could just make a difference. Skip the coffee and tea after 4 or 5 p.m. – even green tea contains caffeine, so watch out for that, too.
- Stop watching TV and using the computer about 3 hours before you intend to retire. Avoid exciting books or articles that make your adrenalin level rise – which might be an indication to avoid news programmes at any time, let alone in the evening.
- After dinner, take a long walk. Take it easy though – it’s not a competition, so think in terms of a stroll. And remember the old adage: ‘After lunch, rest a while; after dinner, walk a mile.’
- If you have worries, it’s truly important to find a way of ‘parking’ these, at least for the night. Meditation helps, tossing and turning at night does not. It may be a good idea to have a therapy session or two to help you deal with your worries.
- A meditative approach to relaxation – a crucial ingredient in falling asleep! – is to lie as comfortably as possible in bed, preferably on your back. Breathe out as deeply and fully as you can and wait a few seconds before breathing in. Repeat 2-3 times. Then, starting with the toes, tense your muscles as hard as you can for a few seconds, then relax those muscles as you breathe out. Some people call this a ‘body scan’ so just continue through the body with the same procedure: calves, thighs, buttocks, abdomen and so on. This procedure certainly helps many people to relax, move out of the Mind and back into the body and prepare for sleep.
- Make sure your room is as dark as possible. Extra blinds and curtains if necessary. Wear ear-plugs and an eye-shade if you notice you’re really sensitive to external distractions.
Sleep is just like darkness. It is not accidental that you find it difficult to sleep when there is light. Darkness has an affinity with sleep. That’s why it’s easy to sleep at night. Darkness all around creates the milieu in which you can fall asleep very easily.”
Osho, Tantra: The Supreme Understanding, Ch 3
- If you’re lying sleepless in bed, get up. Make a mug of herbal tea (chamomile or one of the many ‘sleepytime’ mixes available these days) and do some odd jobs or work at a hobby. Leave the computer turned off. Return to bed when you feel drowsy.
- It’s true that alcohol can calm you and even make you sleepy, so there’s a lot to be said for a nightcap – so long as it remains in moderation and does not become a habit. And as you probably know, the quality of alcohol-induced sleep is poor in the event of too much alcohol!
- A hot bath lowers the blood pressure, relaxes and can enhance drowsiness. Reading in the bath may work for you, too, making you additionally drowsy.
- Physical discomfort and pain are great disturbers of sleep. There are many herbal remedies such as cannabis* (see below) as well as some less invasive pharmaceutical drugs which may be necessary to ensure you get enough sleep.
- If you’re lucky enough to have a partner who’s willing to massage your feet, you’re likely to fall asleep pretty fast. How long you stay asleep is another matter!
- If you have access to a friendly acupuncturist, it’s definitely worthwhile discussing your sleep challenges with him/her. Acupuncture may provide the long-term relief of the deeper cause as well as short-term relief in promoting the sleep pattern.
- It could be valuable for you to look into the basic body types as described in the Ayurvedic approach to health. Kapha types seldom have sleeping difficulties – if they do, then something is very much wrong! For Pitta and especially Vata types, sleep disorders come with the territory. Yet the more you are able to balance these so-called doshas, the greater your chance of improving your sleeping pattern as well as your all-round energy and well-being.
The technical stuff – Supplements that influence sleep
- St John’s wort is a herb that’s available as a tea, capsule (ground, dried plant) or as an extract of the active ingredients. It calms the nervous system and can slow down the stream of thoughts and dreams. Pregnant women must not use St John’s wort in any form.
- Cannabis* – in various forms and with various names – is both a stimulant and, at a certain point, a delightful provoker of relaxed sleep. Ideal where pain is the source of wakefulness.
- Valerian, available as a tea, extract or tincture is another herb that has a calming effect.
- A whole range of bio-chemicals such as lithium, taurine and B5 contribute to unease in the nervous system when there is an insufficiency and the quality of sleep will be influenced.
- Magnesium and potassium are basic bio-chemicals which can affect the quality of sleep. A shortage of magnesium can produce muscle cramps, restlessness in the body and make physical relaxation difficult. Strangely enough, more or less the same is true for potassium although the restlessness will be more evident in the nervous system.
- Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that, with advancing age, the body makes less of. Small pills of 0.25 mg up to 10 mg (a sledgehammer dose!) may make just the difference you need. The advantage of the lower dosage pills is that you can experiment to find the amount that works best for you. Melatonin can be useful in cases of jetlag. Moreover, melatonin is a powerful ‘free radical scavenger’, cleaning up the body while you sleep. Current research indicates that melatonin levels are generally low and that there is a significant connection with the influence of low-frequency emissions from DECT phones, wireless routers and mobile telephony … and the significant increase in levels of cancer. Melatonin supplementation is therefore a valuable support to your health.
- Another vital amino acid in the melatonin sequence is tryptophan. It is naturally present in tiny quantities in certain carbohydrates and in milk – which explains the history of ‘a mug of hot milk last thing at night’ and perhaps part of the success of drinks like Ovaltine.
- A shortage of vitamin B6 will certainly affect the sleeping pattern. Sufficient B6 is essential to enable the body to make serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain that is crucial to the sleep process. This B vitamin is also essential in creating reserves of glucose. If you are ‘constantly’ hungry – which can also be a source of wakefulness – then the chances are that you are short of B6.
- A shortage of B12 and l-carnitine can disturb the sleep. Only testing can indicate what is needed! Vegetarians are typically short of these two bio-chemicals.
- The most common period of wakefulness is (approximately) 1am to 3am, a period indicating liver activity. When you tend to be awake around these times you may need to give your liver some support with specific herbal remedies such as Liver Support.
As you can see, there are many possibilities – and many more than I’ve mentioned. A personal check-up as well as experimenting with different solutions provide the only realistic approach … and even then you may still have sleepless nights! Please feel free to get in touch with your personal recipe and experience.
* Cannabis might be illegal in the country/state where you live.
Kaiyum (David Bloch) is one of our regular contributors
Update 10.5.2022: Links to no-longer existing website removed