Sunday, February 17, 2013

To sleep or not to sleep? that is the question.

Some of us are lucky to sleep well, but from time to time we wake up in the middle of the night and can't get back to sleep. For others sleep is evasive most of the time and sometimes even impossible! Whichever category you find your self in, the techniques for getting back to sleep are the same. These will work, but there are many factors to consider before trying Tai Chi Breathing.

The following* may be preventing you from getting back or even beginning to get to sleep:"

  • Sleep habits we learned as children.
  • Going to bed at different times each night
  • Daytime napping
  • Poor sleeping environment, such as too much noise or light
  • Spending too much time in bed while awake
  • Working evening or night shifts
  • Not getting enough exercise
  • Using the television, computer, or smartphone in bed
     Use of:
    • Alcohol or other drugs
    • Heavy smoking
    • Too much caffeine, especially late in the day
    • Getting used to certain types of sleep medications
    • Some cold medications and diet pills
    • Other medicines, herbs, or supplements 
    Physical, social, and mental health issues can affect sleep patterns, including:
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Certain medical conditions, such as thyroid disease
  • Feeling sad or depressed. Often, insomnia is the symptom that causes people with depression to seek medical help.
  • Physical pain or discomfort
  • Stress, whether it is short-term or long-term. For some people, the stress caused by the insomnia makes it even harder to fall asleep.
    Sleep Apnea
With age, sleep patterns tend to change. Many people find that aging causes them to have a harder time falling asleep, and that they wake up more often.
If you can change some of those above causes, that will help and you can also implement some relaxation strategies for falling back asleep:
Calming the mind and relaxing the body will aid in allowing you to fall back into a sleep pattern.
There are many techniques from hypnosis to listening to recordings of soft waves or sleep music CDs.There is a technique called Jacobson method for progressive muscle relaxation."*

Tai Chi Breathing

There is also a very simple Tai Chi breathing technique that many of my students have successfully used!
It's like counting sheep, sort of. You lay comfortably in your bed on your back to start with. If you need a pillow make sure it is not too big, or just lay on the mattress. Keep the pillow nearby for later on when you are ready to sleep. Place your hands on your lower belly, just below the belly button. Start to let go of the muscles in your abdomen, and feel the breath go in and out of your body. Don't force the breathing, just notice the breaths. Connect the tongue to the top of your mouth or palate or behind your top front teeth. and lightly close your lips. You may notice your abdomen slightly rising as you breathe in and falling as you breathe out.
Start to count your breaths. I find counting up to ten and starting over again is easier and less thinking than counting all the way up to 100 or down from 100. Anyways, it's not a contest. Just count as you breathe gently in and out. By focusing on the breath and counting, your mind is now beginning to move into a meditative state, which is the preparation for totally relaxing and subsequently falling asleep. Don't be upset if some thoughts drift through your mind, just gently but firmly send them on their way and get back to the counting and following the breaths. You will begin to feel you body relax more and when you just feel like you can't count one more breath, you are ready to find your comfortable sleep position and drift off.
If this doesn't work for you, some of my students actually get up from the bed and do a very gentle version of a Tai chi move or moves (any ones you like) focusing on the move and breathing gently, for 10 minutes or so and then go to the bed and follow up with the breathing.

Good luck and Sweet dreams!

*Article from ADAM Medical Encyclopedia  Pub Med Health
Tai Chi practice and Sleep Studies:
Dr. Michael Irwin, the Norman Cousins Professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and director of the UCLA Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, studied a group of 112 healthy, older adults between the ages of 59 and 86, randomly assigning them to two groups. One practiced 20 tai chi moves for 25 weeks, and one took classes in healthy lifestyles, including sleep hygiene, for the same period of time. At the end of the study, published in the scientific journal Sleep in July 2008, the class that performed tai chi reported a significant improvement in the quality of their sleep on the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index, a self-rated questionnaire." read more

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