The Importance of Sleep and How to Get It
We all know how awful it feels to be sleep deprived, and many of us don’t get nearly enough shut-eye. Living on very little sleep has even become something of a badge of honor in modern society. But sleep is just as important to overall health as diet and exercise and forgoing it has serious consequences. Sleep impacts not just your body, but also your mental and emotional state. Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to start sleeping more and better.
When people consider the physical harms of sleep deprivation, they often think of feeling tired or having a headache. But the effects are much further reaching than that. While one bad night won’t make a lasting difference, being chronically short on sleep increases risks of everything from heart attack to stroke to diabetes. It also makes it harder for your body to recover from injuries or fight off disease, and it often leads to weight gain.
Emotional and Mental Health
The damage inflicted by a lack of sleep also extends to emotional and mental health. You’ve probably noticed that being tired makes you more moody and irritable. But it also increases the likelihood of depression and anxiety, and it hinders concentration, decision-making, and impulse control. People who are sleep deprived even struggle with empathy.
How to Get More and Better Sleep
Even if you’re well aware of the importance of sleep, it’s not always easy to get enough of it. But a few simple changes can make a big difference.
Sticking to a consistent schedule helps regulate your body’s internal clock. As much as you can, try to go to bed and get up around the same time every day. Another surprisingly impactful change is to turn off electronic devices like phones and TVs at least thirty minutes before bedtime. Avoiding exercise, work, and stressful situations late in the evening will also help you fall asleep more easily.
How to Practice Yoga Nidra
Another tool to help you sleep better and feel more rested is yoga nidra. Often called “yogic sleep,” it’s a powerful meditation and relaxation technique. Yoga nidra most often practiced as a guided exercise, lead by a teacher in person or through a recording (which you can find on Insight Timer or YouTube). But you can get many of the same benefits from practicing on your own.
Yoga nidra is normally done lying down on your back, eyes closed and muscles relaxed. Begin by setting an intention, which might simply be to relax, or it could be to cultivate a particular feeling. Then bring your attention to your breathing, taking slow, steady breaths through your nose. Notice any sensations you feel. Next, begin to progressively relax your body, bringing your full awareness to each body part individually. At the end, feel your entire body at once; you might even notice a floating sensation. Allow yourself to rest here.
Guided yoga nidra sessions will often lead you through various visualization exercises or a more detailed storyline, but even starting with this basic practice can have profound effects. You can’t help but feel relaxed after yoga nidra, and that will go a long way toward helping you get more and better sleep. Yin Yoga can also be very beneficial for creating the proper physical and physiological state for better sleep. Check out this article for more information on Yin yoga and our upcoming Yin Yoga Teacher Training!
About the Author
Jen is a freelance writer, blogger, and yoga teacher who left her office job in Boston to travel the world with her husband. She previously worked in international development and academic research, and served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Rwanda. Some of her biggest passions include promoting responsible and mindful travel and helping her students develop their personal yoga practice.