I, Nuthan Manohar, have the ability to sleep anywhere and at any time. I could sleep through loud movies, wild parties, and long drives down twisting, pothole-infested roads. I’d yawn at 9.30 pm and be fast asleep in bed by 10 pm, no matter what.
My sleep had been wonderful until it wasn’t. And when it wasn’t, it was a truly miserable phase of life. I’d lie awake in the middle of night, tossing and turning. Work plans, love plans, fictional plans, and plans I didn’t even realise I had would burst in my mind.
It was just horrible. The sleep deprivation would leave me groggy and foggy in the day, and in the evenings I was anxious and stressed about the kind of sleep I would get that night.
But now my sleep is great again. It did not happen overnight. It was a slow process of fine-tuning my habits and training my mind to fall asleep, stay asleep and wake up feeling like a million bucks.
Here are four tested habits that helped me sleep deep.
Learn to let it go
In a recent study, 59 per cent of Indians said they sleep after 11 pm and most of them cite social media as the reason for this. Awareness and action are needed to ensure we honour our bodies’ requirement of sleep. I started to shut down my laptop before 7.30 pm and made a schedule to shut down other screens by 9 pm.
And as I shut down, I became mindful that the day is done. I’d usher in cosiness with softer lights, music, and diffuse a few drops of sandalwood. Within a few days the mind imbibes these cues and syncs up with the body’s natural way to release, let go and relax.
From 8 pm, it’s time for self-care, selflove and bonding. I steer clear of debates, arguments and melodramatic content. The next two hours of the evening are all about honouring the body to prepare it for the elixir we all need — sleep.
Mindful yogic stretches
Most people who are unable to sleep experience tightness in hamstrings, psoas muscles and so on. And on the other hand, when we fall asleep, the muscles relax. So, it’s only logical to ensure relaxed muscles for quicker, better sleep.
A combination of gentle stretches and relaxing forward bends are extremely beneficial. Add to this slow deep breathing.
I do mindful stretching each night, making sure to stretch out my hamstrings, coaxing my psoas to relax, and easing the tension off my shoulders.
(Do check with a physician before starting any physical practice, based on an individual’s conditions; some therapeutic practices may be counter-productive.)
Low-intensity stretches have been found to improve REM stage of sleep and offer improved stress response and therefore an improved emotional condition.
In the Ancient Indian system of healing, Ayurveda, moon milk is a must-have for sleep. To a cup of whole fat milk, I add a pinch of nutmeg, a tablespoon of almond flakes, few strands of saffron, and half-a-teaspoon Ashwagandha. Once the mixture comes to a boil, I allow it to simmer for at least five minutes.
You may add a natural sweetener if you absolutely need it. For those who are intolerant to milk or follow a vegan diet, you may substitute with oats milk or almond milk.
Another magical Ayurvedic remedy is the juice of ash gourd — but that may not be easy to source. Ash gourd juice comes with additional benefits such as alkalising the body, promoting gut health, weight loss and so on.
The best sleep I have had during my insomniac phase was when a friend in her gentle voice talked me into sleep. With over a decade of research and training-exposure, I now know that specific slow rhythmic breathing techniques and a calming voice can make all the difference. You can choose from diaphragmatic breathing, box breathing, 4-7-8 breathing techniques or Ujjayi breathing to calm down the body and the mind.
Pre-sleep slow breathing and music have been found to help improve sleep quality among those with insomnia. This also helps reduce wake after sleep onset (or waking up in the night), and sleep latency onset (or time taken to fall asleep).
With that, I wish you deep sleep tonight and a refreshing morning after. With patience we are able to re-train our bodies to reclaim the beautiful process of sleep.
Nuthan Manohar is the founder of Me Met Me. She is a sleep whisperer and a therapeutic perfumer. She is an adjunct faculty with the Indian Institute of Management Kozhikode for wellbeing, a TEDx Speaker, an MBA and MSc Yoga with extensive global experience in behaviour-based wellbeing.First published in eShe