Insomnia is not a disease, it's a red flag to indicate that something is out of balance in your life. My year of insomnia was 35 years in the making. As the guy from the movie 127 Hours said when his hand was jammed in a rock, "every thought, action and deed led me here."
The sleeplessness started off gently, but then culminated in a full-blown, 10-course meal with all the trimmings. Getting sleep became my new desire, and I desperately sought its company every night.
Here is what I learned from my year of insomnia:
There are two typical sleep disturbance patterns: (1) the inability to fall asleep, and (2) waking early in the morning and then having trouble getting back to sleep.
Sleep does not like being pressured or bullied. The more you think about trying to sleep, or the more you fixate on your lack of it, the worse it gets.
We tend to choose what comforts us (not necessarily what is good for us), even in regards to sleep. Some people go to go to bed early and get up early, others prefer a later schedule. The pattern you like may not suit your Ayurvedic classifications of Pita, Vata, or Kapha. For example, if you have more Vata, then you tend to lose sleep when you are stressed. However, people with more Kapha might want to sleep all day long when they feel stressed or depressed.
Research indicates that those who sleep poorly don't have more stressful events in their life, they just perceive them as more stressful. If your nervous system is in a constant state of arousal because you feel stressed, you will have higher levels of stress hormones in your body. The hormone cortisol creates adrenaline surges in your body, which are very helpful if you want to run from a tiger .... not so helpful if you want to sleep.
Here are the 5 things I found helpful in overcoming my sleep issues:
1. Break your thought patterns.
If you have a thought about the night ahead and that you won't be able to sleep, it's really important to acknowledge you had that thought but then no longer fixate on it. Don't dig the groove any deeper than it already is. Cognitive behavioral therapy can be effective if you are unable to break the habit of worrying about getting to sleep. Treat the thought as an amusement with an "Oh-there-it-goes-again-funny-thought" attitude.
2. Reverse psychology, trying to stay awake in order to fall asleep.
Lie in bed and shut your eyes. Now imagine that there is something really important for which you have to stay awake. It works on the principle that we attract what we want and also what we don't want. The desire to stay awake has the opposite effect.
3. Do some breathing exercises.
Practice slow breathing with an emphasis on lengthening the exhalation. Breathe through the nose for the count of four and exhale for a count four.
Gradually, without straining, increase the length of the exhale to five, six and maybe up to ten. Extending the exhale activates the calming parasympathetic nervous system.
Another idea is to practice ujjayi or "ocean breath" counting. Practice ujjayi breathing and count each exhale until you reach ten. Keep repeating this until you sleep. If you lose count, start again at one.
4. Do yoga asanas to promote better sleep.
These poses are conducive to calming and restoring: Supported downward dog with your head on a bolster; headstand; supported shoulder stand; or legs up the wall. If you wake in the night, the best calming pose to do is a forward fold.
5. Set the scene for sleep.
Reduce stimulants, tea, coffee, alcohol after mid afternoon. TV and computers are also stimulating. Keep the room dark, use ear plugs and eye patches. A gentle massage or bath will relax you. Lavender essential oil is soothing. Go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time.
These messages we get from our body are our teachers. For me a combination of the above techniques helped me bring back the awareness and balance my body was asking for and now I sleep like a baby.