How many times have you tossed and turned in bed, late at night and attempted to force yourself to sleep? If you are unlucky enough to have gone through this, you may also have experienced the futility of that effort. There is an aria by G.F Handel from the opera Semele that begins with the text “O sleep, why dost thou leave me?” This often plays in my head as I lie there with rising frustration levels. Sometimes I do wonder why sleep has left me!

sleep-why-dost-thou-leave-me-mark-atherton-online-yoga-trainingWhilst there can be many factors at play resulting in a lack of sleep, and some are serious conditions that do require medical intervention, the type of sleep loss I’m referring to is the intermittent one; sometimes fuelled by lack of adherence to routine, late night phone-checking and a mind that would rather monkey around than fall into deep rest.

It doesn’t happen often, but when it does nothing else matters. No matter how many times I’ve tried to force myself to sleep it’s never worked.

A quick search on PubMed brings up several studies demonstrating the effect of yoga, pranayama and meditation on increasing sleep. To many this may make complete sense, but to my “it’s 2am and I can’t fall asleep” self, common sense and reason are lacking.

I understand the yoga poses that would help me relax physically and meditations that would calm my mind, but a new approach I’ve been trying for lack of sleep is Santosha, or contentment (one of the five Niyamas; part of the 8 Limbs of Yoga). Instead of fighting it or trying to reverse it, I work with it.

I begin with a line like this “Ok, mind, so we’re not ready to turn off? Let’s get some work done then,” and I start working on projects or reading. This contentment with things as they are works for me on two levels: I get things off my to-do list, and I become ok with not being able to rest. Generally, after an hour or so I feel tired enough to fall asleep.

I find the next day is when my yoga becomes most useful; gentle practices that support a body that didn’t rest enough, help me get through the day as best I can.

Have you used yoga or yogic teachings as an aid when you’re unable to fall sleep?

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