Fitness Magazine

When You Wake Up and Can't Fall Back to Sleep

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Nina

When You Wake Up and Can't Fall Back to Sleep

The Starry Night Over the Rhone by Vincent van Gogh

I’m always up for learning more about sleep (I’ve had problems with insomnia in the past so I know how challenging sleep problems can be) so on Monday this week I listened to the Fresh Air interview with Professor Matthew Walker, Director of UC Berkeley’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab and author of Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams

Dr. Walker and Terry Gross talked about the importance of getting enough sleep, about the role of sleep in cleaning the brain (it has its own lymphatic system), how during sleep you form important memories and forget what you don’t need to know, and about the relationship between aging and sleep. I’ll be going down the aging and sleep rabbit hole next week after I get my hands on a certain scientific paper, but for now I want to tell you about the surprising thing Dr. Walker said rather offhandedly. It started when Terry mentioned that she herself had woken up at 5:00 am that morning and hadn’t be able to go back to sleep. Dr. Walker started out immediately with that whole sleep hygiene thing I’ve heard a million times, telling Terry that she should not stay in bed if she's awake. You should get out of bed and go into another room, he told her, one that is only dimly lit, and read a book (no screens!) until you feel sleepy again and then go back to bed. Well, Terry didn’t like that answer any more than I did—she actually kind of whined—and she told Dr. Walker that she didn’t like to “give up” on sleeping any more by getting out of bed and going into another room. “Try meditating if you don’t want to leave the room,” Dr. Walker said cheerily. He went on to say that he himself does that now and has found it very effective. He explained that it “quiets the mind” and “dampens down the Flight or Fight response, which is one of the “key elements” of insomnia. Well, well, well, Dr. Walker. Although I’m not sure why you didn’t mention this “very effective” solution in the first place, I’m very glad you finally did get around to it. As someone who herself really does not want to get out of bed in the middle of night, for many years I’ve been recommending practicing breath awareness (which, basically, is a form of meditation) or calming breath practices both when you initially fall asleep (because this may help you stay asleep) and if you wake in the middle of the night. And for those with breathing problems or those who find that focusing on the breath causes anxiety, I have recommended using a mantra. In fact, I was going on about it very recently in Yoga Tricks Up My Sleeve So it was wonderful to hear a sleep scientist make the same recommendation! That was basically it for any discussion of using meditation or yoga techniques for improving sleep. In fact, at the end of the interview, when Terry asked Dr. Walker to give his tips for improving sleep, he seemed to forget all about how himself meditated when he couldn’t sleep and went into that thing again of “if you wake in the middle of the night, get out of bed and go into another room, blah, blah, blah.” Fortunately, I'm around to remind you all that no, you don't need to get out of bed. And besides meditating, there are many other different yoga techniques you can use in bed in the middle of the night.For information on various yoga practices you can do in bed when you can’t fall asleep, see Yoga You Can Do In Bed. For an overview of using yoga to improve your sleep, see 5 Tips for Better Sleep. And if you want to listen to the Terry Gross interview with Dr. Walker, go here.

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