I've found myself sighing and quite possibly eye rolling as yet another podcast extolling the virtues of sleep slips into my feed. I mean seriously people, I've given up coffee and alcohol in the name of health (to help my ongoing concussion recovery) - now you want me to turn into even more of a nanna and sleep?!? Quite who do they expect to do the never ending laundry list of chores / work / life admin while I am snoozing away.
In my natural challenger style, I decided to give it go - to see if it was possible to work two jobs, raise two little people single handed, keep a spotless house and garden, pretend I have a social life and still sleep. It's not unusual for me to sleep 4 -5 hours a night once everything else is taken care of, so for this challenge, I let myself sleep as long as my body wanted. It turns out I am a natural 9 hour sleeper, but 12 hours doesn't go amiss. Cue more eye rolling, of course I have never been one to make it easy on myself. Most people need 7 - 9 hours. So what happens if you consistently sleep 4 -5 hours instead of what your body craves? Well nothing pretty...
- you are more likely to develop heart disease or stroke
- your cancer risk increases
- you can't think
- you forget stuff
- your libido diminishes
- you gain weight
- your risk of diabetes increases
- you are more accident prone
- your skin suffers
Actually, getting enough sleep is the single best thing you can do for your health and wellbeing. It's the superpower of yin energy. Without a strong generous amount of yin, our yang suffers. In the west our lifestyles are excessively yang - focussed on doing, action, achieving. We tend to struggle to balance this with the yin energy of quietly being, meditating, quiet reflection. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, it's said that you should never go to bed if you are too tired - you won't have enough energy to have a good sleep. And if you don't sleep well, you don't have much energy to do all the things you want to do the next day.
Qigong is one way to bring some balance back. Unlike other meditation styles, Qigong is a moving meditation. First we warm up, activate and stretch the body, we start to feel the flow of energy through our body. Then we move into slow long flowing moves which allow you to drop into a meditative state. It's ideal if the thought of sitting still and clearing your mind sounds like some kind of torture. The simple mind hack of focussing on slowing down your body, moving with peaceful relaxation like a deep flowing river allows your mind to drop into a peaceful meditative state aligned with the ever moving universe around us.
So if you find yourself wired and tired - try this 5 - 10 minute routine before bed and notice how your quality of sleep improves.
Place one hand on your belly, one hand on your chest. Breathe in deeply, filling up from your belly up to your ribs and chest. Exhale long, slowly, deeply from your chest, down through your ribs to your belly. Do this 5 - 10 times.
Spinal cord breathing
Start with your feet shoulder width apart, knees bent, bent arms by your head - arch your back, look up, breathe in. As you breath out, curl your spine forwards, tuck your tailbone under, chin comes to the chest, arms come together in front of you. Repeat long slow breaths alternating between arching and curling your back 5 - 10 times.
Feet shoulder width apart, knees bent, tall spine. Gently twist your hips side to side, as you do this your arms naturally flow in behind and in front of you (hands face the earth), washing away the stress of the day.
Pulling down the heavens
With relaxed arms, breathe in as your arms come wide out to the side, palms up, lift arms above head. Breathe out as your arms float down your center line, palms to the earth, sending the energy to your belly area. Repeat 6 - 12 times.
It turn out that when I prioritised sleep I did in fact feel amazing, just as all the podcasts said I would. What they didn't mention though was just how hard it is to let go of all the other "stuff" you "need" to do before your head hits the pillow. After another week of 4-5 hour sleeps trying to cram it all in, I can say with hand on heart, it's no way to live. So if you are brave enough, unsubscribe from Netflix, step away from your phone, put on a pot of sleepy tea and settle in to the sweetest way to turn your life around, all for free.
Oh and if you are curious - here a few of podcasts on sleep that I've listened to recently on the topic...
- Feel Better, Live more with Dr Rangan Chatterjee: Why sleep is the most important pillar of health with Professor Matthew Walker
- Science Vs: Sleep: All aboard the snooze cruise!
- Pretty much any episode of The Thrive Global Podcast