Note: it is almost impossible to get on the Ask Havi list. This person got in by a. being one of my clients or students, b. flattering the hell out of my duck, and c. making life easy on me by being clear about what the question was and what details I could use.
A number of people in my programs have been dealing with sleep-related stuck lately, from insomnia to nightmares to general not wanting to go to bed.
Then a couple of them asked me to weigh in with techniques and ideas and advice.
And to talk about how to approach this whole thing in a Fluent-Self-ified way.
So. First some recognition. And hugs.
Oh sweetie. So much hard.
Not being able to sleep — or not sleeping well — is really not-fun. And it makes everything else that much more impossible. I have way too much first-hand experience with this.
It’s hard on your body, your emotional state, your decision-making capacities. And pretty much everything going on in your life.
So we can’t really talk about this without stopping first to appreciate how much this sucks, and to send comfort and love.
Then the caveats.
What’s right for one person isn’t right for someone else. And we need different things at different times.
That’s why you try stuff. And you take notes for the big Book of You, so you can discard whatever isn’t your thing.
None of this is prescriptive. It’s about being genuinely curious about yourself and your relationship with yourself.
And while I’m caveat-ing here, please keep in mind that neither I nor my duck is a doctor, as stated in our boring disclaimer.
And then a bunch of things worth trying.
I’m intentionally not putting these suggestions in any particular order, hoping that you’ll mix and match to find things that suit you.
Left nostril breathing.
The short version: your body goes through various respiratory cycles through the day.
While you’re awake, there’s more breathing through the right nostril. And while you sleep, the emphasis is left nostril.
If you ever have a stuffed nose where it was your right side clogged up, you’ll notice that it’s almost impossible to fall asleep.
Breathing intentionally through the left nostril is a good way to jumpstart the process and get back on a relaxed, quiet, introspective cycle.
Gently close your right nostril with your fingers. Relaxed, comfortable, unforced inhaling and exhaling through the left side.
And at the very least it’s good for getting your mind off of everything else, and reconnecting to your body.
Stuff that always happens before bed.
You start small. And build. Adding new aspects every few days.
You might include something you say (like a poem or a prayer). Something you smell (lavender or chamomile). Something you drink (sleepy tea). Something you wear.
A tired mind makes you feel like a mess. But a slightly tired body worn out from (moderate) movement and exertion tends to be a happy one.
So that means stuff during the day. Like walking and dancing around the living room and stretching.
And gentler stuff in the evening. You might want to look for a restorative or a yin yoga class to learn some gentle, relaxing poses that are good for winding down before bed.
And incorporate some of that into evening rituals. Legs up on the wall. Reclining poses. Shavasana.
Talk to your sleep.
Ask your sleep to take care of you.
Ask your body to process what it needs to process in a way that’s peaceful and healthy for you. Ask your dreams to give you information in non-disturbing ways.
Make a commitment to your body and your mind to find out more about whatever it’s trying to tell you.
Speaking of writing.
Writing before bed is a great way of processing stuff that happened during the day (and inviting your unconscious brain to help you out while you’re asleep).
Writing a note to yourself can also become part of your evening rituals.
Clearing space (symbolically and literally).
The point of sleep is to restore your mind and your body.
And it’s harder with distractions and reminders of awake-stuff all around.
Look at anything you can see from your bed, in any position you might be sleeping in. And if it’s not relaxing, you want it out.
You definitely don’t want your computer there (if it turns out you can’t sleep and you’re going to go online, you can always wrap yourself in a blanket and visit it). Same goes for piles of work stuff.
Also: clearing space and making dedicated space is something that happens both physically and in time. It helps to make time for rest and coming to bed.
Look for the patterns.
Doing Shiva Nata in the morning (I do not recommend practicing at night) will give you a ton of information about whatever patterns are at play in your life.
You can also make that your intention:
“What can I learn in the next 48 hours about my relationship with sleep and rest?”
Find the emotion. And meet the need.
What’s going on when you can’t sleep?
Each emotion showing up (sad, lonely, frustrated, annoyed, frightened) hides a need (security, comfort, love, reassurance, acknowledgment).
Figuring out what you need so you can get better at giving it to yourself is a huge part of any destuckification practice.
As is acknowledging your pain and your right to have it, and meeting yourself where you are with it.
Things that engage your mind.
I have a lovely hypnotism CD (in German) that I listen to when I can’t sleep.
Many of my students use my emergency calming techniques audio recordings as their sleepy-relaxed pre-bed thing.
Remove pressure, ease pain.
If you head to bed thinking “I’d better get some sleep this time, dammit”, it’s all that more miserable if it doesn’t happen.
So you want your objective to be rest and observation, not sleep. It takes some of the pressure off.
If you’ve rested your eyes and your body, points for you. If you’ve observed stuff about yourself and your stuff, points for you. That’s what gets you closer to resolving this.
Sama vritti pranayama.
This is the breathing technique I use when I can’t sleep.
Sama means even. Vritti are fluctuations or vibration. So it’s just even breathing.
Inhale on a count of four. Exhale on a count of four.
As your breathing slows, you can expand the count as long as you keep it even. Inhale six, exhale six. Or inhale eight, exhale eight. Even.
This is something I got from Hiro.
Pure Land, in the sense that is relevant to this conversation, is a buddhist concept of a place (or state of being) that is empty, quiet, pure, zen.
And you can ask your body or your soul, whether in writing or in meditation, to take you to a place like this while you sleep.
So that while you sleep, things can be taken care of. Without you being a part of it.
Taking it easy on yourself.
When you can’t sleep, nothing works.
Everything you feel (sad, anxious, annoyed, etc) is exacerbated and heightened.
It’s really easy to blame yourself for all of it. From stubbing your toe because you’re so tired to getting in an argument.
Permission to feel like crap! It’s normal. It’s not going to be like this forever.
Back to the Book of You.
When you look at what you know from the Book of You, you’ll be able to keep adding information about what’s helpful and what isn’t.
For me, watching a movie before bed is not helpful.
For me, doing yoga nidra is helpful.
You notice. You take notes. You keep adding to the collection of Useful Information.
And comment zen for today…
This is by no means a comprehensive list. Not even slightly.
You may have found all sorts of things that are helpful for you. Awesome. Do what works for you. Discard whatever doesn’t feel like a good fit.
We’re all working on our stuff in our own way, at our own pace. And we can let other people have their process too.
Big love to all. Comfort and hugs to all the schleepy mice. And wishes for happy sleeps.