Ask the experts: How can I fall asleep naturally?
How are your sleeping habits these days? While many of us know the importance of a good night’s sleep, it can still feel elusive and if you’re struggling to drop off, you’re not alone.
To learn more about natural approaches to restful sleep, we spoke to yoga and Reiki teacher Sarah Wheeler who shares holistic approaches to try.
How can I fall asleep naturally?
We all know how important sleep is, yet some of us still struggle to get enough. Can you tell us some examples of holistic therapies that aid sleep?
Firstly, I would say that people will benefit from offering themselves compassion. The more we beat ourselves up for not getting sleep, the deeper these neural patterns become that we cannot sleep and that there is something wrong with us for not being able to sleep.
If we can loosen our grip on judging ourselves (although, of course, not being able to sleep is deeply frustrating), we have a greater chance of dropping into rest. Therapies that can aid sleep are Reiki, mindful/therapeutic yoga, yoga nidrā, flotation therapy and somatic experiencing. These therapies can all improve vagal tone and nurture the rest and digest response, bringing us out of the fight or flight response which is often stuck on ‘on’ due to psychosocial stress and/or trauma.
For those who haven’t heard of yoga nidrā before, can you explain what it is and how it supports rest?
Yoga nidrā has a few meanings which all tie into its association with sleep. Yoganidrā is the name of the Goddess in a text called the Devimahatmaya, who is called upon to awaken Lord Visnu from his sleep so he can fight two demons. The Sanskrit compound yoganidrā most easily understood is ‘the sleep of yoga’.
In a modern context, yoga nidrā is commonly understood as a technique originally from the Laya Yoga lineage (the yoga of dissolving) where the participant is guided through a type of meditation to rest the body and mind while consciousness remains awake and aware.
The aim of yoga nidrā is not to fall fully asleep, but it is very normal for this to happen when you start. Over time and with practice, the resting state is as beneficial to the body as getting a full night of sleep. The rest response nurtured by yoga nidrā encourages greater holistic health including digestive, endocrine and immune system function.
Are there any evening rituals/routines you recommend for those struggling with sleep?
There are lots of lovely things we can do to support sleep, but it’s helpful not to try to do too many things as this can counteract the nourishing energy of sleep and diminish it to just another thing on the to-do list!
I absolutely recommend dry brushing the skin and self-massage, especially the feet, with sesame massage oil (if you are tolerant, otherwise use a different oil). This is called Abhyanga practice. Follow your massage with a 30-minute yoga nidrā rest (I have some recordings on my website youreenoughyoga.com plus there are many on Youtube).
Having a Reiki treatment in the evening or late afternoon can help to promote the relaxation response from the nervous system which is key to sleep. Plus, try to avoid caffeine after 11am and no phone screens after 7pm – I know that is easier said than done for modern humans.
What should a client look for when searching for a holistic therapist to work with?
Listen to how you feel/how your body responds when you read a therapist’s profile or website. Does something ‘ping’ and feel like a good idea? I think it is crucial to notice whether a therapist seems to be exerting control or is open to the client’s agency to choose to work with them or not. Also, a therapist with clear, honest yet compassionate boundaries is crucial.
Sarah’s top three tips for getting more sleep, naturally:
- Signal to your nervous system early in the evening that the time for rest is approaching: try some somatic movement, gentle breathwork (inhale through the nose for six and exhale through your nose for six), yin yoga, Reiki, or yoga nidrā.
- Try mindfulness meditation for just a few minutes per day to help your mind be with its present moment experience. Meditation generates feelings of equanimity or OK-ness even though life may present us with challenging situations.
- Set up your nest for sleep: mobile phone on airplane mode or off, turn off electrical items in the bedroom, perhaps a couple of drops of lavender oil on your bed linen.