Got sleep? Try these tips to fall asleep or return to sleep.

How long does it take you to get to sleep or return to sleep?

If you are fortunate enough to sleep through the night or drop off easily after waking up during the night, then you may not be interested in this article. But, sadly, difficulty with sleep is very common, so you probably know someone who could benefit from some tips.

Students sometimes ask me, “Do you have practices for getting back to sleep after waking up in the middle of the night to make a bathroom trip?”
It happens, right?

Self-Massage to Induce

My go-to practice is self-massage, beginning with my feet. Then I do calves, thighs, hands, fingers, forearms, then upper arms. After each individual part or section, I rest for 2 – 3 minutes, breathing and relaxing into the sensations of the massage. I sometimes fall asleep after only doing my feet. Sometimes it takes going through the full massage. Sometimes I get halfway through.

More Techniques and Practices to Induce Sleep

Here are some more practices that can be helpful to fall asleep or return to sleep after an interruption:

  • Laying on your side versus on your back can be more settling to the nervous system. Lying on the left side can be helpful for digestion or settling any indigestion.
  • I learned the following technique from our friend Tom Gillette, creator of This Next Breath, the pranayama practice Joyce and I have been enjoying since August 2019. Tom taught me years ago that focusing the attention on the soles of my feet as I breathe can be a powerful relaxation technique for falling asleep. Visualize inhaling the breath up through the soles of the feet, into the legs and body. Then, visualize exhaling the breath down and out the soles of the feet. I have found it difficult to do even two or three breaths in a row when my mind is very active. I keep coming back to it and once I can do two or three breaths in a row, I begin to really settle down and eventually drift off to sleep.
  • Internally chant the mantra, “letting go, letting go, letting go….,” as if I’m encouraging myself to let go of the random obsessive thinking. Try it. The mind will become distracted. Just come back to the mantra, “letting go, letting go.” Continue coming back.

Yoga Poses to Induce Sleep

If you typically have difficulty falling asleep in the first place, consider yoga poses you can do in the evening or just before bed that particularly help settle the nervous system and make sleep more accessible. The most helpful types of poses are forward bends, twists and most notable, the lower-body inversion called Viparita Kirani, “legs-up-the-wall” pose. It’s easier with a block, cushion or folded blanket under the pelvis, while extending legs upward against the wall or a door. Another option is to extend the feet up into a strap. In this case, try to keep your upper body settled to the floor and relaxed. I often lead this pose in my Thursday afternoon yoga class.

Another technique is to lie on your back with your spine resting on a towel rolled length-wise. It’s good if the towel is long enough to go from sacrum to top of the back of the head. The towel does not have to be thick, just something to elevate the spine barely an inch from the floor. A blanket can also be used. Your legs can be extended, however, most people are more comfortable with knees bent and resting inward against each other and feet flat on the floor. I use this technique and find it remarkably relaxing, especially if I just breathe into it and let it evolve over about ten minutes. The stunning effect is that my mental state shifts from being very busy to still and internally focused.

Let me know, in the comments below, how these go for you or if you have other techniques that work for you.

Photo by Susie Brubaker, member of the Gentle Yogis Community

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2 Responses

  1. Rudy, Thanks for sharing your thoughts and recommendations about sleep. I am one who often has trouble getting back to sleep. This is sometimes known as “middle insomnia”. When I wake up too early to get up, I often feel keyed up. Very quickly my mind is fully awake and I just want to get up and get busy. I know I am carrying stress these days. The state of our society is pretty overwhelming, and I have been feeling discouraged by increasing aches and pains from osteoarthritis. I can keep the negative stuff at bay during the day (gentle yoga and breath practice are essential!), but the feelings of anxiety or the monkey chatter often come back to me when I awaken in the night. Visualizations and breathing have been helpful. It’s good to find something that works to redirect the active mind to something boring, and what works is probably going to vary from person to person. I am always looking for new ways to redirect my active mind back to boring:) I will try the technique from Tom Gillette you describe. Thanks for that.

    I recommend the app “CBT-i Coach.” (For those who don’t know, CBT stands for cognitive behavioral therapy, of which the practice of mindfulness is a key part.) The app takes a comprehensive approach and has been very helpful. “Sleep hygiene” is important, as is “consolidating sleep.” Learning (and accepting) that I am not going to have a good night sleep every night has been big help psychologically. The app includes some breathing techniques and some relaxing visualizations. Hope it might be of use to others. Wishing you peace and a good night’s sleep tonight.

    1. I have heard the term sleep hygiene. I am so fortunate that I rarely have issues getting to sleep. I have the opposite problem really. But difficulty sleeping is so common. Thanks for sharing your experience of the CBT-iCoach app. There are some good uses of technology out there! Sweet dreams. See you for practice in the morning.

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