September is National Yoga Month. To celebrate, I’ll be posting articles every Friday on my favorite topic: yoga OFF the mat.

Today’s topic: Insomnia.
Insomnia is a wily beast. I have wrestled it for most of my life, using every tool at my disposal. I’ve tried teas, tinctures, prescriptions, over-the-counter options, essential oils, yoga, meditation, mantra, and pretty much anything else that I could find (and you can imagine!).

Yet it was these two major realizations that changed the way I thought about sleep and set me on the path to experiencing profound rest. They shifted EVERYTHING. From there, it was simply about finding what worked best for me. Now I regularly get restful sleep almost every night — and lead restful sleep workshops around the country to share my favorite sleep hacks with my fellow insomniacs.

Realization #1: How you live during the day impacts how you sleep at night.
When I worked a high-stress PR job, I zoomed through each day in a blur of adrenaline, caffeine, and anxiety. I worked as fast and furiously as I could. I ran from meeting to meeting, guzzling coffee. I frantically multi-tasked, speeding through each day as though the hounds of hell were pursuing me. (Often the hounds of hell took the form of various hellacious bosses. Example: Vomiting Vicky, Phyllis, and Medusa to name just a few.) Then I finished my workday, ran to the gym (or slid into yoga just as the doors were closing) to cram my workout or weekly yoga class in, before running home, inhaling whatever was fastest/easiest for dinner, quickly showering, and rushing to bed.

It should have come as no surprise that I then couldn’t decelerate and immediately fall into a blissful sleep. But it actually WAS a surprise to me. I literally couldn’t understand why sleep insisted on evading me. I was desperate. Wrung out. Completely drained and exhausted. I had nothing left to do and no energy left to do it with. So shouldn’t I have been passing out before my head hit the pillow? Nope. Doesn’t work like that.

Take away: Your days and nights have be in alignment. Don’t expect to race through your days, and then go from 60 to 0 in the space of a few hours. Instead, learn to slow down during the day, focus, and approach every task with a calm, confident energy (this will actually enhance productivity) so that you’ll be ready for sleep later. Take breathing breaks. Be aware of when anxiety or adrenaline try to kick up. It is extremely hard for us fast-moving, quick-talking, anxiety-prone multi-taskers to slow down. And yet that is EXACTLY what we need to do in order to get restful sleep (and be calmer in general). Lastly, if you’re caffeine-sensitive like me, cut the caffeine 12 hours before you want to catch your Zs.

Realization #2: Get to the Root of Your Insomnia.
Don’t just keep trying to fight insomnia in order to get to sleep that night. Too often, we treat what’s above the surface, but never get to the root cause. But if you want to solve your insomnia, you’ve got to dig down to the real heart of the matter. If it’s a medical issue, get it diagnosed. If it’s another issue, figure it out. The root cause of my insomnia was anxiety. Once I realized that, I started to address the underlying anxiety directly. Now if I can’t fall asleep, I figure out what’s really going on instead of continuing to ignore it and force sleep. Am I worried about my flight the next morning? Giving an upcoming speech? Forgetting something? Even the simple act of identifying what you’re worried about and writing it down can free your mind from spinning about it endlessly.

Takeaway: Don’t just fight, figure it out.

Realization #3: Rushing to Yoga, Home, and to Bed Does Not an Evening Ritual Make.
When I was zooming through my days, I didn’t take the time to be thoughtful about my evening ritual. To be honest, I’d never even heard of an evening ritual. But as I’ve started becoming more aware and mindful, I’ve learned to look at evenings as an opportunity to transition from day to night. Creating a little evening ritual is a way to signal to my body-brain complex that it’s time to rest. It’s also an opportunity to nourish myself a bit. So now I brew myself a cup of bedtime tea. I smooth lavender oil on my pulse points. I play spa music while I take a bath or brush my teeth.

Takeaway: Building an evening ritual is a powerful, nourishing way to end each day.

Insomnia is a wily beast, but it is not insurmountable. Taking the time to explore these insights and what’s underlying your sleeplessness is the most effective, efficient, and expedient way to getting your Zs. So brew yourself a cup of herbal, sleep-inducing tea, carve out a few minutes for silent reflection, and take that first step toward forty winks.

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