Mysore in March is hot. Really hot.
Normally in Vancouver I won’t put my rug onto my mat till after standing. Practicing at KPJAYI last year mid March I would start with my mat on my rug since by Surya Namaskara B I was already dripping with sweat. We were in the middle of a heat wave which meant temperatures as high as 40 degrees C in the middle of the night. Needless to say this didn’t make for a very good sleep. We had no air conditioning in our room since most places don’t have it here and instead had a large overhead fan. It was the only small relief from the heaviness of the heat which for some reason seemed to get more intense at night. If I woke up in the middle of the night, usually sweating, I would go into the bathroom and take a large bucket of cold water and dump it on my head. This would cool me down long enough to get back to sleep. Sometimes I would do this a couple times per night.
Combine this lack of sleep with intense practice and by the end of March I was wrecked. I did’t feel good at all. I couldn’t wait to get back home to Canada and the cool nights. When I finally made it home I slept for 10 hours - 12 hours plus per day for a week. It really made me realize just how important my sleep is. I know some people can function on very little sleep but not me. I feel best with 8 or more hours of sleep per night. Since that time I’ve really made getting good nights sleep a priority in my life.
I’m always reading about health, the body, food and natural living. Lately I’ve been learning about the bodies natural circadian rhythms. The body has a natural cycle of sleep and awake that is heavily influenced by two things you might not have suspected. Light and Food. Hormones like cortisol and melatonin rise and fall with the time of the day and how much light you are exposed to. What I realized after learning more about this is that my sleepless nights in Mysore last year were not only due to the heat but some of the lifestyle choices I was a making like reading on an iPad before bed or watching movies.
This year I’ve tried some different things to make sure I’m getting a solid nights sleep. You can read them below and see if any will help you whether you are in Mysore, Canada, USA or wherever
1. Get some Sunlight on your skin and eyes in the morning and mid day - this will actually help you sleep better at night funnily enough. To help set our natural circadian rhythm it’s important to tell our body and brain that it’s day time and it’s time to be awake. One of the ways you can do this is make point in the morning when the sun first comes up to sit outside and get some sunlight in your eyes and on your skin. I’ve been doing this right after practice. It feels amazing. I just make my coffee and then sit in the sun for 10 mins.
When light (Blue light and Ultraviolet light) enters your eyes a part of your brain called the SCN (Suprachiasmatic Nucleus) decides whether to release cortisol or melatonin.
So very simply - daytime get bright light (sunshine) - nightime - avoid bright light (computer screens)
2. Have a Digital Sunset - pick a time of the day, ideally when the sun goes down in your timezone (#4 will help you with that) when you get off all your electronics. This includes your cell phone, your laptop, the television and your iPad. This has been huge for me for two reasons. One is that the blue light that emits from the screens is telling your brain that it’s still day time and to stay awake which is the opposite of what you want at night. Second because since I work from laptop it allows me to mentally end the workday. I can get off the computer, actually cook a meal and spend time with my friends and family.
3. Eat the majority of your starchy carbs as your last meal - another factor that influences your sleep after light is food. We all know this right? I mean eat a massive pasta dinner and see how hard it is to stay awake. A hormone you might not have heard about is Leptin. Leptin rises throughout the day peaking around midnight to tell your body it doesn’t have to eat. Fat does’t affect leptin but carbohydrates increase it so you can use this to your advantage but eating starchy carbs (not sugar - think potatoe and rice) for your last meal.
4. Install Flux on your computer - Flux is a program that you can install on your computer so that your screen will automatically start to get dimmer as you move towards night time. You just set the time zone for where you live and then it knows when sunset is approaching and can change the brightness of your screen. I found it also reminds me that the day is ending and to start wrapping things up. You can download that here
5. Use a Sleep Soundtrack - this one is totally new for me and I’ve only used it for maybe a week but I find it works. I got the idea from this book called Beyond Training by Ben Greenfield. Certain frequencies called binaural beats affect your brainwaves and can help you get to sleep. I found this partcularily useful for Mysore when you are trying to go to be at 7 and there is still traffic and dogs outside. The one I downloaded from Itunes is the one he recommends called - 3 HZ Binaural Pure Sine Delta Wave and Rain for Deep Sleep.
6. Make Your Room as Dark as Possible - these seems like a no brainer but I never realized that even the smallest bit of light (like the letters on your alarm clock) can disrupt your sleep. Even though our eyes are closed, our eyelids are translucent and can still sense the light. According to this study even the tiniest bit of light can suppress melatonin release by up to 50%
7. Get a grounding sheet - Have you heard of Earthing? If not check out this video
I don’t have one of these with me in India because there are no grounds in the plug ins here but my friend Evan last year actually got a guy to hook up a ground so he could use his sheet. In Vancouver I use one all the time and I find it helps my body heal as well as get a good nights sleep. This is a whole other topic all to itself which I'll visit in future blog posts.
8. Use Sleep Cycle App - the best part about this app is how it wakes you up. You can set the alarm so it will wake you up when you are in a light sleep phase. The app senses through your movement whether you are in a deep sleep or not and then the alarm comes on when you are sleeping lighter. It's a very gentle alarm rather than you being in a deep sleep and all of sudden this alarm is going off full blast. The app will tell you the quality of sleep you got so you can start to see patterns of what is working and what isn’t. I take this with a grain of salt and just decide for myself how I feel. There is another feature where it asks you what mood you are in when you wake up. Upset, neutral or happy? I always just choose happy. It’s a choice right? Just search Itunes for Sleep Cycle.
9. Prepare for bed - About an hour before bed turn off all the artificial lights and light some candles. You can light some incense, do your last bit of cleaning and preparing for the morning. Just make it almost like a ritual in that now the day is over and you are preparing for sleep. I like to read a bit (an actual book) in bed which also makes my eyes drowsy. I find I can only get in a couple pages and then I’m ready to sleep. It’s best to read fiction but honestly most of the time I read about health and it works for me.
10. Go through the primary series in your head - or intermediate - I came up with this one all my own but I know other people use it to. Whenever I have a hard time falling asleep I just start going through the Primary Series in my head and I've never made it past standing. I basically just visualize myself doing the series and for whatever reason I fall asleep. It just keeps my mind off anything that might be stressful enough to keep me awake. Replaces those stressful thoughts. Plus they say visualization is almost as good as actually doing it? When I say I've never made it past standing I mean to Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana. Maybe that's why that posture is still so hard?
Got any good sleep tips? Leave them in the comments below.
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