Most of us are familiar with conventional sleep wisdom:
To be more productive, get eight hours of sleep each night.
Turn off all screens and electronic devices at least one hour before you plan to go to sleep. Better yet, get them all out of your bedroom. Put them away somewhere else. Arianna Huffington has designed a device for this, a charging cradle with a little blanket for your phone, so you can tuck it in properly and let it lie for the night.
Other sleep advice:
- No caffeine after 2 p.m.
- No extreme physical exertion after 6 p.m. Even a hot bath can bring up your body temperature and make it harder to settle down at night.
- Keep your room cool at night. Open a window if you can, or blast your air conditioner.
- Early to bed, early to rise — still the best choice for your health and longevity.
All it takes is discipline, right?
Even if you march to bed like a soldier, chances are you have at least a dozen physical and external factors that interrupt your efforts and make that recommended eight hours impossible.
- Maybe you have children and they wake in the middle of the night. They wet their bed or have a nightmare.
- Maybe you get calls from a parent who has fallen.
- Or maybe you’re in menopause and your hormones are out of whack or you’re so stressed that your cortisol spikes at night.
- Maybe you have a lot on your mind. You lie there in the night thinking you should be sleeping. You need to get back to sleep if you’re going to function the following day. Maybe you’re like I used to be, worrying about not sleeping, which causes you more unrest.
Here is my best advice: give it up. Forget about the eight hours and ignore the sleep experts.
You can have a full productive life if you learn to give into your body and mind.
A little over a year ago, I purchased Bold Tranquility’s Good Sleep Series. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Karen Brody’s work, she creates guided yoga nidra specifically for the stressed-out, sleep-deprived woman in her middle years. I’ve since purchased Karen’s year-long subscription, the Well-Rested Woman, and can say it is one of the best self-care bargains out there.
But while, the Good Sleep Series helped me get into a deep state of relaxation from the beginning, it has taken me a full year to digest the wisdom of this particular series. I listened to the series again recently, and a few things Karen says in her introduction flipped a switch for me in terms of how I approach rest and wakefulness, day and night.
Karen says, rest is about being in rhythm.
We feel our best when our bodies are in rhythm and out of whack when they are not. What I’m understanding now is that rhythm is not necessarily eight hours of continuous sleep, followed by sixteen hours of wakeful productivity.
She also says that we get into trouble when we think, “I’m either awake or I’m asleep.”
Yoga nidra puts us in a between state, and when we’re having trouble sleeping at night or feel tired during the day, we can turn to it for deep rest and relaxation.
But I discovered something else: If we can’t sleep when we think we’re supposed to, we can nap and still have productive days.
This is why I say, sleep like a baby.
If you have children, you know that newborns often wake early in the morning and then, an hour or so later, go back to sleep. I’m giving your permission to do this, too. Some days after Steve and Shira are out the door, I go back to bed and practice yoga nidra or simply lie down with the heating pad and rest. Or I get into work feeling like shit, and head straight to the yoga studio to lie down (it’s incredibly convenient to have a yoga studio next door to your office.)
I get up refreshed and I achieve as much or even more than if I fought back with caffeine.
When I told my dear client, Sheri Parr, that I often get to the office and head straight for a yoga nidra nap, her reply was brilliant: “That’s the most compassionate thing you can do for yourself,” she said. (One of those moments when I thought I should be paying the client and not vice-versa.)
What is the most compassionate thing you can do you for yourself? Listen to body and give into its need for rest whenever and wherever possible.
I firmly believe that rest can have its own rhythm outside the conventional wisdom of the sleep and productivity gurus. If you stop listening to the shoulds and supposed to’s and, and listen for your own rhythm, not only will you feel better physically, your work will flourish. That kind of fluidity of mind can inform all areas of your life.