A Brief Morning Practice for More Restful Nights

1 in 3 adults fails to get sufficient sleep for optimal health. Either we lie awake at night sleepless, or awaken throughout the sleep cycle, never falling into the deep restorative state we need for optimal health.

If you’re dealing with chronic or occasional sleeplessness, you may have heard of sleep hygiene. These practices are typically focused on the hours before bedtime. Such as the suggestion to stay away from screens, food and wine in the 2 hours before you hit the sack.

But sleeplessness is part of a cycle with no beginning. Thus, we could insert a solution at any point along this continuum. What we do during the day, or even when we first wake up is just as likely to impact our sleep.

We take a look at a practical, 5-step morning routine for more restful nights.

1. Delay Looking at Your Phone

Ideally, your alarm clock is not on your phone, nor is your phone in the room with you when you sleep. When you first wake up, avoid looking at your phone for as long as humanly possible.

How does that make you feel? Anxious?

Well, it turns out, anxiety is exactly what happens when we look at our phones. And an anxious state of mind is no way to start the day. Studies show gazing at screens triggers the release of stress hormones such as cortisol, and even interrupts our breathing patterns.

In the morning, we benefit from awakening in a parasympathetic state. Why not hold on to that for as long as possible? The phone can wait. Practice patience and instead, intentionally insert a practice to expand your peaceful state of mind.

Enter Lama Marut‘s high practice, the morning lull. As you’re still lying in bed, take time to do the following to meet the day with gratitude, appreciation and joy.

  • While still in bed, stretch the body, flex and release each of your limbs
  • Generate a sensation of gratitude for the body itself and the upcoming day
  • How wonderful to be awake and alive with nothing but potential ahead of you!
  • Extend this grateful feeling to your bed and your sheets
  • Expand the sensation of gratitude to the room around you, and everything in it
  • Grateful for dogs, cats and people, for the objects here with you, your clothes, your shoes

After some time luxuriating in the morning lull, you’re ready to move on to step 2.

2. Do a Formal Meditation Practice

Get up, sit up, and do a formal meditation practice of some kind. Don’t be afraid of the word “formal.” Meditation is easier than you think, and you can begin with as little as 5 minutes each day.

Find a nearby place to meditate, perhaps still in your room, where you won’t have to wake up all the dogs or walk past the computer, or through the kitchen before reaching your cushion.

If you’re unsure of how to set up in a comfortable meditation posture, the following video will help.

Did you know? In 2015 a team of researchers split a sleepless group into two. One group practiced sleep hygiene principles such as blackout curtains or no late night meals, while the other group learned to meditate. The group that meditated showed a significant improvement in sleep, compared to the sleep hygiene group. Meditation not only helps us fall asleep sooner, but it makes the sleep we do get more restful and valuable.

Any type of meditation will help us sleep better. If you’re new to the practice, try a “Perfect 10 Breaths.” Beware the word ‘perfect!’ In this instance, perfection means whole, full, complete and abundant – and that’s exactly how your meditation may feel.

  • Breathe in and out through your nose
  • When you’re ready, count an exhale as number 1, followed by inhale number 1
  • Then exhale number 2, followed by inhale number 2, and so on
  • If you get to 10, repeat
  • If you find your mind wandering or if you lose count, begin again with exhale number 1
  • No worries, no self-criticism – starting again is completely normal and doesn’t mean your session is ‘imperfect’

At the end of your meditation, observe how you feel. Visualize what it would be like to carry that good feeling with you throughout your day.

Think there’s no time to meditate? Think again

3. Enjoy Some Morning Movement

After clearing our heads with meditation, it’s time to move the body. If you have a morning exercise routine, that’s great. Regardless, a few simple sun salutations are a great addition to your repertoire.

If you’re a yoga practitioner you already know that any variation of Suryanamaskar A is fantastic for warming the body, bringing energy and life into the spine, calming, and focusing the mind. 

Learn more about why we love Sun A’s in the morning, and see a simple variation in the following video:

Remember, the focus is on warming the spine to allow for the free flow of energy as you move about your day.

Learn to design your own home yoga practice!

4. Be Mindful of Caffeine Consumption

First thing in the morning, you’ve effectively been fasting for at least 8 hours. This means you’re likely dehydrated and the stomach is empty, so let’s be mindful about what to put first into an empty, dehydrated stomach. 

Drink water. And maybe don’t load up right away with a highly acidic cup of coffee. If you’re attached to your morning cup of Joe, no need to quit it, but do practice awareness around your coffee habit, especially if you’re having trouble sleeping at night. 

  • Try limiting caffeine to pre-10am only
  • Try limiting yourself to 1 cup each day
  • What about coffee with no milk or sugar – do you even like it?
  • Question the coffee ‘habit’ and how rewarding each cup really is

For more, I suggest reading Michael Pollan’s new book “This Is Your Mind on Plants” which contains a wonderful chapter on caffeine. But keep in mind, all the logic in the world won’t change a habit until you experience for yourself how coffee acts in your body. Hence, you might try 30, 60 or 90 days without. Then…see how you feel in body and mind when you slowly add coffee back in.

If you decide to return to coffee, you’ll be doing so with eyes wide open.  

5. A Balanced Day for Restful Nights

If you’ve followed the above steps, you’ve set yourself up for an energetically balanced morning. But what happens as we move about our day? Our energy can quickly get pushed to the extremes if we’re susceptible to getting swept away by what’s going on around us.

So how do we stay stable in a world that’s increasingly black and white, a world that demands we pick a side, choose a team, and pays very good money to trigger our emotional reactivity?

The answer lies within the practice of equanimity.  

“Equanimity is the hallmark of spirituality. It is neither chasing nor avoiding but just being in the middle.”

Amit Ray

The time to work on being stable and centered isn’t when we’re lying in bed at night trying to tell our ruminating mind to stop. We begin with the morning routine, and continue the practice throughout our day.

With equanimity, we become a witness to the push and pull of outside influences, but no longer become swept up and away by them, no longer thrown off balance. 

And when we connect to an innate sense of stability, we’re able to rest back. We can rest back from habitual reactivity, and at the end of the day, we rest back into more restful nights. 

To learn more about equanimity, join me on Sunday, October 10 for a meditation and yoga workshop on Mind Oasis.

Sara-Mai Conway is a yoga and meditation teacher. This post was inspired by a mini-workshop presented LIVE on MindOasis.org To join Sara-Mai for future classes, workshops and retreats, please visit Baja Surf Yoga for the schedule of upcoming events.

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