It is challenging for us at any age to get a good night sleep if we are not relaxed, which then has a ripple effect. Meditation, yoga, and pranayama (breath-work) can help us get to the root of the concern, so we can begin with a good night sleep. We need our 7-8hrs minimum, in order to allow our body to restore, and our mind to sort in an uninhibited manner – much like it does during deep meditation. Check out our blog on Brain Waves! Read on to explore the interactions of our endocrine and nervous system to effectively help make changes for better health and more joy!
Our Endocrine & Nervous System
Our bodies are governed by about 50 different hormones that through our endocrine system, regulate our digestion, moods, sleep, growth, sexual activity, and our smooth and cardiac muscle functions. The endocrine system consists of glands that produce hormones; the hypothalamus and pituitary, thyroid, parathyroid, adrenal, pineal, reproductive glands, and pancreas. Each of these glands is responsible for secreting specific hormones into our blood-stream to help us function at optimal, homeostatic levels:
- Hypothalamus – satiety, metabolism, body temperature, and control of the pituitary gland
- Pituitary – growth, prolactin (milk) & oxytocin (uterus contractions), water retention in the kidneys, and stimulates the thyroid, adrenal, luteinizing & follicle-stimulating hormones
- Thyroid – metabolism, blood pressure, heart rate, digestion, muscle tone, reproductive functions, growth & development of the brain and nervous system
- Parathyroid – calcium levels & bone metabolism
- Adrenal – metabolism, salt-water balance, immune system, sexual function, stress response (heart rate & blood pressure)
- Pineal – melatonin to regulate our sleep (this is where the Third Eye or Pineal chakra is located)
- Reproductive – sexual development & function
- Pancreas – digestion & blood-sugar levels
Our nervous system plays into our endocrine system by sending sensory information about our experiences to our brain, which tells our endocrine system what we need more or less of. Everything from the air we breathe, the food we consume, the products we put on our skin, the environment (sounds, people, energy) we surround ourselves with, our thoughts, and sleep, all impact our hormonal balance. When we are not taking proper care of our mind and body we tend to have swings as our body tries to correct itself. If we endure perceived ‘stress’ for long enough, our endocrine system becomes taxed with trying to constantly correct the balance, which then leads to adrenal fatigue, more stress, and emotional or physical concerns – our body goes into a depressed state and it becomes difficult to function.
I think it is very important to understand this, knowing several people to include myself, who have experienced adrenal fatigue and burn-out. Unfortunately it seems more common than we would like to think. Why? We put ourselves under a great deal of pressure to constantly perform at nearly perfection, not exercise in a balanced manner, not nourishing ourselves with whole foods, not to mention we are almost always ‘on’ – constantly on our phones or in front of screens. This can lead to poor sleep, depressed hormonal states, anxiety, depression, the inability to cope, and other physical, emotional and or mental issues. It’s a vicious cycle!
Managing Stress for Better Sleep
My greatest concern is that I am hearing of more and more children who are experiencing high levels of anxiety. As adults, we hopefully have better coping skills and the ability to make healthy choices. Regardless, it seems as a society we could all do with a little more self-compassion – not an easy thing to do! So, how do we begin? As my very wise Love put it last night, Worksafe BC is on the right track! As a young girl and adult I used a similar model, which I assume I learned from my wise mother. This works well for children too!:
- Identify stressor(s) – Doing something physical, then a little meditation can help you with clarity
- What’s the root issue of your (various) stressors?
- Assess stressor(s)
- Does this stressor impose an immediate threat to your well-being?
- Why does it create a stress response for you? Is it past conditioning you can change?
- Control stressor(s)
- How can you mitigate or remove the stressor(s)?
- Create an action plan for yourself to nourish your well-being & find more balance
- What is not essential that you can either put to the side or remove?
- How can you treat yourself with more compassion?
- Put yourself first and express this need to others – this can be challenging
- Create a mantra you repeat to yourself in the morning and during times of stress
- Make time for meditation or pranayama (breathwork) everyday – even 5 minutes!
- Schedule activities that nourish your mind, body & soul a few times a week
- Get 8 hours sleep every night – I know this can be hard for those with young ones
- Plan healthy meals and snacks
- Minimize toxins: on your skin, caffeine, alcohol, sugar & allergens
- Listen to healing tones – check out Solfeggio on youtube
- Surround yourself with positive thoughts & people
- See medical specialists to help support you if needed
Meditation & Yoga for Better Sleep
If you are still struggling with deep, regular sleep, here are a few more ways to help:
- Skip the afternoon coffee, tea, or other stimulant (including alcohol)
- Get exercise during the day – not within 3 hours of bed
- Don’t eat within 2 hours of bed
- Turn off all electronics at least 1 hour before bed – and preferably, don’t have them in your bedroom
- In that hour prior to bed, create a ritual for yourself:
- Yoga – try calming poses, such as; legs up the wall, forward folds, and child’s pose
- Pranayama – Find a simple breath that relaxes you: Ujjayi/ Ocean breath is a steady inhale-exhale through the nose
- Mediation – Once you have practiced breath-work, allow yourself to simply sit and unwind with your eyes closed. Let thoughts come and go, without getting attached to them. If they take you on a journey, that’s fine, but try to not get emotionally involved – rather follow it objectively, as if you are watching from a birds-eye view
If you have a child experiencing anxiety and you haven’t already tried this, make time in the morning or before bed to practice pranayama (breathwork) together. Simple is often best. Belly Breath – feeling the steady, easy flow of the breath in and out of the body works wonders! Slowly lengthen the breath to a comfortable pace. Children can practice this on their own to help them tune into their body for greater self-awareness, which leads to greater self-confidence. Getting a good night sleep so our body & mind has the time to restore is half the battle!
If you would like to learn more techniques, we seem to be focusing on sleep this January at the studio:
As always, I am happy to answer any questions or connect you with those who may have more information.