Sleep debt is disorienting and can even be dangerous. Whether you suffer from general insomnia or juggle a grueling travel schedule, sleep deprivation is a serious health issue that affects millions. It can weaken one’s immune system , heighten emotional responses, and even alter gene expression. Sleeping pills can lead to potential overuse, or worse, abuse. Luckily, there are healthful alternatives that can ease the symptoms of sleep loss.
Larissa Hall Carlson, a Kripalu Yoga teacher and Ayurvedic Life Counselor, knows sleep deprivation firsthand. Managing an active schedule that brings her from a Yoga Journal conference to a photo shoot, to Wanderlust Festival, and then to direct a 500-hour yoga teacher training course—all within one week—can leave anyone feeling a bit bleary-eyed. “After a restless night, it’s easy to overlook healthier options in favor of indulgent treats and movie marathons. But knowing that sleep deprivation compromises the strength of the immune system, choosing wholesome food and proper exercise is essential for staying strong,” says Carlson. It is counter intuitive because many of us seek comfort foods—sugar, excessive caffeine, and other stimulants—but maintaining the discipline of self-care can lead to far better results.
Here are some tips on how to practice mindful awareness to overcome exhaustion and stay charged, even when you’re feeling drained.
Gently face the day. “Despite grogginess, let the sunrise mark a new day to empower yourself with healthy choices and set yourself up for a good night’s sleep ahead. Avoid ‘treating’ yourself to a large, sugary, whipped-cream-covered latte, which will only provide temporary satisfaction as a pick-me-up, but will leave you with calorie overload and revved-up nerves. Instead, pamper yourself with something cleaner and more gratifying: freshly brewed organic black coffee with a splash of maple syrup, a rich cup of loose-leaf black tea, or a caffeine-free cup of tulsi tea (holy basil),” says Carlson. “Rushing, multi-tasking, or commuting during your morning cup will leave you agitated. Start the day as peacefully as possible,” she advises. Allow yourself the time to have your breakfast in a calm state, and perhaps more importantly these days, device-free. Morning serenity will set the pace for a sustainable day.
Move your body. A sleepless night is a great excuse for skipping the gym, but you’ll feel better if you engage in light movement. “It’s best to avoid intense or vigorous workouts when tired, as pushing yourself when worn out can leave you more run-down and exhausted, and thereby more vulnerable to injury,” says Carlson. “Instead, opt for a brisk walk, gentle Pilates, or a slow yoga flow. Enhancing circulation, boosting metabolism, and engaging in mild cardio are excellent for strengthening immunity, reducing physical tension, and improving mood. A little exercise will leave you feeling stronger and more positive, helping you to embrace the day and prepare for a good night’s sleep.”
Practice mindful eating. “Avoid the greasy spoon, even though comfort food might appeal,” Carlson recommends. “A light, simple, nourishing breakfast will help you recharge quickly, and sets you up for a day of healthy choices.” Fresh juices can provide a natural energy lift, or if you prefer cooked foods, steamed vegetables with miso soup or whole grains offer balanced nutrition for the day. It can take an extra push to seek nutritious options but they’ll provide the lasting energy you need to navigate the day with ease. “Overindulging, overeating, especially rich comfort foods, is also likely to interfere with your sleep,” says Annie B. Kay, R.D.N., the Lead Nutritionist at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. “It’s helpful to avoid eating right before bed. Often our busy days leave us eating dinner later in the evening, but this is not beneficial for our digestive systems. Try not to eat after 8:00 p.m.” Giving our bodies time to digest and rest is key.
Related: A Meditation for Mindful Eating
Nurture yourself, night and day. Insomnia can often be caused by anxiety, so try creating routines at bedtime that will calm you down and help “put away” the day. “As part of a soothing ritual, I am a fan of a small cup of warm milk with sweet spices like cinnamon and nutmeg,” says Kay. “There is also botanical support you can try for occasional insomnia, including melatonin, 5-HTP, valerian, and skullcap. Lavender is a relaxing scent that helps us to rest deeply, so a drop of lavender essential oil may be nice on your pillow or in a diffuser nearby,” she adds. You can use lavender or other uplifting essential oils, such as sandalwood, throughout the day, if you’re having trouble finding ease.
Whatever the cause of sleep deprivation, dealing with the root of the issue is always best over the long term. We can make shifts that help us release anxiety and stress, and provide restorative time—central to beneficial sleep patterns. Wishing you sweet dreams.