Restful start to 2013

Bharat Savur | Updated on December 27, 2012


It has always been around — palpably so. Except now, it’s recognised as a ‘disorder’. It has a name too. It’s called ‘semi-somnia’. You sleep but you don’t rest. Your mind and brain still buzz with daytime wakefulness, streaming with dialogues, opinions and happenings — even though your eyelids are shut, you’re breathing normally, and, well, asleep. Naturally, when you wake up in the morning, you’re as fresh as last night’s pizza.

Yes, that morning cup of coffee does induce some alertness, but it’s not the solution. It does not head off the afflictions an uneasy sleep can lead to — a weaker immune system, depression, high blood pressure. So, you’ve got to see what you’re doing that’s wrong and correct it. I know, because I’ve been there.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “God comes to the hungry in the form of food.” Yes, and he also comes to the sleepless in the form of sleep, provided we pause to reflect: “I am working on so many things, but am I working on my health, my peace, my joy?” Jolts you, doesn’t it?

A glass of warm milk taken at bedtime does help you sleep, but it doesn’t stop you from waking up at 2 a.m. and then slipping into the semi-somnia state. Something more is required. Acknowledging some truths, following some practices, waking up to your needs and letting your wants sleep will give you a good, restful start to 2013.

Value your sleep. See sleep as the supportive half of wakefulness. Sure, you can’t party when asleep, but you can smile in peace; you can’t get excited, but you can bask in the hush of joy. Sleep is a beautiful gift given to us to be able to unfold life with elegance, patience and sensitivity that come from stillness, as against the heat, dust and impatience of hyperactivity. So, if you value the quality of your life, you’ll not just cherish your waking hours, you’ll honour your sleeping hours as well.

Watch your thoughts. Thoughts immensely influence our mental and physical states. I learnt from my own experience that a single disturbed thought spawns a dozen tumultuous feelings; whereas a single peaceful thought creates a great joyous wellbeing. It was a revelation. And it really works. You can chant a mantra or the name of your favourite deity continuously. Or any short sentence or word that resonates with you, such as “Life is a miracle”, “Peace” or “Om Shanti”. As you chant, thoughts and feelings still; peace and sleep glide in hand-in-hand. You can even do it at 2 a.m. and fall into a refreshing, dreamless sleep until it’s time to wake up.

Breathe right. Negative feelings quicken your breath and make you restless, uneasy, and sleep-deprived. It works the other way too — deep, slow breathing calms feelings, relaxes, and even reassures you. It could be the tucked-away memory of your childhood when you slept with your parents and could hear the reassuring sound of their breathing. Now, that same restful rhythm tranquilises you and becomes your anchor when your feelings toss you around like a boat on a heaving ocean. If you are unable to focus on your breath, you can say “Om” as you inhale and “Shanti” as you exhale. Slow breathing need not be done only at bedtime, but any time of the day. As soon as you realise you’re getting into a negative emotional trap, free yourself through slow breathing. Shift your attention from emotions to breathing. Your nerves get your intention and calm down, your brain slows, allowing soothing gaps between thoughts. In a calmer state, you can tackle the situation better and sleep better for it.

Eat a vegetarian dinner. I always sleep better after a vegetarian meal. Meat has me ‘Om-Shanti-ing’ all night without any satisfying result. Food is food - you can’t win over indigestion with all the chanting in the world. I’m not saying you should be obsessive about going vegetarian at night, but please take a second look, as animal fats are known to disrupt hormonal balance and create unrest. Sweets and caffeine are also avoidable as they stimulate the brain and don’t allow it to rest. Good foods for semi-somniacs are warm milk, hot khichdi, mango lassi, butter or ghee on rice, and steaming sweet corn soup. Most cold foods such as ice cream and salads are unsettling.

Exercise moderately. Excessive exercising over-stimulates the system; heavy exercising, where you train with weights, exhausts muscles and the consequent continuous muscle ache keeps you uncomfortable all night. So exercise moderately, preferably before 5 p.m. every day. There should be a minimum six-hour gap between exercise and sleep, as that’s how long the stimulating effect lasts. (Note: This isn’t an excuse to skip exercising though.)

Finally, tell your anxiety, “Don’t worry, as I sleep, a secret door will open and things will fall into place.” And guess what? They really do!

The writer is co-author of the book Fitness for Life.

Published on December 27, 2012

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