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Achieving golden slumber

Without good sleep you’re listless from the moment you wake up; your ability to concentrate and get things done suffers enormously; you feel grumpy, irritable and impatient; and just staying present to the people and events in your day feels like a real struggle.

When your prana (life-force energy) is low, you not only have less physical energy but your state of mind and emotions are negatively affected, too, so you naturally have more negative and doubtful thoughts, your mind gets easily stuck in little things (like what someone said or did) and small disturbances appear as big problems. Emotionally, when your prana is low, you’re automatically prone to sadness, depression, guilt and other negative emotions.

One of the main ways in which you can significantly raise your prana is through sleep. When you sleep, you renew and increase your prana and, having rested well, you naturally feel more positive and willing to take life on with enthusiasm. Problems are experienced as challenges rather than incapacitating hurdles.

On the other hand, not getting the right amount of good-quality sleep doesn’t just affect your mind and mood; according to best-selling American wellness author, Dr Joseph Mercola, chronic lack of rest can actually set the stage for some very serious illnesses, including fertility problems, increased risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. The point is that sleep is as important to your overall health as good nutrition, exercise and your ability to manage your mind and emotions. If your sleep is suffering, so is your capacity for being healthy and happy.

If your sleep is frequently disturbed during the night with awakenings or near awakenings, if you wake feeling tense, drowsy and headachy, if you feel sleepy later in the day or experience “micro-sleeps” during the daytime, these are all sure indications of poor-quality sleep. If your body consistently does not receive sufficient sleep in which to complete its restoration, repair and maintenance processes, it will eventually shut down through illness or disease, forcing you to rest up properly.

By contrast, good sleep is sleep of sufficient duration and depth that results in you feeling refreshed and recharged throughout the following day.

How much sleep do we need?

This varies from person to person and depends on age, health, recent physical exertion and mental activity — and, of course, the quality of sleep you’re getting. However, the National Sleep Foundation recommends 16 hours for newborn babies, nine hours for teenagers and seven to nine hours for adults. It’s also assumed that older people need less sleep and, while many do sleep less, this can also be due to types of insomnia rather than natural adjustments.

You have to find out what’s right for you. You’ll know if you’ve had too little because you’ll be grumpy and irritable; and, if you’ve had too much (yes, there is such a thing!), you’ll feel dull and lethargic, not only physically but also mentally and emotionally.

With the full and busy lifestyles common today, more often we experience famine rather than feast when it comes to sleep, especially good sleep.

Womb with a view

As most of us will spend approximately a third of our lives asleep, it’s worth knowing a bit about how we can enhance the quality of our sleep. To help you do that, I’ve incorporated recommendations and wisdom from the ancient traditions of vastu, feng shui and Ayurveda, all of which are systems whose primary goal is to bring peace and harmony to your life.

Both Vastu and Feng Shui believe your bedroom has a significant impact on your wellbeing. Your bedroom is the one space you inhabit that’s completely yours, where the outside world is kept at bay. When you walk into your bedroom you should feel like a warm pair of arms has encircled you: it should be tranquil, peaceful and inspire proper rest.

Anthony Ashworth, vastu shastra and feng shui consultant, advises that, “To nurture ourselves during sleep we should get as close to the womb state as we possibly can. If you have a chance to design your home, have the master bedroom in the south west, which relates to the element of earth and stability.

There tends to be a propensity for people to have rooms that are too yang (masculine), with high ceilings, lots of glass and lots of views, but bedrooms should be relatively ying, (feminine), quiet and still. Of course it’s great to have views, especially if they’re of nature, but it’s not suitable for bedrooms.” If you’ve got a large open door in your room that looks out on a great view, at least hang some drapes or curtains which you can draw at night to create that womb like feeling when you’re sleeping.

Do not sleep with your head facing north, whatever hemisphere you live in. “Our body has a polarity like that of the planet. If the head is directed towards the Earth’s north pole while sleeping,” says Rajeev S Khattar, professional astrologer and vastu consultant, “the two north poles will repel each other, causing tension, disturbed sleep and other potential health-related problems.”

However, feng shui and vastu are about creating balance and harmony in your home, not fear, so if you have no choice about the direction your bed lies in, you can make other adjustments and pay extra attention to your diet and lifestyle.

Mirrors

Mirrors bring a lot of energy into a room, which is fine during the day, but vastu discourages mirrors in the bedroom as they can contribute towards vanity and ego if you’re spending time preening. They can also increase sadness if you feel unhappy when you look at yourself.

Additionally, Ana Brando, feng shui consultant, suggests that a mirror reflecting your upper body while you’re sleeping will have the effect of “bouncing back” the energy you’re discharging and can disturb your sleep. Two mirrors in a room can set up a subtle “metaphysical hum”, which disturbs the astral self and thus sleep. However, these negative consequences can be avoided simply by covering any mirrors before bedtime.

Electromagnetic radiation (EMR)

Sleep is not only the time to rejuvenate, it’s also the time when you’re very open, so the less interference you have from your environment and the more support you have, the better. One of the things that can really interfere with your health while you sleep is EMR. “EMR is a really big issue,” says Ashworth, “more importantly in the bedroom than anywhere else. When we sleep, our bodies produce serotonin, a feel-good drug, which is used to fight disease, cancer and depression.” Because electromagnetic energy can actually stop or retard the production of serotonin in your body, it’s really important to minimise it in your room. You’re subject to EMR at work, in your car — everywhere you go — so really the only place you potentially have any level of respite is your bedroom.

Some people have an isolation switch by their beds, which they flick to turn off all the power in the bedroom before they sleep. Some turn off all the power in the house, while others are just much more careful of the devices they use in the bedroom.

Ashworth emphasises that it’s over a period of time that EMR creates a problem and the degree to which you’re negatively impacted by it depends considerably on the condition of your health and your corresponding level of resilience. For example, if you sleep in a place where you have an electrical distribution box behind your head, it’s OK if you’re at a holiday house but it’s not OK to live with that for five years. However, pregnant women, people dealing with or subject to chronic fatigue and anyone having chemotherapy or radiotherapy (all of whom are incredibly sensitive to toxins and EMR) need to be particularly aware of avoiding EMR.

Reduce your EMR exposure

  • Avoid digital clocks and especially mobile phones: use a battery-operated clock instead.
  • Avoid halogen lamps with transformers: these create huge amounts of EMR.
  • Avoid electrical equipment in your room. Today, our bedrooms have become info-entertainment centres and people often sleep surrounded by mobile phones, phone chargers, iPods, radios, televisions, DVD players, computers, scanners, wi-fi modems — all while lying on an electric blanket!

There now exists compelling evidence demonstrating that mobile phone radiation can damage the human body’s cells. In June 2011, the World Health Organization rated mobile phones as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” due to the EMR they generate. Dr Devra Davis, epidemiologist, author and founding director of the toxicology and environmental studies board at the United States National Academy of Sciences, says, “A cellphone is a two-way microwave radio and really should not be held next to the brain or close to the body wherever possible.”

Both vastu and feng shui strongly recommend avoiding metal bed frames as well as mattresses with metal springs, which pick up, amplify and circulate existing EMR through your bed. Latex mattresses, made from natural fibres (from the sap of rubber trees) are far preferable.

Heat, colour and light

If you need to heat your bedroom, fine, “but don’t heat it above 24 degrees”, suggests Ashworth, as “that’s when it starts to kick out all the nasties in the paints, carpets, foams and vinyls”. Make sure you also have some natural ventilation in your bedroom.

Stay away from red or any colours that are too vibrant and bright. Earth colours with their lower vibrations are most recommended to create peaceful sleeping environments — anything from yellows to browns (but not Australian red earth, which is a fire colour). One of Ashworth’s clients had her young son in a blue room (which has a very high vibration and a background hum) with other primary colours and a picture of a racing car on his bed. He was really jumpy. When she moved him into a room with earth colours he calmed down and slept through the night for the first time in years.

Dr Mercola says, “One of the quickest and easiest things you can do to assure yourself of a great night’s sleep is simply make sure your bedroom is completely dark. When it’s dark outside this message triggers the production of melatonin (the sleep hormone). When there’s light, your body receives a message that it’s time for you to get up. The more your sleep is disrupted by light pollution, the lower your melatonin levels and the more compromised your sleep can be.”

We’re coming to understand that the amount of light required to disrupt or stop your production of melatonin and interfere with your ability to sleep well could be as small as a nightlight, the light from your digital clock or even the light that sneaks under your bedroom door.

Vastu shastra and feng shui tips

  • Avoid beds with no legs: a path for air to flow all around the bed is important to avoid dust/germs/bed bugs.
  • De-clutter your room. Avoid storing things under your bed.
  • Avoid having a fish tank in your bedroom. It creates too much ying energy and can make you lethargic.
  • Never place a bed directly under a low-slanting ceiling, window or exposed beams as this is thought to dilute qi (energy) by half.
  • Don’t have the foot of your bed in direct alignment with the door. This is known as the “death” or “coffin” position and suggests your qi will flow straight out of the room while sleeping.
  • Don’t leave beds unmade. This stagnates and erodes qi.
  • Change your mattress each time you start a new life cycle, approximately every seven to nine years, especially if you bring a new partner into your bed or if you move house.
  • Use peaceful art pieces in your room. Avoid moody, lonely pictures.
  • Avoid photographs of other people in your room; use photographs of you and your significant other only.
  • Open your bedroom windows often during the day.
  • Plants are not normally recommended for the bedroom, but small plants such as peace lilies and/or spider plants set away from the bed are OK.

Ayurvedic tips for good sleep

 

  • Sleep on your right side — this takes weight-pressure off your heart.
  • Cut down on stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol, especially after 2pm.
  • Go to bed at the same time every night to keep your biological clock in check.
  • Avoid going to bed after midnight as you’ll miss the hours most conducive and beneficial for deeper sleep.
  • Finish eating at least three hours before you go to sleep so your food has had time to digest.
  • Avoid sleeping during the day unless you’re ill, very young, very old or exhausted from travel, sex or emotional trauma.
  • Have a lukewarm bath directly before sleeping or at least wash your hands, feet and face.
  • Massage your feet with warm sesame oil and then soak them in a hot ginger footbath before sleeping.
  • Drink chamomile tea or a cup of warm milk with a pinch of saffron.
  • When you go to bed, go to bed to sleep, not to listen to the radio, watch television or read.
  • When you wake up, get out of your bed — don’t lie there snoozing.

Sleep destroyers

If you’ve created a wonderful sleeping environment but are still not sleeping well, there might be some other factors at play. Stress, in the form of negative emotions, worry, fear, anxiety etc, can both keep you awake and diminish the quality of your sleep. Practising yoga pranayamas (breathing techniques) and meditation will certainly help. After just three days of learning and practising the sudarshan kriya breathing technique, Robyn Johnson “actually slept well for the first time in 22 years!”

Dr Mercola suggests that another person in your bed may disrupt your sleep. Couples who don’t sleep well should consider sleeping apart. One study found that couples sharing a bed can suffer 40 per cent more sleep disturbances.

Exercise also helps you to sleep. A Stanford University Medical School study found that after 16 weeks in a moderate-intensity exercise program, participants fell asleep about 15 minutes earlier and slept about 45 minutes longer.

Prepare for sleep properly. Avoid before-bed snacks, particularly grains and sugars.

Avoid TV right before bed as it stimulates brain activity and disrupts the circadian rhythm of your pineal gland and production of melatonin and serotonin.

The final word

If the architecture of your house doesn’t allow you to comply with the guidelines above, Ashworth suggests having a regime that can help you deal with it, such as practising yoga, spending more time in nature, fasting regularly and adopting a vegetarian or more vegetarian diet. All these can help you deal with those environmental issues you can’t control. After all, no matter how wonderful a sleeping environment you’ve created, if you don’t take care of yourself, you may still not get the depth of rest you need.

When she’s not writing, Meggan Brummer runs Stress Management, Work-Life Balance and Interactive Cooking Seminars in Sydney’s corporate world. She teaches yoga and meditation with a particular focus on breathing techniques. She’s currently working on her first vegetarian cookbook as well as a book about her own spiritual journey. W: www.megganbrummer.com

The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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