Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise. -Benjamin Franklin
And aren’t we all trying to do just that every day of our lives – to be happy and healthy, wealthy and wise? Which is why there are so many self help books these days, a whole industry of doctors, psychologists and spiritualists. But before we feel the need to approach doctors and depression therapists, if we can start making slight changes to our eating and sleeping habits, we can avoid (or at least delay) the whole concept of treating minor illnesses, and instead indulge in preventative care of our bodies and minds.
Ayurveda is an ancient science of health that uses the body’s own wisdom to balance and heal itself. Sleep is one of the supporting pillars of Ayurveda, in addition to diet and lifestyle habits. Sleeping well enhances your energy levels during your waking hours. In this article, I share a few Ayurvedic tips to sleep better and wake up fresher. None of these are rules or regulations, simply suggestions – take what resonates with you, leave out what doesn’t :)
Things to do Before Bed to Sleep Better
1. Eat a light dinner before 7 PM each night. Modern way of life seems to leave little time for a proper lunch these days. So most people eat a big breakfast, skip lunch or skimp on it, and end up having a big dinner before they go to sleep. This means we’re not using the body’s generation of digestive juices during its peak time, which is mid-day. Instead we’re trying to push our bodies to digest big meals when it’s least equipped to do that: when it’s getting ready to go to sleep or when it’s still trying to wake up. It’s not easy to change our life-long habits, but this is an important one to change. A couple of suggestions to help create this habit:Advertising
- Make lunch a priority during your daytime schedule. Eat a bigger lunch, so you’re not starving by the end of the day.
- A bowl of soup is warm and comforting for dinner, but not heavy in your belly.
2. Avoid electronics in your bedroom. That means no TV, no computers, no phones. All of these screens have a way of stimulating the senses at the end of the day, when we should be settling down our minds and bodies. The back-lighting in all those smart screens so close to our faces in the dark makes the sleep-inducing melatonin to slow down. Try to get all your TV, laptop and phone checking done outside of the bedroom before a certain time, before you get to bed. A couple of suggestions to make this a habit:
- Set a reminder for when you need to turn off everything by say, 9:30 PM.
- Shutting down the appliances completely hinders the temptation to “just check one last time.”
3. Massage your limbs. This is a pleasant activity before bedtime, to help induce a sense of relaxation in your body, but also your mind. It’s an effective way to reduce stress at the end of the day, any headaches or tension pains, and also insomnia. It would be great to have a willing partner to help you with a massage, but you can do this yourself too. Pour a small amount of oil into your palm, and rub it into your legs – from above your knees down to each toe, and into your arms – from your shoulders to each finger. Use long, easy strokes as you gently rub in the oil. A couple of helpful tips to make this a nightly routine:
- Use a light, non-staining oil, like sweet almond, or jojoba.
- Add a few drops of essential oils, like lavender or rosemary, that are said to be soothing on the nerves.
4. A cup of tea, or warm milk before bed. You may or may not need this tip, but if you’re still feeling awake and hungry past 10 PM, craving for something to eat while you ease into your new habits, a cup of warm milk might help soothe that craving. Chamomile tea, or other sleep inducing teas are also a good idea for this time of night. A couple of hints and suggestions:Advertising
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine, or nicotine after 7 PM.
- If you must eat something, eat a few dried cherries and / or dates, that are supposed to induce natural sleep.
5. Deep breathing or meditation. To help wind down your body and mind, turn off all the lights at 10 PM. If you live in the city, put in ear plugs to cut out noises. Adjust your room, your nightwear and your blankets so that you feel balanced – not too warm or not too cold. If you’re familiar with meditation, you can create your own ritual that helps you sleep. A couple of meditation techniques that help induce sleep:
- Deep breathing: Lie down comfortably. Place your hands on your belly. Deepen your breathing to a point where you feel your abdomen rise up and down with your breaths. Focus on your breaths. This will help keep your mind off your problems and thoughts. If you catch your mind wandering, simply bring it back to your breath. This practice is very calming, and will slowly induce sleep as your mind relaxes.
- Counting sheep: yes, it works. It doesn’t have to be sheep – you can count your exhale breaths each time you breathe out, and visualize yourself going deeper and deeper into sleep. This is almost hypnotic and very calming.
Things to do in the Morning to Wake up Fresher
6. Wake up at the same time every morning. If you fall into a pattern of getting to bed at a certain time every night, your body will fall into a natural rhythm of tuning itself to nature’s days and nights. This means that your body will wake up at the same time naturally every morning. Ayurveda recommends that we stay in tune with nature’s cycles as much as possible. How you start your morning sets the tone for the rest of your day. A couple of considerations to take into account:
- If you do need an alarm clock to wake you up, choose one that has a gentle, non-invasive sound that doesn’t jar you awake.
- When you open your eyes, don’t jump out of bed. Take the time to remember any dreams, notice how your body feels, and stretch your limbs gently before you get out of bed.
7. Greet the sun every morning. In our modern way of life, we take no time to take in some sun each morning. We go from the house to the garage, in our cars, and work in encased artificially lit buildings all day long. According to Ayurveda, sunlight has a supremely empowering effect on all of creation. There is an energy in the atmosphere at sunrise that comes to us free and cheap, if only we remember to make use of it. So make it a routine to get some early morning sunshine every day to get your body back in balance. A couple of ideas to get some sun on work mornings:Advertising
- Make it a ritual to see the sunrise. This can be a time to consider your blessings, plan your day ahead, and build in a pause into your day, rather than hit it running.
- A short walk at sunrise. Do you walk your dogs? Walk to work? Or simply like to get some invigorating fresh air in the mornings? If so, time it with the sunrise. You’ll notice what a difference it will make.
8. Hydrate your body. After a night of sleeping indoors, under blankets, the trapped heat and sweat dries out your mouth and your body. Ayurveda says how you start your morning helps set the mood with how the rest of your day goes. So start off by re-hydrating and re-energizing yourself for the oncoming day. A couple of ideas to re-hydrate:
- Splash your face with cool water when you roll out of bed. Wash your eyes while they’re slightly open – be very gentle. Also rinse out your mouth. Repeat a few times.
- Sip a glass of warm water. Add some lime or lemon to reinvigorate and stimulate your digestion and to wake you up.
9. How about some yoga? Now I may be pushing it – who has time for yoga in the mornings, right? However, Ayurveda prescribes that early morning is the best time for yoga, to activate and energize your body and mind. If you don’t have time for an hour or 30 minutes, consider doing a few stretches, or a couple of rounds of sun salutations. Similar to the previous tip, this builds a pause into your day, make you meet the day deliberately, rather than trying to play catch up. A couple of suggestions to build this into your morning routine:
- Believe it or not, it all starts with going to bed early enough to wake up early. Once you get your ideal amount of sleep each night, your body is ready to go in the mornings.
- If you’re not into yoga, use your favorite exercise routine during this time. Tai Chi, walking, running, or climbing stairs are all great alternatives.
10. Eat a light breakfast. This goes along with what I said above about having a big lunch. Before noon, your body is simply not ready or active enough to handle a big breakfast. It will make you feel dull and sluggish, rather than wake you up. Instead, have a small breakfast before 9 AM that will activate your digestive juices but not overload the system. A couple of suggestions for a light breakfast:Advertising
- A piece of fruit, a cup of yogurt, or a small bowl of granola is plenty for your morning meal
- Don’t snack between breakfast and lunch.
So what do you think about the 10 tips to have a more energizing morning and waking up fresher? If any of the tips resonated with you, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the Comments section below.
Featured photo credit: Saiisha via NestInTheForest.com
Last Updated on September 20, 2018
8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More
You go to the gym to train your muscles. You run outside or go for hikes to train your endurance. Or, maybe you do neither of those, but still wish you exercised more.
Well, here is how to train one of the most important parts of your body: your brain.
When you train your brain, you will:
- Avoid embarrassing situations. You remember his face, but what was his name?
- Be a faster learner in all sorts of different skills. No problem for you to pick up a new language or new management skill.
- Avoid diseases that hit as you get older. Alzheimer’s will not be affecting you.
So how to train your brain and improve your cognitive skills?
1. Work your memory
Twyla Tharp, a NYC-based renowned choreographer has come up with the following memory workout:
When she watches one of her performances, she tries to remember the first twelve to fourteen corrections she wants to discuss with her cast without writing them down.
If you think this is anything less than a feat, then think again. In her book The Creative Habit she says that most people cannot remember more than three.
The practice of both remembering events or things and then discussing them with others has actually been supported by brain fitness studies.
Memory activities that engage all levels of brain operation—receiving, remembering and thinking—help to improve the function of the brain.
Now, you may not have dancers to correct, but you may be required to give feedback on a presentation, or your friends may ask you what interesting things you saw at the museum. These are great opportunities to practically train your brain by flexing your memory muscles.
What is the simplest way to help yourself remember what you see? Repetition.
For example, say you just met someone new:
“Hi, my name is George”
Don’t just respond with, “Nice to meet you”. Instead, say, “Nice to meet you George.”
Got it? Good.
2. Do something different repeatedly
By actually doing something new over and over again, your brain wires new pathways that help you do this new thing better and faster.
Think back to when you were three years old. You surely were strong enough to hold a knife and a fork just fine. Yet, when you were eating all by yourself, you were creating a mess.
It was not a matter of strength, you see. It was a matter of cultivating more and better neural pathways that would help you eat by yourself just like an adult does.
And guess what? With enough repetition you made that happen!
But how does this apply to your life right now?
Say you are a procrastinator. The more you don’t procrastinate, the more you teach your brain not to wait for the last minute to make things happen.
Now, you might be thinking “Duh, if only not procrastinating could be that easy!”
Well, it can be. By doing something really small, that you wouldn’t normally do, but is in the direction of getting that task done, you will start creating those new precious neural pathways.
So if you have been postponing organizing your desk, just take one paper and put in its right place. Or, you can go even smaller. Look at one piece of paper and decide where to put it: Trash? Right cabinet? Another room? Give it to someone?
You don’t actually need to clean up that paper; you only need to decide what you need to do with it.
That’s how small you can start. And yet, those neural pathways are still being built. Gradually, you will transform yourself from a procrastinator to an in-the-moment action taker.
3. Learn something new
It might sound obvious, but the more you use your brain, the better its going to perform for you.
For example, learning a new instrument improves your skill of translating something you see (sheet music) to something you actually do (playing the instrument).
Learning a new language exposes your brain to a different way of thinking, a different way of expressing yourself.
You can even literally take it a step further, and learn how to dance. Studies indicate that learning to dance helps seniors avoid Alzheimer’s. Not bad, huh?
4. Follow a brain training program
The Internet world can help you improve your brain function while lazily sitting on your couch. A clinically proven program like BrainHQ can help you improve your memory, or think faster, by just following their brain training exercises.
5. Work your body
You knew this one was coming didn’t you? Yes indeed, exercise does not just work your body; it also improves the fitness of your brain.
Even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions. But it’s not just that–exercise actually helps your brain create those new neural connections faster. You will learn faster, your alertness level will increase, and you get all that by moving your body.
Now, if you are not already a regular exerciser, and already feel guilty that you are not helping your brain by exercising more, try a brain training exercise program like Exercise Bliss.
Remember, just like we discussed in #2, by training your brain to do something new repeatedly, you are actually changing yourself permanently.
6. Spend time with your loved ones
If you want optimal cognitive abilities, then you’ve got to have meaningful relationships in your life. Talking with others and engaging with your loved ones helps you think more clearly, and it can also lift your mood.
If you are an extrovert, this holds even more weight for you. At a class at Stanford University, I learned that extroverts actually use talking to other people as a way to understand and process their own thoughts.
I remember that the teacher told us that after a personality test said she was an extrovert, she was surprised. She had always thought of herself as an introvert. But then, she realized how much talking to others helped her frame her own thoughts, so she accepted her new-found status as an extrovert.
7. Avoid crossword puzzles
Many of us, when we think of brain fitness, think of crossword puzzles. And it’s true–crossword puzzles do improve our fluency, yet studies show they are not enough by themselves.
Are they fun? Yes. Do they sharpen your brain? Not really.
Of course, if you are doing this for fun, then by all means go ahead. If you are doing it for brain fitness, then you might want to choose another activity
8. Eat right – and make sure dark chocolate is included
Foods like fish, fruits, and vegetables help your brain perform optimally. Yet, you might not know that dark chocolate gives your brain a good boost as well.
When you eat chocolate, your brain produces dopamine. And dopamine helps you learn faster and remember better. Not to mention, chocolate contains flavonols, antioxidants, which also improve your brain functions.
So next time you have something difficult to do, make sure you grab a bite or two of dark chocolate!
The bottom line
Now that you know how to train your brain, it’s actually time to start doing.
Don’t just consume this content and then go on with your life as if nothing has changed. Put this knowledge into action and become smarter than ever!
Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com