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Breathing Into Sleep

We’ve all been there. Lying in bed staring at the ceiling, listening to the clock tick-tock away as the late night hours slip into those of the early morning wondering “Why the #$%@ can’t I fall asleep?” We toss and turn and eventually that dreaded alarm reminds us that the next day is waiting, regardless of how many zzz's we caught. It feels like you haven’t slept a wink and you don’t know how you are going to get through that big meeting, or 12-hour shift, or even just successfully parenting that raucous toddler (I should know, mine is one!).

In those moments where your mind is racing, you may be reserved to the idea that you just won’t be sleeping that night. That you just need to let your mind do its thing and hold on for the ride until you finally fall into a rocky, restless sleep.

That’s why we have coffee right?

You find yourself falling into this pattern, day in and day out, praying for Saturday when you can finally (hopefully) lay in bed for an extra hour and play catch-up with the sandman. You continue to slowly pile on the exhaustion until it starts bleeding into your performance at work and in the gym.

What if I told you there were some simple things that might help? That you can take back some control over falling asleep and staying asleep? Would you do it?

If you knew how big of an impact eight restful hours could make on a day, would you find the time?

Let’s talk about the facts! Sleep is essential for our recovery. If we are lucky, we dedicate 1/3 of our lifetime to it. And yet around 50% of Canadians report experiencing poor sleep on a regular basis. From difficulty getting to and/or staying sleep to subjective feelings of their sleep quality, most people aren’t meeting their own expectations around their sleep health. To top it off, humans are the only species on the planet that willingly delays sleep (Trust me my son is the master of this one!) to do other things.

Lack of sleep is associated with a high risk of many comorbidities, such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and chronic pain. In athletes, sleeping less than eight hours is associated with a 2x greater risk of injury. In fact, poor sleep is more likely to be a contributor to increased pain than pain is to contribute to poor sleep. Let that one sink in for a second: you're more likely to have pain from not sleeping than to be not sleeping due to pain.

There a many reasons why people struggle to sleep at night. There are conditions on the more serious end, such as sleep apnea (or brief periods where breathing stops), that can require medical intervention, but are very treatable, and there are smaller factors such as room set up, temperature, and screen time that can be easily changed. Those smaller factors fall under the umbrella of what we call sleep hygiene, and it's something we're going to cover as part of my Breathing Into Sleep series.

So, how does breathing fit into all of this? Our day to day life is stressful. We are infinitely connected to our peers thanks to cellphones, we're subject to a constant barrage of news, current events, and tragedies, we're dealing with expectations from work, trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and be a superhuman parent every single day. Did I mention that we're also living in the first global pandemic in a century? These stressors add up, and that can make it incredibly difficult to wind down at the end of a day to sleep. In my personal experience, and the experience of many of my clients, this results in hours lying awake at night, trying to turn off your day, all while stressing about how little sleep you're getting on top of it all.

That's where Breathing Into Sleep comes in.

We're laying out all the strategies, we're keeping it simple, and we're bringing unwinding down to it's most fundamental component: mindful breathing. Breathing is the throttle for the nervous system: it has the ability to ramp it up or down based on what the stressors at that time. Shallow, quick, upper chest breathing is the gas pedal for the nervous system, while slow, deep, belly breathing is the brakes. A balance of both is critical for our function, but the brakes are what we need to sleep.

In this four-week series we're going to learn how to breathe to put on the brakes. We'll practice mindfulness in breathing, add in some movement and mobility practice using stretches and racket balls, and dive into some important sleep hygiene principles. You're going to take home the tools we use in class (a hot oat bag and the racket balls), and the tools you need to get to sleep faster, and most sustainably (no more ZZZQuil!), and stay there.

Registration for this class can be found right here, and spots are limited due to COVID-19. For anyone concerned about attending in-person sessions, we can look to incorporate a digital version for at home, please contact us for more information.

For anyone that struggles with sleep and stress, Breathe Into Sleep is the knockout punch you've been dreaming of, and I can't wait to show you!


James Loveday-Wight is a Registered Massage Therapist and expert in all things breathing, balance, and feet. He is a passionate lifelong learner that believes the best treatments are complimented by strategies that you can use to make real, lasting change. He lives in Owen Sound with his wife and their 1 year-old son.

To book an appointment with James, click here

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