In treating sleep disorders, I’m a strong advocate of integrating the best of conventional and alternative interventions, because successful treatment frequently requires adjunctive medical, nutritional, somatic, and other therapies. Some of the specific recommendations I make to clients include:
Rest practices refer to a range of standard relaxation techniques that support nightmindedness and healthy sleep. These include meditation, prayer, self-hypnosis, neurofeedback, gentle yoga, and breathing exercises. Journaling, expressive arts, and light reading are ideal rest practices for dusk simulation. The yoga technique called Yoga Nidra or “yogic sleep” is particularly useful for cultivating a deeper awareness of sleep.
The 4-7-8 Breath
This breathing exercise is quick, simple, portable, and effective for quelling anxiety and promoting rest. It can be done sitting up or lying down.
Begin by placing and holding the tip of the tongue against the ridge behind the upper front teeth. You’ll be inhaling quietly through your nose and exhaling with a whooshing sound through your mouth:
1) Exhale completely through your mouth.
2) ‑Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to the count of 4.
3) Hold your breath to the count of 7.
4) Exhale completely through your mouth to a count of 8.
This constitutes one breathing cycle. Repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths. While the actual time you spend on each segment isn’t important, the ratio of 4:7:8 is. Practice this two to three times each day.
Even small amounts of light at night can trigger the suppression of melatonin. Given that most of us are chronically overexposed to light at night, it raises concerns about the long-term effects of chronic melatonin suppression, not only on sleep and dreams, but also on our general health.
I frequently encourage my sleep clients to become more informed about melatonin, which is available as an over-the-counter supplement. Although it doesn’t have the knockout power of sleeping pills, when used appropriately, it’s been shown to be an effective aid in managing insomnia, treating sleep-rhythm problems, and increasing dreaming.
When dusk simulation isn’t feasible, I frequently recommend the use of “blue-light-blocking” products—ones that allow people to be more active and functional without suppressing natural melatonin production. These eyeglasses and lightbulbs selectively filter out the blue wavelengths of light that suppress melatonin, while allowing sufficient light through to read, watch television, use a computer, and engage in other evening activities. (These glasses shouldn’t be confused with “blue blocker” sunglasses, which are designed for outdoor, daytime use.)
Rubin Naiman, PhD, is a psychologist, sleep specialist and clinical assistant professor of medicine at the world-renowned University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, directed by Dr. Andrew Weil. Dr. Naiman is a leader in the development of integrative approaches to sleep and dreams whose approach is now taught in dozens of medical schools around the U.S. His approach weaves medical and neuroscientific perspectives with depth psychological and transpersonal views. Dr. Naiman is also founder and director of NewMoon Sleep, LLC, an organization that offers a range of sleep and dream related services, trainings and consultation internationally. He is the author of several groundbreaking works on sleep, including Healthy Night, Healthy Sleep (with Andrew Weil), To Sleep Tonight, The Yoga of Sleep and Hush: A Book of Bedtime Contemplations. His work has been featured in major magazines, newspapers, as well as on radio and television programs in the U.S. and abroad.