It’s 3am and you’re still struggling to get some much needed shuteye. Your brain just won’t shut off, and you find yourselves tossing and turning, unable to get comfortable. If you find yourself in this predicament, don’t fret, you’re in good company. In a recent study conducted by the Centre for Disease Control, anywhere from 120 – 130 million people around the world suffer from some form of sleep disorder. Studies have shown the regular sleep deficits have been associated with high blood pressure, type II diabetes, heart disease, depression, cancer, obesity, and even increased risk of death.
Last year, about 120 million prescriptions were written for sleep aids. These medications can have side effects, like any drug. However consuming these medicines becomes necessary because not sleeping is more harmful than simply feeling lousy the next day.
Insomnia or the inability to sleep is a quite common disorder that people struggle with. Many adults experience insomnia at some point, but some people have long-term (chronic) insomnia. There are multiple reasons for people to suffer from insomnia, these causes range from medical conditions, lifestyle, food and more. Here we have listed some of the main causes of insomnia.
- Stress: Worries about work, school, health or family can keep your mind active at night, making it difficult to sleep.
- Change in your environment or work schedule: Travel or working a late or early shift can disrupt your body’s rhythms. Your body’s rhythm guides your day to day functions like sleep-wake cycle, metabolism and body temperature.
- Poor sleep habits: Not having a daily sleep schedule is also one of the reasons for insufficient sleep. Sleeping and waking on time is essential for your body clock.
- Medications: Many prescription drugs can interfere with sleep, including some antidepressants, heart and blood pressure medications contain caffeine and other stimulants, which interfere with proper sleep.
- Caffeine nicotine and alcohol: Coffee, tea, cola and other caffeinated drinks are well-known stimulants. Drinking coffee in the late afternoon and later can keep you from falling asleep at night. Nicotine in tobacco products is another stimulant that can cause insomnia. Alcohol is a sedative that may help you fall asleep, but it prevents deeper stages of sleep and often causes you to awaken in the middle of the night.
- Eating too much late in the evening: Having a light snack before bedtime is often OK, but eating too much may keep you awake.
Yoga, which deals with the energy of the mind and body, can help alleviate sleep disorders. It is based on the principle that the mind, body, and spirit work in unison. If the body is sick, it affects the mind and spirit. If the mind is chronically restless and agitated, the health of the body and spirit will be affected. And if the spirit is depleted, the mind and body will suffer. There are many forms of yoga, many of which use various poses that incorporate stretching and other techniques that integrate mind, body, and spirit. One of those techniques is called Trataka or candle gazing.
Trataka is a simple cleansing technique that has multiple benefits besides being an excellent cure for insomnia. It is an excellent introduction to the Art and Science of meditation. The word Trataka means to gaze or look, this technique involves gazing at a candle to help build concentration.
- Light a candle and place it on a small table around 3 to 4 feet in front of you.
- Sit in a comfortable posture with the spine upright and the arms and shoulders relaxed. You can assume any meditative posture which you can maintain without any movement for the duration of the Trataka practice.
- Make sure that the flame is at the level of your eyes. Also, make sure that you are facing the candle directly without having to turn the neck even slightly.
- It is important that the flame remains steady during the concentration routine. So, make sure that there no breeze around of any kind to disturb the flame. If needed, turn off any fans or air conditioner in the room.
- Take a few deep breaths to relax. Close the eyes and watch your breath as you inhale and exhale for about five to seven breaths. This will allow the breath to settle down and bring you into the present moment.
- Now, gaze at the flame intently and keep your gaze on it without getting distracted towards outer disturbances and thoughts.
- Keep your vision focused and steady on the flame without blinking, for as long as it is comfortable to you. Try to avoid body movement during the entire practice.
- Keep your gaze anchored on some part of the flame, rather than the candle or wick. If thoughts come up in the mind, just become aware of them and let them go. Try to maintain your awareness and focus on the flame.
- Continue to gaze at the flame until you cannot keep your eyes open and tears start flowing. Once this happens, close your eyes.
- When you close the eyes, you may be able to visualize an after-image of the flame with closed eyes. Try to bring this image at the point between the eyebrows at the centre of the forehead (also known as the third eye location).
- The depth and level of your concentration will determine how clear the after-image is. If you cannot visualize the after-image of the flame with closed eyes, or it wavers constantly or loses clarity, then re-apply your concentration to restore the position of the after-image.
- When the image begins to fade out completely, bring your awareness back to your breathing and begin to watch the flow of breath at the tip of the nose for about 7 to 8 breaths.
- You can open your eyes at this point and repeat the full gazing routine as given above one more time.
Note#1 Initially you may feel that your eyes get watery after only a few minutes. However, with practice, your eyes will be able to continue the gaze for longer periods. However, at first, do not perform Trataka for more than 3 minutes for three rounds: allow yourself to get used to it with time. Also, do not rub your eyes after performing the technique.
Note#2: Initially, since it is a psychologically cleansing technique as well you may experience weird dreams, the rise of old memories rising up, etc.