Today's Daily Tip
Teaching Students with Insomnia
Laura Burkhart lost more than a few nights of sleep during the decade she suffered from chronic insomnia—she lost herself.
"I would wake up in the middle of the night and just cry because I was so exhausted," says Burkhart. "I was short with people, and I didn't feel like me because I could never give anyone 100 percent."
Not getting enough sleep affected her relationships, her schoolwork, and her health. She became dependent on caffeine and sugar just to make it through the day.
Over-the-counter and prescription pharmaceutical drugs helped her sleep at night, but only for a few hours—and only one night at a time. The next night, she'd experience the same problems all over again.
It wasn't until she had been practicing yoga for about six months that Burkhart noticed a difference in her sleeping patterns. That was the same time she realized she didn't like the groggy feeling she experienced when she woke up after taking sleeping pills.
Although she still struggles with insomnia from time to time, Burkhart, 28, says maintaining a consistent yoga practice has given her the tools to safely combat it and get the sleep she needs.
A Common StruggleBetter sleep has been touted for years as one of the benefits of yoga, but now scientific evidence is beginning to build to support the claims. In 2004, Sat Bir S. Khalsa, a researcher at Brigham and Women's Hospital at Harvard Medical School, concluded a study of subjects with insomnia who were given breathing, meditation, and asana exercises to do over the course of eight weeks. The results showed improvements in both sleep time and quality among the participants.
Information like this could bring relief to the masses, because it gives yoga more credibility among mainstream medical practitioners. According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 70 million Americans suffer from insomnia, a sleep disorder in which people either find it difficult to fall asleep, or fall asleep but then wake up in the middle of the night.
It's not surprising, then, that the New York Times reported that 42 million prescriptions for sleeping pills were filled in the last year, and that the number of accredited sleep clinics in the United States has tripled in the last decade.
As insomnia and other sleep disorders are getting more and more media attention, it's more important than ever for yoga teachers to be aware of the epidemic and understand how yoga might help—or hinder—students from getting a good night's sleep.
Ann Dyer, a California-based, Iyengar-trained teacher, recently developed a routine to help assuage insomnia symptoms, even for those who have never tried yoga before. Dyer is featured in the ZYoga: The Yoga Sleep Ritual DVD.
According to Dyer, insomnia affects so many people that the chances are good that you have students suffering from it who haven't ever thought to mention it to you. "People get so used to not sleeping that it almost seems normal," Dyer says. "They don't think to mention it like they would mention a pulled hamstring."