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My Search for Sleep

Emma Heming Willis shares local resources for catching some more Zs



Willis and her daughters, Evelyn and Mabel, settle in for a pre-bedtime snuggle at home in Bedford.

Photo by Rana Faure

Do you remember when you used to sleep “like a baby?” As in, before you had one? I can answer affirmatively to that. It used to really bug me while I was pregnant when people would say, “You better enjoy sleeping now because once you have your baby, you won’t sleep at all!” That seemed a bit dramatic at the time. Not so much anymore. 

Now my body clock is off from waking up for my kids or sleeping with one eye open much like a mother tiger who is constantly on guard. 

In my quest to learn how to get more sleep, I turned to Dr. Praveen Rudraraju, Medical Director of the Center for Sleep Medicine at Northern Westchester Hospital, and asked if he could offer up some ideas to catch those critical z’s. 

If you’re struggling to get to sleep at night, Dr. Rudraraju suggests having a bedtime routine in place. For example, playing soft music or applying a certain cream or essential oil that you’ll only use at bedtime will trigger your brain to know that it’s time to settle down. He also says to avoid caffeine or caffeinated beverages after 12 noon and that we shouldn’t eat anything heavy after 7 pm. If you do get 

hungry before you sleep, you can have something light. “There are some snacks that have high tryptophans, which will help you sleep better: nuts, warm milk, bananas, citrus fruits,” he explains. Of course, there’s also chamomile tea—I’m a big fan. 

In response to his suggestion, I decided to research the use of essential oils as a potential remedy. These oils have been used in beauty and healing routines for hundreds of years. Yielded from plant material, they are highly potent and one small drop can create a world of difference. Lavender, for example, has anti-inflammatory properties and promotes calmness. A few drops of eucalyptus and peppermint essential oil released into your shower can reportedly create an amazing spa experience and help your body in the pre-sleep preparation. I tried it all, and it still wasn’t cutting it for me. Don’t get me wrong. It helped, but I was still searching for a good night’s sleep.

Next, I experimented with Yoga Nidra—the yogic sleep, or sleep with awareness. Nidra, an ancient practice (5,000 years old), is a systematic method of complete relaxation, holistically addressing our physiological, neurological, and subconscious needs.

I had the pleasure of taking a Yoga Nidra class with Nancy McLoughlin, who offers private lessons from her studio in Tarrytown or will come to you. 

“On a windy or stormy day, no matter how rough the surface gets, there will always be miles and miles beneath those tossing waves that remain still and silent, no matter what, and to get there, you just have to dive down,” McLoughlin says.

“New brain studies are unearthing the healing benefits of different forms of meditation. They show that the hemispheres of the brain actually ‘knit’ together during the process and lead to healing, stress relief, and ultimately a better sleep at night,” she continues. The night after I took the Nidra class, I slept better. Better is a step in the right direction. 

While I was experimenting with Yoga Nidra, my friend ventured to Nordic Cryotherapy in New Canaan where they offer Whole Body Cryotherapy. WBC uses liquid nitrogen vapors to lower the skin’s surface temperature through a process called thermogenesis, according to the WBC website. The skin reacts to the cold and sends messages to the brain that act as a stimulant to the regulatory functions of the body. Anti-inflammatory molecules as well as endorphins are sent throughout the body, causing one to feel more energetic almost immediately. While I haven’t yet mustered up the courage to climb into the cold capsule to try it, my friend has had good results and says it has helped her sleep better. 

Throughout this process, I have also been journaling. It’s a great way to download anything that is troubling so I don’t take it to bed and have it keep me up. 

Lastly, I’ve started drinking Natural Calm, a beverage made from magnesium which is known to be a natural stress reliever. Try a glass before bed, and see if it helps you relieve that awful, pre-sleep inner jitter. I find it helps. Sweet dreams.

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