Three Ayurvedic Tips for Better Sleep
Have you been suffering through insomnia or disturbed sleep? You’re not alone. According to the Sleep Foundation, an estimated 30% of adults suffer from sleep disruption, while 10% face daytime functional impairment associated with insomnia. This may be an acute condition (1-3 weeks), or a long term one (3 weeks or more). You may have other conditions in connection to poor sleep as well.
There are a number of lifestyle factors contributing to poor or disturbed sleep. Some of these include high stress levels, an irregular sleep schedule, or a disturbed environment. Stimulants such as coffee or tea and underlying heath conditions can also effect you quality of sleep.
Today, you can find a number of allopathic or over-the-counter medicines to cure insomnia. Unfortunately, most of these have long-term side effects. Ayurveda offers natural and sustainable remedies for good sleep. It holds that ideal health stems from a balance of the three pillars of life – sleep, food, and controlled sex.
According to Ayurveda, it is not just the number of hours of sleep you get but also when you fall asleep and wake up. This is because early hours of sleep are more restorative. There are two types of sleep – non-REM (dreamless) sleep during you early hours, and REM (dream intensive) sleep levels later on. In other words, later hours of sleep are associated with greater movement due to high levels of vata in the system.
All forms of sleep disorders are caused by dosha imbalances. Doshas are biological energies that make up our internal constitution. These are of three forms – vata (comprised of air and ether), pitta (fire dominant), and kapha (earth and water dominant). You can learn about the doshas in detail here.
Firstly, vata imbalances cause high mental activity which make you feel tired upon waking. Secondly, pitta imbalances can cause you to wake in the middle of the night, unable to fall back asleep. Finally, kapha-caused imbalances result in exhaustion upon waking, and continued lethargy. There are three vital remedies for good sleep which are addressed below.
Herbs are useful in soothing excessive stress and anxiety. These can ward away sleep disorders, as well as induce calmness and optimal activity levels throughout the day. They should also be local and seasonal to harmonise your body with the environment around you.
Brahmi or Bacopa promotes restfulness, concentration, and emotional balance. It is literally called a ‘brain tonic’ as it helps maintain focus and alertness. It additionally boosts digestion and blood circulation; which helps the body manage metabolic processes. Jatamasi is a similar herb which serves as a brain tonic and memory enhancer. Both of these nourish the nervous system and nourish sound sleep.
Thirdly, Ashwagandha is a therapeutic adaptogenic herb which Ayurveda has used for centuries. It contains anti-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory effects which soothes the nervous, cardiopulmonary, and endocrine systems. It also increases the count of natural killer cells which boost immunity. Most importantly, its leaves contains the compound triethylene glycol which naturally induces sleep.
Other herbs such as Shankhpushpi, Vacha, and Sarpagandha have direct effects on sleep quality. Shankhpushpi and Sarpagandha are alkaloid rich herbs which can tackle tension, anxiety, and hypertension. Shankhpushpi also contains flavonoids and glycosides which can soothe your nervous system. Thirdly, Vacha or Acorus Camus acts as a coolant. It provides a calming effect to the brain and relaxes the nerves, thus inducing sleep.
Eat timely, healthy, and well-portioned meals
Ayurveda recommends eating in line with your Agni or digestive fire. This peaks during midday, when the sun is overhead. Hence, you are much better able to process a big meal at this time. So opt for a larger lunch during the day and have a lighter meal in the evening before sleeping. Avoid heavy meals at night, as your digestion is weaker at this time and can cause sleep disturbances. This gives your body enough room to replenish and repair its systems; without having to focus on undigested food.
What you eat is just as important as your meal timings. As a thumb rule, follow a diet which suits your dosha type. Focus on whole, well-cooked fresh food, while limiting processed or stale items. Also be sure to avoid caffeinated beverages, excessively oily, or deep fried food, and foods with too much salt or spice.
For instance, caffeinated beverages like tea or coffee can overstimulate your nervous system. This interrupts your circadian rhythms, which makes sleep all the more difficult. Instead, opt for a warm mug of goat, cow, or almond milk. You can spice it up with ground nutmeg or turmeric – both of these contain natural compounds which soothe your nervous system. Alternatively, try drinking chamomile or green tea to soothe you down.
Additionally, alcohol is a pitta-aggravating substance which can cause disturbed sleep. For instance, you may awaken with night sweats or hot flashes. Moreover, it can stimulate your liver (a pitta organ) which excites your mind and body. Thus, try limiting your alcohol intake before 6:00pm to give your body adequate time to process it before sleeping.
Follow a Routine
Try to align your sleep schedule to the earth’s natural rhythms. Ayurveda divides your day into two twelve hour slots. Each slot is characterised by a specific dosha and contains three four hour cycles. Namely, these are the periods 2-4 am/ pm (vata dosha), 6-10 am/ pm (pitta dosha), and 10-6 am/ pm (kapha dosha). These doshas are important as they govern mind-body harmony and daily energy levels.
In summery, try to align your activities throughout the day with the characteristics of the dosha aligning it. For instance, your pitta phase (marked by fire and energy) is ideal for productive and metabolic activity. Meanwhile, your vata phase is ideal for creativity and stimulation. This can take the form of dreaming when you are asleep, or miscellaneous creative work while you are awake.
In contrast, kapha is governed by earth and water, and marked by and heaviness and lethargy. Thus, Ayurvedic experts recommend sleeping going to sleep before 10:00 pm, and waking no later than 6:00 am before the onset of kapha. This lends your body with sufficient time to process digestive material and recharge your systems.
Consistency is key to reaping the benefits of Ayurveda. When you eat, sleep, or work at irregular timings, it throws your body off its regular cycles. This is a dominant cause for dosha imbalances. Thus, try sleeping and waking at the same time everyday. Likewise, align your meals, work, and exercise into an early and steady routine for your body’s biological symptoms to function smoothly.
Insomnia or sleeplessness is difficult to deal with, but is not an incurable condition. An Ayurvedic lifestyle is foolproof in resetting your biological clock and keeping you healthy. However, it is understandable that you may not be able to change your lifestyle entirely. Nevertheless, be sure to follow the tips above to reap the benefits of better sleep.