February 28, 2012

Too Tired To Sleep?


Are you having trouble falling and/or staying asleep?

When it comes to getting a good night’s rest, those of us who have trouble will try anything.

Sedatives, be they herbal or pharmaceutical, offer short term symptomatic relief at best.

The most common theory relating to sleep issues is that excessive energy makes it difficult to settle down and get to sleep.  On the surface this makes sense but clinically, it has limited effectiveness.

Are You Exhausted?

In my practice I’ve observed that most people who cannot sleep at night are deeply exhausted and often physically, mentally and emotionally depleted as well. Odd as it may seem, the body needs energy to settle itself down to sleep. A person at this deep level of exhaustion may not have enough energy to settle their moods, and the result is that they stay wired, unable to truly rest.

Sedating this person will only drive the exhaustion deeper. What they actually need is rejuvenation.

In order to regain equilibrium, they need a way to support their nervous system so that they have the energy to handle stress, support mood, build energy and sleep at night.

There are two main types of sleep issues that I see in my practice.

1. Pitta-type Sleep Support: Difficulty Falling Asleep

The first type of sleep issue involves having a hard time getting to sleep. This is typically when you lie in bed wide awake anytime from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. counting sheep, waiting for the angel train to take you off to sleep.

According to Ayurveda, the time between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. is the pitta time of night when the liver becomes active and begins its evening detox cycle to prepare the body for the next day. It is not unlike the janitor who comes in and starts cleaning floors and windows while everyone is asleep.  This is why folks often get a second wind at that time of night, turning on the TV, getting on the computer, and off they go changing the world in the wee hours of the night. As this cycle winds down (sometime after midnight but usually before 2 a.m.), the fire goes out and you drift off to sleep.

This type of insomnia is caused by excess pitta, or heat in the body. A person with a hot body type who hasn’t fallen asleep before the pitta cycle starts at 10 p.m., will often be swept up in the stimulation of the heat and glean all kinds of energy, making sleep at this time very challenging.

For this type of concern we need to support the nervous system with an herb that is cooling, reduces pitta and builds the nervous system.

The Ayurvedic herb Brahmi, has cooling properties for the brain and nervous system and thus, supports restful sleep (1). This unique adaptogenic herb can be taken at night to support sleep and in the morning to enhance mental clarity and energy.

2. Vata-Type Sleep Support: Difficulty Staying Asleep

The second type of sleep issue involves waking up sometime between 2:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m., and having difficulty getting back to sleep. Lying there in the middle of the night wide awake can make this type of sleep issue the most frustrating.

According to Ayurveda, this type of sleep concern is due to excess vata, as this is considered the vata time of night. Vata is associated with the nervous system. According to the rhythms of nature, the nervous system starts to excite around 2:00 a.m. If you do not have the energy needed to pacify yourself during this early morning activation, you will wake up and stay up, lacking the energy needed to get back to sleep.

What is needed here is deep rejuvenation. The best rejuvenating herb for vata-type sleep issues is Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera).

Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, or rejuvenative and is traditionally said to give the “strength of 10 horses.”  Like Brahmi, Ashwagandha has the ability to support strength and stamina during the day while, at the same time, giving the nervous system the needed energy to settle down and sleep (2).

Ashwagandha supports the deep reserves of the body and restores balance to many of the bodily functions. Unlike Brahmi, which is cooling, ashwagandha is a warm, heavy and sweet root that deeply rejuvenates the body and mind.

Shawn Econo

Recommendations for a Good Night’s Sleep

1. Herbs:

-Brahmi cools the mind and rejuvenates and supports the nervous system. It supports falling asleep between 10:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m.

-Ashwaganda supports sleep issues between 2-6 a.m. It gives the body the energy it needs to stay asleep.

2. Take a hot bath or shower at 9:00 p.m. followed by warm oil self-massage with the LifeSpa Tri-Doshic Massage Oil. Apply oil to the feet if a full body massage is not possible.

3. Read a boring book at 9:15 p.m. (not my book).

4. Do the One Minute Meditation  at 9:45 p.m.

5. Lights out at 9:46 p.m.

6. Drink one cup of warm milk boiled with a pinch of ghee, cardamom, ginger, turmeric, dates, crushed almonds and coconut. Add honey after boiling. (Almond milk is fine).


1.    Sushma Tiwari, Shinjini Singha, Kishor Patwardhan, Sangeeta Gehlot, I.S.Gambhira. Department of Kriya Sharir, Faculty of Ayurveda, Institute of Medical sciences, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, India
2.    Kumar A, Kalonia H. Protective effect of Withania somnifer Dunal on the behavioral and biochemical alterations in sleep-disturbed mice (and over water suspended method). Indian J Exp Tiol. 2007;45:524-528.
Sudhir S, Budhiraja R, Migiani G, et al. Pharmacological studies on leaves of Withania somnifera. Planta Med. 1986;52:61-63. 27 Naidu P, Singh A, Kulkami S. Effect of Withania




Editor: Brianna Bemel

Read 4 Comments and Reply

Read 4 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Dr. John Douillard  |  Contribution: 29,620