We all know from experience what a difference a good night’s sleep can make in mood, energy and general outlook on life.
Science confirms the importance of sleep for both immediate and long-term health. Insufficient sleep has been linked with increased weight, decreased quality of cognitive function and cardiovascular health, degenerative health concerns, and disturbances in our circadian rhythms that link us to nature’s light and dark cycles. (1-6)
Getting enough quality sleep is of crucial importance to your health and well-being!
In my experience, I have found that occasional sleeplessness can happen for many reasons —for instance, sometimes it can be related to blood sugar imbalances. Sometimes, ironically, your body doesn’t have enough energy to muster up enough sedation to actually put you to sleep. Sometimes, the body won’t decrease stress hormones like cortisol at night, and you and your nervous system just need to be soothed from a hectic day.
By following the guidelines below, you can soothe your racing mind or restless body and transition gently into a full night of peaceful slumber. These are all sattvic practices—meaning that they promote harmony, calm, and clarity in the mind, body, and spirit. According to Ayurveda, getting proper rest is a vital component of maintaining our ojas, or core vitality, so follow these steps for some deep, peaceful zzz’s!
While these aids and exercises are completely safe and appropriate for occasional sleep issues please consult your doctor if your symptoms last for more than a few weeks, or if you experience any of the following:
- Your main sleep problem is daytime sleepiness and self-help hasn’t improved your symptoms.
- You or your bed partner experience breathing problems during sleep.
- You sometimes fall asleep at inappropriate times, such as while talking, walking, or eating.
Remedies Tailored to your Specific Doshic Sleep Imbalance
Pitta: The Ayurvedic Fire Element
Pitta-based sleeplessness is usually distinguished when you have trouble falling asleep between the hours of 10pm and two am. According to Ayurveda, this is the pitta time of night when the liver becomes active and begins its nightly detox cycle to prepare the body for the next day—sort of like a janitor who comes in and starts cleaning floors and windows while everyone is asleep.
This explains why folks often get a second wind at this time of night, turning on the TV or 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 two am), 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 pm, will often be swept up in the stimulation of the heat and glean all kinds of energy, making sleep at this time very challenging. Without proper sleep during this time, the body cannot efficiently perform the nightly detoxification cycle.
- To remedy this, before bedtime, have a cup of cooling Brahmi (Centella asiatica) tea.
- Drink warm almond, cows, or coconut milk, as prescribed for vata types.
- Try some aromatherapy: Put a few drops of sandalwood, marjoram, or benzoin resin oil (which is vanilla-scented) into a bath.
- Massage warm ghee (clarified butter) onto your head and the bottoms of your feet.
- Practice a One Minute Meditation followed by five minutes of Ujjayi breathing (closing the root of the throat and breathing through your nose audibly).
Vata: The Ayurvedic Air Element
A vata sleep imbalance is typically characterized by when you wake up in the middle of the night between two am and six am and have trouble falling back to sleep. This type could be considered the most disturbing, as you lie there in the middle of the night wide awake.
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 two am. 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.
- To balance this occasional sleep disturbance, before going to bed, take a hot bath followed by a full-body warm sesame oil massage, or just rub your head and feet with sesame oil.
- The best rejuvenative herb for vata-type sleep issues is Ashwagandha, which supports the deep reserves of the body and restores balance to many of the bodily functions. Ashwagandha is a warm, heavy and sweet root that deeply rejuvenates the body and mind.
- Drink hot almond, cows, or coconut milk with any or all of the following: chopped dates, coconut flakes, cardamom, ginger, or honey. Read more about our ojas-building sleep plan.
- Breathing exercises and a short meditation before bed may also help calm the mind for sleep. Try the cooling Chandra Bhedana Pranayama (Moon Breath) for five minutes. The Chandra Bhedana is performed by breathing in through the left nostril and out through the right, closing the opposite nostril. Follow this with 1-5 minutes of Ujjayi breathing, where you are nasal breathing deeply and slowly through the back of the throat. Repeat this until your agitating thoughts subside.
- If you wake in the middle of the night, rather than just lying there thinking, get up and have chamomile tea.
Kapha: The Ayurvedic Water and Earth Elements
Do you sleep long hours, but still feel exhausted upon waking? Feel like you could sleep all day if you could?
Kapha-based sleeplessness typically manifests by an inability to fully wake up.
- Get your exercise in the morning, from six am to 10 am.
- Stir a teaspoon of Brahmi and raw honey into hot water, and drink it in the morning and evening.
- Give yourself a head and foot massage with olive oil, olive and mustard oils, sesame oil, or mustard oil alone after bathing in the morning and evening.
- Aromatherapy works particularly well for kaphas: Try putting a blend of marjoram, frankincense, rose, and ylang-ylang essential oils into a hot bath.
- Just before you go to bed, practice my One Minute Meditation.
- Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Mar 19;110(12):E1132-41. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1217154110. Epub 2013 Feb 25. Effects of insufficient sleep on circadian rhythmicity and expression amplitude of the human blood transcriptome. Möller-Levet CS1, Archer SN, Bucca G, Laing EE, Slak A, Kabiljo R, Lo JC, Santhi N, von Schantz M, Smith CP, Dijk DJ.
- Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2014 Apr;1311:151-73. doi: 10.1111/nyas.12355. Epub 2014 Mar 14. Interactions between sleep, circadian function, and glucose metabolism: implications for risk and severity of diabetes. Reutrakul S1, Van Cauter E.
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- Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014 Feb 11;111(6):E682-91. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1316335111. Epub 2014 Jan 21. Mistimed sleep disrupts circadian regulation of the human transcriptome. Archer SN1, Laing EE, Möller-Levet CS, van der Veen DR, Bucca G, Lazar AS, Santhi N, Slak A, Kabiljo R, von Schantz M, Smith CP, Dijk DJ.
- Occup Med (Lond). 2010 Jan;60(1):10-20. doi: 10.1093/occmed/kqp162. Shift work: coping with the biological clock. Arendt J1.
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Author: Dr. John Douillard
Editor: Renée Picard
Image: keremtapani at Flickr