Ayurveda’s Tough Love Recipe for a Good Night’s Sleep (Or How to Sleep Like a Baby)
How many articles have you seen lately about getting a good night’s sleep? A lot, I daresay. That’s because it affects us all and any of us can fall prey to insomnia at any time.
Don’t we all wish we could sleep like a baby again?
Lack of sleep can do more than just make us cranky and reach for a cup of coffee. It can make us crazy and it can make us sick.
Our body depends on sleep to repair and regenerate. Without it, we’re vulnerable to a host of illnesses too long to list here.
And forget looking and feeling our best. It just doesn’t happen without a good night’s sleep.
I know firsthand how horrible chronic insomnia is. When I had fibromyalgia, sleep was practically nonexistent. Pain and an overly sensitive nervous system kept me up most nights. Oh, the irony. I needed the sleep to heal the pain.
I used to joke that I felt like the Princess and the Pea because my bed felt like it was filled with hard pebbles.
I changed the mattress.
I made my bedroom a beautiful haven.
Desperate for sleep, I succumbed to a pharmaceutical named Ambien. Oh, boy, was that ever a mistake.
I went from an insomniac to a sleepwalker doing all kinds of strange things in the night.
I finally found pain relief from herbal remedies and eventually, my sleep improved. And only then, did the healing from fibromyalgia begin.
But I’ve never forgotten how nearly crazy the lack of sleep made me.
We all know that our natural biorhythms dictate how we should sleep. And yet still we treat bedtime like a toddler having a temper tantrum.
We avoid an early bedtime at all costs.
Can’t shut off the computer, TV or telephone.
Just one more episode of our favorite show.
Had I known more about Ayurveda back then I feel certain that things would have been much different.
Here are a few basic Ayurvedic principles that are guaranteed to help get your sleep back on track
1. Respect your biorhythms
Ayurveda divides the 24 hour day into six four-hour cycles.
In terms of sleep, it’s important to rise towards the end of vata time (2:00-6:00 a.m.), before kapha time begins (6:00-10:00 a.m.)
The reason for this is that kapha is a slow, heavy, often lethargic kind of energy.
Sleeping into this time of morning will not result in a rested kind of sleep. It will set you up for feeling groggy throughout the day, even though you may have slept more hours.
Even more important is getting to bed BEFORE pitta time (10:00 p.m. – 2:00 a.m.).
During the evening pitta hours, the body wakes up and the organs start doing their work, repairing, regenerating, digesting, etc.
The liver is especially active at this time. This energy will wake us up and keep us up (i.e. getting your second wind) and make falling asleep next to impossible.
This time period is the most critical in terms of sleep. Sleeping from 10:00 p.m. – 2:00 a.m. will do more for your health than sleeping during any other period.
Most people with a lot of pitta in their constitution are the night owls. They laugh at me when I make this suggestion.
Preceding evening pitta time is kapha time (6:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.). Just like the slow energy in the morning, we experience it in the early evening hours. How many times have you fallen asleep on the sofa during this time? This is when your body is ready for sleep! Take advantage of its wisdom.
2. Eat your largest meal at noon and keep supper light and early (preferably 5:00-6:00ish).
Pitta dosha rules digestion and metabolism, so eating during the pitta hours of the day – 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.) will help the body immensely.
When we eat a heavy or late supper, our body will unnecessarily be given the task of digesting a big meal during evening pitta hours, rather than being able to repair and regenerate.
Digestion takes roughly 60% of our daily metabolism!
3. Learn to Meditate
Just like we have a sleep state, a waking state, and a dream state, we also have a meditative state. It really is as important as all of the others.
Do yourself a favor and learn to meditate. Just twenty minutes, once or twice a day, will change your life and help your sleep state immensely.
An added bonus is that it’s a wonderful remedy for those who wake during the vata time of morning (2:00 – 6:00 a.m.) and can’t get back to sleep. These are high anxiety hours (vata) when we often awake with heart racing. Meditating during these hours will often result in falling into the most delicious sleep you can imagine.
4. Turn off the lights and all electronics at least an hour before bedtime
The light really does mess with our melatonin and makes it hard for us to fall asleep. Light some candles, take a bath, listen to calming music or read a book (boring is better).
5. Learn how to do Ayurvedic self-massage (abhyanga)
Even newborn babies in India benefit from this age-old practice. HERE’S how it’s done.
6. Use herbal remedies to help with the transition
While we don’t want to become too dependent on anything to help us sleep, herbal remedies are food and can help us immensely, especially in the beginning.
Keep in mind that our bodies are all different and will react differently to herbs.
What might be calming and sedating for one person, might be stimulating for someone else.
Also, most herbs take time to show any results. Be patient.
We can do this!!! What’s more important – our health or a TV show or Facebook?
I am right there with you. If I let myself sleep past 7:00, I feel groggy and lethargic.
Getting up before 6:00 is a magic time in terms of creativity.
I know this, and yet I can’t seem to put down that 1,000-page book that I’ve had my nose in until 11:00 every night.
I haven’t mentioned people who regularly work a night shift. It stands to reason that this fights against the body’s natural rhythms in the worst possible way.
Aside from suggesting another job, all I can offer is that you nurture your body as best you can in all other aspects of your life.
Other marvelous natural herbs I use for stress and sleep
St. John’s Wort Extract
I had particular success using this when I had fibromyalgia. It had a three-fold effect for me – giving me pain relief, helping me sleep, and elevating my moods during the day. St. John’s Wort extract is widely used in Europe for depression.
An adaptogenic herb that can be helpful to alleviate some of the stress working a night shift has on the body.
But Ashwagandha is certainly not just for nightshift workers. I’ve been taking it for years and I credit it with helping keep my high vata dosha under control.
I challenge us both to give these tips a try for two weeks and see if sleep doesn’t once again become something pleasant rather than frustrating.