Sleep—such a healing balm and one of the three pillars of health in Ayurveda. When sleep is off, everything is off. And when sleep is good—well, we all know the amazing feeling of a good night’s rest.
Ayurvedic tips to support good sleep start with evening rhythm: everything we do after the sun goes down. For the most part, make your evenings all about unwinding, connecting with self and loved ones, and easy rhythmic activities. Take a stroll outdoors, do easy household chores and meal prep for the following day, play games with family. If you must bring your work home, finish it as early as possible.
Low lighting in the evenings helps prepare the body to sleep. Melatonin, a hormone secreted by the pineal gland as it gets dark, tells our body it's time for sleep. Too much artificial light, and light from screens, interferes with melatonin secretion. So dim the lights or light a candle in the evening and get into the habit of unplugging from screens an hour before bed. Ideally keep all electronics out of your bedroom, or put them into airplane mode.
Give yourself some time and space to digest the day you had. If the mind doesn’t have any other time to process events, it will do so at bedtime, and you might be too stimulated to sleep. If this is you, try a brain dump before bed. Sit down with a notebook and get everything on your mind out onto the page. Then your subconscious mind knows you are tracking it, and your mind will be able to let it go.
Other activities to help wind down and let go before sleep:
journaling or sharing with loved ones
foot massage with oil for self or sharing with partner
taking a warm bath
gentle yoga, or meditation
relaxing and inspiring music or books
sipping herbal sleep tea (Tulsi Sleep Tea, Sleepy Time…)
According to Ayurveda, sleep happens best:
on an empty stomach (3 + hours after supper ).
in a cool room.
in a dark room (use a sleep mask).
in a quiet space (use ear plugs).
by 10 pm
On the other end of the cycle, waking with the sun, and taking in the early morning light is another powerful way to regulate hormonal balance supporting a stable wake/sleep cycle. This aligns with Ayurvedic teachings to rise with or before the sunrise.
Regularity in our daily activities, from wake times to meal times to sleep times, supports a calm nervous system. It turns out we have "clock genes" in all of our internal organs, and indeed in all of our cells, and the more we live into rhythm, the more our organism relaxes and regulates.
Ayurveda emphasizes regularity and rhythm with natural cycles as keys to health and wellbeing at all levels. Most of us have seen how this works with children and animals, but may neglect to offer ourselves this regularity. And as the research into circadian rhythms has shown, all of our inner rhythms, from hunger, to fatigue, to the need for exercise, influence each other for good or bad. Regularity in one cycle, like meal times, supports regularity in other cycles, such as sleeping and waking. When the central clock in our brains gets disconnected with the clock in our gut, the disease process begins. Fascinating.
If you're someone who wants freedom and spontaneity and feel confined by words like "regularity," and "daily rhythm" you might try considering time itself as the structure, or constant, and the content of that time as the freedom or spontaneity. We can exercise at the same time each day, but enjoy different routines day to day. We can enjoy regular meal times, and vary our diet. We can wind down the hour before bed, but engage different means to do so.
And we can let the structure go all together one day a week. If we live into rhythm most of the time, we can enjoy a party, a vacation, or a Friday night, and find we bounce back easily.
Here’s to enlivening rhythms and good sleep for all.