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.
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Ayurveda teaches the benefit of a regular routine, varying slightly with the seasons. The research now supports this and shows that a regular routine— when we go to bed, wake up, eat meals, work, exercise—all support our body’s capacity to fall asleep and stay asleep. Not just our sleep routine, but all of our daily rhythms (or lack thereof) affect our capacity to sleep. 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 these clock genes come into sync and the more our organism relaxes and regulates.
Take in the morning light for 5 minutes. 5 minutes at around the same time, is all it takes for the body to begin to reprogram the brain to the solar cycle. (Being out doors at the end of the day is also helpful). This is effective even on a cloudy day (but it doesn’t work to look at light through a window). This practice resets our body’s cortisol/melatonin secretions as we attune our body to solar time. Ayurveda suggests walking towards the rising sun each morning as a cure for depression.
Avoid caffeine after noon.
Avoid alcohol too close to bed time. Ayurveda recommends 2 servings of alcohol a week (or whatever you can metabolize without leaving a residue in your body). If you’re having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, try reducing or avoiding alcohol for 30 days to see how it impacting you.
Eat an earlier, lighter dinner (Eat a more substantial lunch and if you enjoy dessert, eat it after lunch not dinner)
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.
Enjoy an easeful evening. As much as possible, let evening hours center on unwinding from the day’s events, relaxing activities and connecting with loved ones. Try to finish any work that takes focus as early as you can—By 7pm is ideal—that includes signing papers and filling out forms for your children.
a stroll outdoors
a game indoors
household chores done at a relaxed pace with other family members
sharing or cuddling with loved ones
easy, uplifting reading, music
Train yourself to notice when you start to feel tired, and go with that heavier, denser energy rather re-stimulating yourself.
The hour before bed is an especially important time to calm your body and mind.
For those with a lighter body frame, or over the age of 60, this is vital.
Unplug from all devices/screens. Blue light blocking screens/glasses protect from giving your brain the signal its daytime, but screen time an hour before bed is till too stimulating to the mind. If you love screens right up to bed time, train yourself to let go of the screen 15 minutes earlier each week , until you have dialed it back a full hour.
Enjoy a hot bath. We sleep best when we’re cool, and a hot bath before bed will cause the body to cool down, which is what you want. If you are hot flashing, keep it short.
Practice restorative yoga or meditation
Practice yoga nidra
Drink some calming herbal tea or warm milk with a little nutmeg or cardamon (see recipe below)
Try a brain dump. Simply sit down with a notebook and get everything on your mind onto the page. Put your notebook in a safe place on your desk or elsewhere where you will see it in the morning. This allows your mind to relax as its no longer tied up in tracking information—and what you need to remember, from the trivial to the important, is safely on the page.
Rub sesame oil on your feet at bed time. For more effect, use your oily little fingers to lubricate the inside of your ears.
Associate only sleep and sex with being in bed.
Ayurveda teaches sleep happens best:
in a cool room
in a completely dark room (use a sleep mask)—consider using earplugs too
Herbal and other Medicinal Support
I recommend avoiding sleeping pills if at all possible as they can interfere with your body’s natural sleep responses as well as becoming habit forming and hard to come off of.
Nighty Night Milk
This is the classic Ayurvedic go-to to promote sleep
4-6 oz. of A-2 milk, goat’s milk or milk substitute
pinch of cardamon or nutmeg or a few strands of saffron
Bring milk and spices to a boil, cool and drink.
Add a dash of sweetener to taste (maple syrup or raw honey)
Herbal Sleep Teas
There are many to choose from. Here is one I like, made with adaptogenic herbs to support your stress response as well as nervines to help you sleep.
Herbal Sleep Tablets
Also many tinctures and pills. I like this formula, I Sleep Soundly. It’s a blend of Ayurvedic herbs with both adaptogenic and nervine herbs to support your body’s response to stress as well as to promote relaxation.
Resetting Melatonin Secretion time (also see early morning light exposure above)
Supplemental melatonin drops may help your brain to reset the time fatigue comes on. It should be used at a regular time 30 min before you want to go to bed. To find the best dosage, start with 0.3 mg (3 drops) for 1-5 nights and then assess how you feel based on your quality of sleep and your energy levels in the morning. Take less if you are groggy the next day. Or start with 0.1 mg and go from there.
Use for a week - 10 days to support re patterning of melatonin release then stop.
What to do if you wake in the night
Avoid the temptation to look at your phone
Count breaths backwards from 100—in hale = 100, exhale = 99, etc….
Turn on a yoga nidra recording.
If it’s 3:30, 4 or 4:30am on a regular basis, consider getting up, and taking a cat nap before lunch.
What to do if you don’t sleep well one night?
Best to get up at your normal time, and enjoy a cat nap or two during the day for fatigue. A cat nap is sleep of 20 minutes of less. Also effective is deep rest non-sleep like savasana or yoga nidra (there are many recordings of this). Sleeping in occasionally is ok. Especially if you’ve been ill. But I recommend avoiding sleeping in regularly as it disrupts your body’s rhythms, which will work against you being able to fall asleep easily.
As with any behavior change, you have to stick with these practices and remedies to receive their benefits. I recommend you pick a few things to focus on, and then be all about those things for 30 days to reap the benefits. Think of it as “what you’re doing” until you start to feel some positive shift. You might like to find someone else who’s having trouble sleeping, and support each other in this.
Remember, consistency is supportive of prana while an erratic rhythm distorts prana. Try to promote regularity at least 5 days a week.
I'd love to hear what you're doing to sleep well in the comments below.
Here’s to a good night’s rest!