An Ayurvedic approach to a Good Night's Sleep
by Dr. Surya Bhagwati on Oct 25, 2019
Sleep is a basic requirement for human health and wellbeing and it is a very natural behavior for most species. Unfortunately, our modern lifestyle is so far removed from the natural order that sleep disorders have become increasingly common. While conventional medicine has relied on sleep medications and sedatives to address the problem, most of these medications only provide temporary relief and long term use can cause serious side effects. To address the problem in a holistic manner, you first need to correct this disconnect from nature and use natural sleeping aids. Ayurved offers us some of the best insights into this pervasive modern day problem and gives us advice on sleep habits and herbal remedies that can help you get a good night’s sleep
Sleep: The Ayurvedic Perspective
While you don’t need to go into the technicalities of Ayurvedic concepts, you do need to have some understanding of the natural energy forces or doshas. These energies exist throughout nature, affecting all aspects of human health, including sleep. Kapha dosha is said to promote sleep, while an increase in the other doshas – vata or pitta, can cause sleep disturbances or insomnia. Ayurved regards sleep as an essential requirement, with texts like the Sushruta Samhita and Charaka Samhita delving deep into the subject of sleep and sleep disorders.
Through their shared wisdom, we know that maintaining your optimal balance of doshas is essential for good health and various bodily functions, including sleep. Dosha imbalances are regarded as the root cause of almost all problems, which is also true with sleep disorders. While modern science cannot explain these underlying concepts, studies have confirmed the basic premise of vata aggravation causing sleep disturbances. This highlights the importance of identifying your dosha type and following dietary and lifestyle practices to maintain that unique dosha balance.
As we’ve already mentioned, doshas are a natural energy and they also exist in nature, governing the rhythms of the world around us. The 3 doshas ebb and flow at different times in the day, thereby influencing our energy levels, wakefulness, and sleep. There are different time periods in a day when each dosha is dominant and your daily routine should synch perfectly with this natural rhythm. Kapha is the dominant energy between 6-10 am and pm. This means that you should start winding down from 6pm and sleep by 10pm. From 10pm to 2am pitta dominates and stimulates activity. If you are asleep this activity is focused on metabolism, digestion, and regeneration, but if you aren’t sleeping yet, you will have food cravings that make it difficult to sleep.
Dealing with Sleep Disorders the Ayurvedic Way
Because of our fast paced lifestyles, high stress levels, and constant exposure to digital screens, vata tends to remain aggravated and our minds stay active even at night. While following the dinacharya routine will improve sleep quality there are other Ayurvedic recommendations that you can try:
1. Early & Light Supper
Dinner should ideally be consumed at least 2-3 hours before bedtime and should include foods that are easy to digest. Late and heavy meals shortly before bedtime can reduce the quality of sleep, impair digestion. This recommendation for early supper is also supported by studies, which show that late meals increase the risk of acid reflux and heartburn. You should also avoid or severely restrict any intake of alcohol during the evening, as excessive alcohol consumption can severely impair sleep, despite its initial sedative effect.
Abhyanga or massage therapy is an integral part of Ayurved and is recommended to promote good quality sleep. You can massage your own feet, lower back, ears, and head, using Ayurvedic herbal oils like brahmi to pacify vata and pitta doshas for better sleep. There is plenty of evidence showing that massage therapy can promote relaxation and lower stress levels, improving sleep quality and duration
Breathing exercises or pranayamas have long been a part of yoga and have been practiced for close to 2 millennia now. Although the practice has been recommended for general health and to improve lung function, pranayamas are also extremely relaxing and have been researched for stress reduction benefits. Study findings demonstrate that the practice of breathing exercises doesn’t just lower stress levels, but can also relieve insomnia and promote better quality sleep. One of the best exercises to practice would be nadi shodhana, kapalbhati, or bhastrika pranayamas.
4. Herbal Sleeping Aids
Ayurved gives us a wide range of herbal remedies for insomnia and impaired sleep, with some of the most notable herbs including brahmi and shankapushpi. These are often used as the primary ingredients in Ayurvedic medicines for sleep disorders, with studies revealing that both herbs can induce sleep and help treat insomnia because of their modulating influence on stress hormones. You can also look for Ayurvedic medicines for sleep problems containing herbs like ashwagadha and jatamansi. Researchers found that ashwagandha contains a bioactive compound called triethylene glycol, which actually increases non-REM sleep time.
All of these Ayurvedic recommendations for better sleep will help relieve sleep disorders, but they require consistency. Within 3 months of regular practice, you should see significant improvement in the quality of sleep, as well as in your daytime energy levels and performance. If your sleep impairment or insomnia is severe and does not resolve with these natural sleeping aids, it would be best to consult an Ayurvedic expert for more personalized treatment options.
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