It’s been quite the year again, hasn’t it? With pandemics and politics causing anxiety and worry, it’s hardly surprising we’re finding it hard to relax enough to fall asleep. Insomnia is a national health crisis in the West. While it can be shrugged off as no big deal, not getting enough restful sleep can affect every aspect of your life, from vitality and mental clarity to longevity.
The ancient Indian holistic health system, known as Ayurveda, considers sleep (nidra) a fundamental pillar of health. During the day, we’re out in the world, subjecting our minds and body to wear and tear through movement and digestion. Being awake naturally puts the body into an inflammatory state. Sleep is the balancing force where we experience anti-inflammatory processes. In other words, sleep is when we recover, heal and rebuild.
Without sufficient sleep, we’re putting the mind and body under pressure, and over time, it can break down prematurely. Fortunately, Ayurveda has many tried and trusted tips to get you to sleep better.
Sleep During Kapha Time, Wake During Vata Time
In Ayurveda, a day is divided into six zones of four hours, each dominated by one of the three doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. If you’re unfamiliar with the doshas, we’ll keep it simple.
Each dosha is composed of two of the five elements. Vata = air + ether, pitta = water + fire, kapha = water + earth. The doshas are universal energies that permeate our being and exist in all of nature, including the daily cycles.
Each dosha has different qualities (gunas) based on the elements they’re made of; for example, vata is cold and dry, pitta is hot and oily and kapha is heavy and cold. The qualities of the doshas cycle every 4 hours throughout the day. It goes something like this:
- Kapha = 6 am – 10 am. During these hours, you’re more likely to feel heavier and cooler, the qualities of kapha;
- Pitta = 10 am – 2 pm. This is when your brain and digestion will be firing up. It’s the best time to eat and do mentally focused activities;
- Vata = 2 pm – 6 pm. Vata governs our capacity for creativity and expansive thinking. This is the ideal time to do creative tasks and out-of-the-box thinking;
- Kapha = 6 pm – 10 pm. The heavy qualities of kapha help us to wind down for sleep;
- Pitta = 10 pm – 2 am. The internal fire of pitta reignites to begin repairing and restoring the body. Research has shown that you benefit from more deep and restful sleep if you’re asleep during this time. If you’re awake, you might find that the fire is redirected to your mind, and you feel more alert again;
- Vata = 2 am – 6 am. This is when the brain repairs and you experience more vivid dreams. It is best to wake up close to 6 am before the heaviness of kapha sets in.
Aligning your sleep patterns with these rhythms and going to bed and waking up at around the same time every day will give you the best chance of getting a restful, nourishing sleep. An interesting experiment is to note the different qualities you feel at different times of the day and identify any patterns.
While sleeping and waking at these times is ideal, it’s not realistic for everyone. In this case, observe regular bed and wake time routines. This can help the brain to release hormones at the same time to prepare you for sleep.
Everyone experiences stress and anxiety now and then. But a racing mind often leads to a night of tossing and turning.
Making your bedroom a sacred place can help you rest better. Clear any clutter, dim the lighting and engage in practices to help soothe the mind. This might be writing down any worries circling in your mind, meditating or listening to soothing music. You can now find a science-based sleep app that provides dreamscape sounds, proven to ease insomnia.
Practice Yoga Nidra
If you’ve missed out on some hours of kip, yoga nidra can help you catch up. Just thirty minutes of yoga nidra is said to be as restorative as two hours of deep sleep. Yoga nidra has many incredible benefits for the mind and body, but when it comes to sleep, it should be used as an aid, not a replacement.
Try Pranayama Breathing Practices
Pranayama is the Sanskrit term for energy (prana) control (yama). Energy is regulated via the breath, and research notes that deep breathing exercises can help improve anxiety and sleep. By directing your attention to your breath, energy is able to move out of your mind and relax the body. When you consciously take deeper and slower breaths, the nervous system calms.
But breathe how? The 4-7-8 breathing is a powerful way to calm the mind. The longer exhalation gently squeezes the heart and encourages the heart rate to slow. And the best thing is, it couldn’t be easier to practice. To perform the 4-7-8 breath:
- Inhale silently through the nose for a count of 4 seconds.
- Hold for a count of 7 seconds and exhale for a count of 8 seconds. The exhale can be through the nose or the mouth.
- Repeat this cycle four or more times.
Drink Warm Spiced Milk
Warm, spiced milk is as cozy and soothing as it sounds. Savoring a mug of this before bed can help promote digestion and relaxation.
To make a simple mug of Ayurvedic spiced milk, gently warm your choice of milk and add a pinch of either nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, turmeric, ashwagandha, or all five and stir through. You can even add a small amount of ghee to the milk, especially if you’re using turmeric, as the fat makes it more bioavailable in the body.
Option to blend in a blender to help the spices combine with the milk. Drink an hour before bed to promote digestion and sleep.
Ashwagandha root, known as Indian ginseng, acts as a tonic for stressed adrenals. It’s classed as an adaptogen, which can help your body adjust to stress and may improve sleep quality.
Ashwagandha can come in powder form and be added to warm milk or smoothies. Alternatively, you can take ashwagandha in capsules as a supplement.
Add A Daily Practice Of Abhyanga Into Your Routine
Abhyanga is an Ayurvedic oil massage. Gently warm up some sesame or coconut oil and massage it into your skin, working from the extremities to your heart. Simply massaging your neck, hands and feet can target the main stress areas if you don’t have time for the whole body.
Let this oil absorb into the skin for 10-20 minutes before taking a warm shower or bath. It will leave your skin feeling soft, and your mind relaxed.
In a fast-paced and stressed-out world, it’s more important than ever that people value their sleep. Creating a sleep routine practiced with mindfulness and compassion can help make sleep sacred in our lives once again.