I recently mentioned in one of my webinars that there are 4 pillars of good health!
- Healthy diet
- Regular exercise
- Good night sleep
- Stress management!
Since then I have received so many emails requesting recommendations for improving sleep! This reinforced my concern about sleep issues that are on the rise these days! A good night’s sleep is just as important as regular exercise and a healthy diet.
Research shows that poor sleep has immediate negative effect on your energy levels, your cognitive function, your hormones, and your overall performance. It can also have an impact on your weight. If you are able to get a good night sleep you will wake up feeling energized which will help you make better decisions in every area of your life! You will make better choices in terms of healthy eating and regular exercise as well.
In today’s world, more and more people are working till late in the night thinking that they can accomplish more by sleeping less! In fact, nothing could be further away from the truth. If you are sleep deprived, your working efficiency goes down.
Take this as the golden rule if you want – “To optimize your health, getting a good night’s sleep is one of the most important things you can do.”
If I talk in terms of Ayurveda, Sleep is an important part of your daily routine- you spend about one-third of your time sleeping. During sleep your body is actually doing the job of housekeeping. It is trying to eliminate toxins that you gathered during the day. You accumulate toxins from all five senses. It’s not just from food! Even your thoughts & emotions need to be detoxified, and this can only happen when you sleep well!
As per Ayurveda, just like anything else, sleep disorders can also be classified according to Doshas. Your prakruti (original constitution) influences your sleep. A vata-predominant individual is more likely to experience vata-type sleep disorders. A pitta-type will tend toward pitta type sleep issues. And a kapha-type would mainly have kapha related sleep issues.
Having said that, Vikruti (the current state of imbalance) has a stronger influence on your sleep pattern. When it comes to imbalanced sleep, either vata or pitta is usually involved (and sometimes both).
If you have been reading my blogs, you very well know by now that Vata has the qualities of being light & mobile resulting in your mind running in all directions, which gives it the tendency to make you wake up in the middle of the night, which can result in difficulty going back to sleep. Pitta is also light, mobile, sharp, focused and goal driven. These qualities could also interfere with the ability to fall asleep. All of these qualities oppose and counteract the very energies necessary for sound sleep. Sleep requires a certain heaviness, stillness and a quiet mind. Sleep is supported by downward moving energy whereas Vata and pitta tend to trigger upward moving energy. When excess vata or pitta are active just before the sleep cycle, these energies can leave us feeling active and mentally alert and we become inclined to stay awake.
Whether sleep problems are caused by vata or pitta, or a combination of the two, the Ayurvedic approach to balancing sleep problems is largely focused on helping the system to return to balance by use of opposites. Ayurveda strongly advocates being in sync with the body’s natural circadian rhythms as well as the universe. It focuses on quieting the nervous system and reducing stress in order to bring balance in your doshas. There are many holistic strategies you can use to promote good sleep.
Here are some Tips: –
Establish a Daily Routine
Encouraging a consistent daily routine leads to stability. In this fast-paced culture which is a perfect recipe for disturbing Vata, a routine helps keep your mind calm and prevents decision-fatigue! Consistent routine also helps us to align with the natural rhythms of the day.
Try to sleep and wake at consistent times
Your body’s circadian rhythm functions on a set loop, aligning itself with sunrise and sunset. Irregular sleep patterns can alter your circadian rhythm and levels of melatonin, which signal your brain to sleep. Therefore, try to get into a regular sleep/wake cycle, even on the weekends.
Reduce long daytime naps
While short power naps are beneficial, long napping during the day can negatively affect your night time sleep. Sleeping in the daytime can confuse your internal clock.
Increase your exposure to bright light during the day
Natural sunlight or bright light during the day helps keep your circadian rhythm healthy. This improves daytime energy, as well as nighttime sleep quality. Try getting daily sunlight exposure or, if this is not practical, invest in an artificial bright light device or bulbs. Daily sunlight or artificial bright light can improve sleep quality and duration, especially if you have severe sleep issues or insomnia.
Reduce blue light exposure in the evening
Exposure to light during the day is beneficial, but nighttime light exposure has the opposite effect. Blue light from electronic devices like smartphones and computers tricks your body into thinking it’s daytime. This reduces hormones like melatonin, which is the hormone responsible for deep sleep.
There are several ways you can reduce blue light exposure in the evening.
- Wear glasses that block blue light.
- There are apps to block blue light on your laptop or smartphone.
- Stop watching TV and turn off any bright lights 2 hours before heading to bed.
Your bedroom environment such as temperature, noise, external lights, and furniture arrangement are key factors in getting a good night’s sleep.
One study found that bedroom temperature affected sleep quality more than external noise. You may have experienced during summer, it can be very hard to get a good night’s sleep when it’s too warm. Approx. 65-70°F (18-20°C) seems to be a comfortable temperature for most people, although it depends on your preferences and also your dominant dosha!
Vata-types tend to favor warmer temperatures, heavier blankets, softer bedding, and a good amount of humidity. On the other hand, pitta-types usually prefer cooler temperatures, fewer covers, a firmer bed, total darkness, and less humidity.
Whatever it is, make sure your bedroom is clean, quiet, and relaxing.
Night time rituals before bed
Relaxation rituals before bed have been shown to improve sleep quality. Listen to relaxing music, read a comforting book, take a warm bath, meditate and deep breathe. A relaxing self-massage (abhyanga) could also help. You don’t need to do all of these, just try out different methods and see what works best for you.
Abhyanga (Ayurvedic self-massage with warm oil) followed by a warm bath relaxes the nervous system, releases tension, and helps to quiet the mind. It’s a great expression of self-love. If you don’t want to take a full bath at night, simply immersing your feet in hot/warm water can help you relax and improve sleep. Believe me, this feels so grounding and soothing to the mind and body.
Have an early dinner
The best evening meals are healthy, nourishing, easily digestible, and are eaten at least three hours prior to retiring to bed. A heavy dinner can interfere with our ability to sleep.
Eating late at night & consuming a large meal before bed can lead to poor quality sleep. However, certain foods taken a few hours before bed may help promote healthy sleep.
- Almonds are a great source of sleep-regulating hormone melatonin.
- Milk contains tryptophan which is the precursor of the sleep hormone as well.
- Chamomile tea and lavender tea contain compounds that may promote healthy sleep.
I personally love sipping on a nice warm cup of golden milk with soaked and peeled almonds! You could add a pinch of nutmeg, cardamom, and some ghee to this golden milk.
Eliminate stimulants such as caffeine
Caffeine can significantly worsen sleep quality, especially if you drink large amounts in the late afternoon or evening. Caffeine stimulates your nervous system and may stop your body from naturally relaxing at night. Caffeine can stay elevated in your blood for 6–8 hours. Therefore, drinking large amounts of coffee after 3–4 p.m. is not recommended, especially if you’re sensitive to caffeine or have trouble sleeping.
Stay away from alcohol
Alcohol can negatively affect your sleep and hormones. It alters melatonin production and could increase symptoms of sleep apnea, snoring, and disrupted sleep patterns.
Although daily exercise is key for a good night’s sleep, performing it too late in the day may cause sleep problems. This is due to the stimulatory effect of exercise, which increases alertness and stress hormones like epinephrine and adrenaline. Regular exercise during daylight hours is one of the best ways to ensure a good night’s sleep. Ayurveda says that the best time of day to exercise is between 6–10 a.m. Always remember – Exercise is beneficial to the body in many different ways, provided it is done as per your constitution and current state of imbalance.
For Vata dominant individuals, exercise must not be overly stimulating, but gentle and grounding instead. Favor activities like walking or gentle cycling. If you practice yoga, slow and purposeful Sun Salutations each morning would be great!
Pitta dominant individuals must exercise with a relaxed effort so that it is not overly intense. Enjoy activities like walking, light jogging, swimming, cycling, or yoga in the morning or evening (when it is coolest). A series of gently-paced Moon Salutations would be great for pitta prakruti.
Reduce and Manage Stress
Because stress is one of the most obvious factors in sleep issues, it is imperative that we reduce our exposure to stress wherever possible. Ayurveda recommends meditation, pranayama, and yoga as important ways of calming the nervous system. Breathing exercises such as Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing), are especially supportive of the mind and in turn – sleep.
Melatonin is a key sleep hormone that tells your brain when it’s time to relax and head to bed. Melatonin supplements are an extremely popular sleep aid. Melatonin can be useful when traveling and adjusting to a new time zone, as it helps your body’s circadian rhythm return to normal.
Caution– Do not just buy any supplement from over the counter. Since melatonin may alter brain chemistry, it’s advised that you check with a healthcare provider for the right kind and proper dosage of melatonin suitable for your mind body type. In some countries, you need a prescription for melatonin. Long-term use of this supplement in children has not been well studied.
While Ayurveda offers a number of effective tools for balancing insufficient sleep, working with an Ayurvedic practitioner can be incredibly clarifying and can help deliver the best results for your particular situation.
If you would like help in this area in terms of Holistic Nutrition and Ayurvedic diet and lifestyle for balancing your doshas, please do CONNECT.
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- THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO STRESS MANAGEMENT
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- MANAGE BACK PAIN USING DIET & LIFESTYLE
- WHAT’S YOUR DOSHA?
- BASICS OF AYURVEDA
M.Sc., R.H.N., Certified Ayurvedic Lifestyle Consultant
The content provided in my blogs are for knowledge sharing purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.