The National Sleep Foundation estimates that at least 40 million Americans suffer from some form of sleep disorder. Sleep deprivation or poor quality of sleep impacts both short-term and long-term health, with depression, obesity, loss of mental clarity and fatigue some of the frightening consequences.
Ayurveda does not dictate eight hours of sleep every night for everyone, but quality of sleep and quantity of sleep required by an individual to completely recharge in mind and body are considered crucial for health, bliss and longevity.
Here are some Ayurvedic suggestions for falling asleep easily and naturally and for obtaining a more rejuvenating quality of sleep:
1. Since human beings are diurnal creatures, following Nature’s pattern of sleep and wakefulness for us means rising with the sun or shortly before, and getting into bed early—no later than 9.45 p.m. Getting up before 6 a.m. is ideal, and 6-10 p.m. is the Kapha time of the evening, when sleep will come most easily. Follow this routine at the weekend as well.
2. Arise and go to bed about the same time each day. This helps your body and mind relax as the appointed bedtime approaches, and over time it conditions your physiology to fall asleep at that time.
3. Ayurveda decrees morning the best time to exercise. If you exercise in the morning, it will help you fall asleep easier at night. Working out late in the day is not recommended as this will raise energy levels and set you up for activity rather than sleep. Exercise moderately, according to the needs of your constitution, every day.
4. Do not eat a heavy dinner, and avoid spicy foods at night. Ayurveda recommends a light dinner eaten at least three hours before bed. A one-dish meal of a vegetable soup or mung bean kitcheree is nourishing yet not too heavy. Do not drink too much water or other beverages after 6.30 p.m. Drink a cup of warm milk at bedtime to help lull you into sleep. Lace the milk with a large pinch of nutmeg for Vata, cardamom for Pitta and dried ginger for Kapha.
5. A lower limb massage last thing before you get into bed is also a pleasant, relaxing activity and helps improve sleep quality. Use a light, non-staining oil such as sweet almond or jojoba. Your bedtime massage oil can be spiced up with a few drops of essential oil of lavender if you like—6-8 drops for 2 oz. of base oil. Take a very small quantity of the oil in your palm and massage your lower legs, from your knees to your toes, and your lower arms, from your elbows to your fingertips, with easy up-and-down strokes.
6. Keep your bedroom dark and at a comfortable temperature so that you are neither too warm nor too cold. Wear comfortable sleepwear to bed—cotton is ideal. Your bedroom should be quiet, clutter-free and free of work-related material. Do not have a TV in your bedroom.
7. Do not drink alcohol or caffeinated beverages; they impact the quality and quantity of sleep you get. Avoid nicotine as well.
8. As bedtime draws near, try to get your mind and body to settle down. Avoid working or reading/watching stimulating entertainment at least an hour before bed. Calming activities such as listening to soft relaxing music or just sitting quietly and practicing deep breathing can help your mind and body wind down gradually.
9. Avoid napping during the day; it makes it harder to fall asleep at night. If stress or worrying keeps you up, learn and regularly practice a meditation technique. This will help strengthen your ability to deal with day-to-day stresses and worries.
10. Poppy Seed Chutney, eaten an hour before bed, will help you fall asleep easier. Poppy Seed, Jatamansi and Indian Valerian are Ayurvedic herbs that help promote restful sleep, and lavender and sandalwood are relaxing essential oils that help promote ease of falling sleep and getting a better quality of sleep.
Disclaimer: The above article is educational in nature, and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you have a medical condition, please consult your physician.
Copyright (c) 2004 by Shreelata Suresh. All Rights Reserved.
Shreelata Suresh is a yoga instructor who lives in the Bay Area. She writes for various publications on yoga, ayurveda and Indian culture.