You're not alone!
Poor sleep is probably the #1 complaint I hear from friends, family, and my clients. They either have trouble falling asleep or fall asleep easy but wake often and feel restless all night.
They are not alone. Sleep disorders afflict over 40 million Americans, according to the National Institutes of Health. Insufficient sleep increases one’s risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, impaired cognitive function, depression, and inflammation, which lowers the immune system function.
Instead, think of it like this, quality sleep lowers the risk of all of those issues. Is it time to make sleep a priority?
Along side healthy digestion, a good night’s sleep is the foundation of our well being. When we have slept well, we not only feel better and think more clearly, we tend to make healthier choices during our day as well. And it is just these choices during our day that set us up for a good night’s sleep. See the cycle?
Unfortunately many of us are caught in a negative cycle of stress and sleep. Daily stress affects our sleep quality and duration, and lack of sleep can increase our levels of stress.
We are rhythmic creatures, a reflection of nature itself. This is the fundamental understanding of Ayurveda, the science of life. We are a microcosm of the great macrocosm of Life. When we harmonize our inner world with the natural rhythms of nature, we come back into homeostasis. or balance.
There are simple practices rooted in ancient wisdom and backed by modern science to help you fall asleep and stay asleep. These guidelines support the body’s natural biological rhythm while reducing tension and calming the nervous system.
Guidelines for Healthy Sleep:
A solid night’s rest begins first thing in the morning. Waking as close to sunrise as possible is best. Get outside in the early morning and expose your eyes to the sun's soft light. The retinas of our eyes have photoreceptors that send a message to the pineal gland. The pineal gland is responsible for circadian rhythm, our biological clocks. The pineal gland release cortisol and signals our body and mind to be alert. The more often you do this, the easier it will get to wake early. It’s like setting a biological alarm clock.
Bonus to waking early is you might find some much needed time to yourself. This is a wonderful time to create self-care rituals. Ayurveda provides many lovely ideas for this!
Move your body in the morning! Stretch and breathe to stimulate circulation and bring oxygen to your body and brain. Shake off the heaviness of the morning. 6-10 am is Kapha time, dominated by the elements of earth and water. This is why sleeping in during this window of time can make us wake up feeling groggy.
Eat your meals as close to the same time daily as you can. Remember we are rhythmic creatures. When we operate routinely in the areas of our lives that we can, we create a sense of predictability. This unconsciously sends a message to our nervous systems that all is well. Routines keep us residing in the parasympathetic nervous system, the branch of the autonomic nervous system (A.N.S.) governing resting, digesting, and restoring. When our eating schedule is erratic or we wait too long between meals that we are feeling “hangry”, we are triggering the sympathetic nervous system, the other branch of the A.N.S. The sympathetic nervous system signals the fight or flight response, releasing the stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine into our blood stream. Initiating the stress response throughout our day has a multitude of negative effects on our health, including disrupting our sleep at night.
While on the topic of eating, aim to eat your largest meal around noon, when digestion is the strongest. Avoid eating a heavy dinner, and finish your meal at least 3 hours before heading to bed.
Reduce or eliminate caffeine. For those who say drinking coffee at night doesn't keep them awake, caffeine (and alcohol) effects the quality of your sleep. So, although you can sleep through the night, you may still wake up feeling exhausted. If giving up caffeine altogether sounds daunting, consider limiting it to the morning.
Limit screens at least an hour before bed. Remember the photoreceptors in the retina of our eyes? By limiting the light we receive, the pineal gland will naturally produce melatonin, the hormone that supports sleep. This is also a time to dim the lights in your home.
As bedtime approaches, start to wind down your mind by engaging in relaxing activities. Create rituals that over time will be the signal for your biological clock to remember it’s time to relax.
Take a relaxing bath. A bath calms the nervous system and relieves tension.
Massage your feet and your scalp with warm, nourishing oil such as sesame or sunflower. You can add essential oils that are calming and grounding like lavender, sandalwood, or valerian. If massaging your scalp with oil sounds too messy for you, consider massage your ears with oil.
Practice Yoga Nidra. This is a sleep based meditation using breath, body, and awareness techniques to quiet the mind and train you to release your thoughts as you absorb yourself in bodily sensation. (more info below & video to experience)
Have a warm cup of herbal tea such as chamomile or a warm cup of milk with cardamom and nutmeg.
Aim to be asleep by 10 pm. Once you get used to waking with the sun, this shouldn't be too difficult. 6-10 pm is once again Kapha time, the body's natural time to slow down and become less active. After 10 pm we enter Pitta time, ruled by fire. This is the time of internal cleansing, important to cellular rejuvenation. If we're not asleep at this time, we might catch that "second wind" of energy and also get those late night munchies.
Ultimately it is the mind that keeps us from sleeping. When we can learn to release thinking, we are able to fall asleep.
This brings me to the last tool for sleeping soundly…
If you wake during the night and have trouble falling back to sleep, silently repeat a mantra. Chanting a mental mantra reigns in the mind and keeps it from enslaving you to a thought filled night of tossing and turning.
Try this: As you inhale, mentally chant ‘Sat’. As you exhale, mentally chant ‘Nam”. Sat means truth, Nam means name or identity. Mentally vibrating Sat Nam helps you to dis-identify with your thoughts and connect with a more vast sense of who you are.
I hope these tips support you to find a restorative and peaceful slumber.
Remember it's what we do consistently that make big differences over time. So, don't try to take on too many changes at once. Try adding one new practice a week. It takes a little time, a little discipline, and a lot of self love to change habits. Be patient. This relationship with sleep isn't going anywhere. As you start to create harmony around your sleeping patterns, you can't help but improve your overall well being.
While the recommendations here offer a solid foundation to addressing most sleep issues, Ayurveda is a holistic approach, treating the individual, not just their symptoms. Working one on one with an Ayurvedic practitioner will help reveal the root of your particular challenges and create a roadmap to optimal health.
Grab a pillow and blanket, get comfortable, and enjoy this Yoga Nidra for Peaceful Sleep!
Yoga Nidra is an ancient practice that has now captured the attention of many neuroscientists. This method of “Non Sleep Deep Relaxation” is an easy way to reduce stress and bring your body and mind into a deep and restorative state of relaxation. It has proved to help people focus and be aware during waking hours as well as improve their ability to fall asleep when they want to.