Are you having trouble falling and/or staying asleep? When it comes to getting a good night’s rest, those of us who have trouble will try anything. Sedatives, be they herbal or pharmaceutical, offer short term symptomatic relief at best.
The most common theory relating to sleep issues is that excessive energy makes it difficult to settle down and get to sleep. On the surface, this makes sense. But clinically, it turns out it has limited effectiveness.
Read on as I explore the Ayurvedic science of sleep troubles, and offer some very practical solutions.
Are You Exhausted?
In my practice, I’ve observed that most people who cannot sleep at night are deeply exhausted and often physically, mentally and emotionally depleted as well. Odd as it may seem, the body needs energy to settle itself down to sleep. A person at this deep level of exhaustion may not have enough energy to settle their moods, and the result is that they stay wired, unable to truly rest.
Sedating this person will only drive the exhaustion deeper. What they actually need is rejuvenation.
In order to regain equilibrium, they need a way to support their nervous system so that they have the energy to handle stress, support mood, build energy and sleep at night.
Main Types of Sleep Issues
1. Pitta-type Sleep Support: Difficulty Falling Asleep
The first type of sleep issue involves having a hard time getting to sleep. Typically, this is when you lie in bed wide awake anytime from 10PM to 2AM counting sheep, waiting for the angel train to take you off to sleep.
According to Ayurveda, the time between 10PM and 2AM is the pitta time of night when the liver becomes active and begins its evening detox cycle to prepare the body for the next day. It is not unlike the janitor who comes in and starts cleaning floors and windows while everyone is asleep. This exlains why folks often get a second wind at this time of night, turning on the TV, getting on the computer, and off they go changing the world in the wee hours of the night. As this cycle winds down (sometime after midnight but usually before 2AM), the fire goes out and you drift off to sleep.
This type of insomnia is caused by excess pitta, or heat, in the body. A person with a hot body type who hasn’t fallen asleep before the pitta cycle starts at 10PM, will often be swept up in the stimulation of the heat and glean all kinds of energy, making sleep at this time very challenging.
- For this type of concern we need to support the nervous system with an herb that is cooling, for the purposes of reducing pitta and building the nervous system.
- The Ayurvedic herb Brahmi has cooling properties for the brain and nervous system, thus supporting restful sleep (1). This unique adaptogenic herb can be taken at night to support sleep and in the morning to enhance mental clarity and energy*.
2. Vata-Type Sleep Support: Difficulty Staying Asleep
The second type of sleep issue involves waking up sometime between 2:00AM and 6:00AM, and having difficulty getting back to sleep. This type can be the most disturbing, as you lie there in the middle of the night wide awake.
According to Ayurveda, this type of sleep concern is due to excess vata, as this is considered the vata time of night. Vata is associated with the nervous system.
According to the rhythms of nature, the nervous system starts to excite around 2:00AM. If you do not have the energy needed to pacify yourself during this early morning activation, you will wake up and stay up, lacking the energy needed to get back to sleep.
What is needed here is deep rejuvenation. The best rejuvenative herb for vata-type sleep issues is Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera).
Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, or rejuvenative, and is traditionally said to give the “strength of ten horses”. Like Brahmi, Ashwagandha has the ability to support strength and stamina during the day while, at the same time, giving the nervous system the needed energy to settle down and sleep (2).
Ashwagandha supports the deep reserves of the body and restores balance to many of the bodily functions. Unlike Brahmi, which is cooling, ashwagandha is a warm, heavy and sweet root that deeply rejuvenates the body and mind.
Recommendations for a Good Night’s Sleep
- Brahmi cools the mind, rejuvenates and supports the nervous system. It supports falling asleep between 10:00PM and 2:00AM.
- Ashwaganda supports sleep issues between 2-6am. It gives the body the energy it needs to stay asleep.
2. Take a hot bath or shower at 9:00PM followed by warm oil self-massage with the LifeSpa Tri-Doshic Massage Oil. Apply oil to the feet if a full body massage is not possible.
3. Read a boring book at 9:15PM (not my book).
4. Do the One Minute Meditation at 9:45PM.
5. Lights out at 9:46PM.
6. Drink one cup of warm milk boiled with a pinch of ghee, cardamom, ginger, turmeric, dates, crushed almonds and coconut. Add honey after boiling. (Almond milk is fine).
1. Sushma Tiwari, Shinjini Singha, Kishor Patwardhan, Sangeeta Gehlot, I.S.Gambhira. Department of Kriya Sharir, Faculty of Ayurveda, Institute of Medical sciences, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, India
2. Kumar A, Kalonia H. Protective effect of Withania somnifer Dunal on the behavioral and biochemical alterations in sleep-disturbed mice (and over water suspended method). Indian J Exp Tiol. 2007;45:524-528.
Sudhir S, Budhiraja R, Migiani G, et al. Pharmacological studies on leaves of Withania somnifera. Planta Med. 1986;52:61-63. 27 Naidu P, Singh A, Kulkami S. Effect of Withania