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What’s Keeping You Up at Night?
Do you have trouble falling or staying asleep? When it comes to a good night’s rest, those of us who have trouble will try anything. However, you should be aware that sedatives, herbal or pharmaceutical, offer short-term symptomatic relief at best.
The most common theory relating to sleep issues is that excessive mental energy makes it difficult to settle down. On the surface, this makes sense. But clinically, it turns out this theory has limited effectiveness.
Read on as I explore the Ayurvedic science of sleep troubles and offer some practical solutions.
Are You Exhausted?
In my practice, I’ve observed most people who cannot sleep at night are deeply exhausted and often physically, mentally, and emotionally depleted. Odd as it may seem, the body needs energy to settle 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 and use of sedatives is accompanied by a long list of undesirable side effects.6,7 What they actually need is rejuvenation. Deep rejuvenation, according to Ayurveda, is called rasayana therapy, which is closely related to adaptogenic herbal therapies. True adaptogens do not stimulate or sedate—they restore the reserve energy needed to enjoy a healthy night’s sleep.1-3
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is named after its sleep-inducing properties, and may be one of the world’s most studied adaptogens. It has been shown in study after study to support a healthy and normal night of deep sleep.1-3 Studies also show ashwagandha to boost energy reserves and endurance while under physical exertion. One study of 40 cyclists who took just 1,500mg of whole herb ashwagandha root powder saw significant improvements in cardiovascular and respiratory endurance compared to placebo.5
In order to regain equilibrium, we need a way to support our nervous systems so that we have energy to handle stress, support mood, build energy, and sleep at night. Long-term, disturbances in the sleep cycles can imbalance the body’s circadian cycles, which may also need to be addressed.
Some folks cannot fall asleep easily, while others wake up in the wee hours of the night. One of the ways Ayurveda addresses individual sleep cycle imbalances is by understanding sleep according to our constitution/body type, an idea which is now backed by Western science.8
Don’t know your body type? Take our quiz!
Sleep Issues by Ayurvedic Body Type
- Pitta Sleep Support: Difficulty Falling Asleep
The first type of sleep issue is 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, 10pm to 2am is pitta time of night, when the liver becomes active and begins its evening detox cycle to prepare the body for the next day.9,10 It is similar to when the night janitor cleans floors and windows while everyone is asleep. This explains 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. 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 sleep imbalance is caused by excess pitta, or heat. 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 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 and reduce pitta with a cooling herb. The Ayurvedic herb brahmi has cooling properties for the brain and nervous system, 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.
- Vata Sleep Support: Difficulty Staying Asleep
The second type of sleep issue involves waking up sometime between 2am and 6am and having difficulty getting back to sleep. This can be 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 vata time of night. Vata is associated with the nervous system.
According to the rhythms of nature, the nervous system starts to excite around 2am. If you do not have energy needed to pacify yourself during this early morning activation, you will wake up and stay up, lacking 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).1-5
Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, or rejuvenative, and is traditionally said to give the strength of ten horses, although the name suggests the root actually smells like a horse! Like brahmi, ashwagandha has the ability to support strength and stamina during the day, while at the same time, giving the nervous system needed energy to settle down and sleep.1-3,11
Ashwagandha supports our deep reserves and restores balance to many bodily functions. Unlike brahmi, which is cooling, ashwagandha is a warm, heavy, sweet root that deeply rejuvenates body and mind.
Recommendations for Good Night’s Sleep
- Brahmi cools the mind, while rejuvenating and supporting the nervous system. It supports falling asleep between 10pm and 2am.
- Ashwagandha supports 2-6am sleep issues. It gives the body energy it needs to stay asleep.
- Sleep Easy is an adaptogenic formula that includes brahmi, ashwagandha, and other adaptogens.
- Drink one cup warm milk boiled with a pinch of ghee, cardamom, ginger, turmeric, dates, crushed almonds, and coconut (or Ojas Nightly Tonic). Add honey after boiling. (Almond milk is fine.)
- Take a hot bath or shower at 9pm, followed by warm oil self-massage with LifeSpa Tri-Doshic Massage Oil. Apply oil to feet if full-body massage is not possible.
- Read a boring book at 9:15pm (not my book).
- Do One-Minute Meditation at 9:45pm.
- Cell phones and screens off (use night filters). Try to be in bed ready for sleep by 9:46pm.
- Consider LOW-DOSE melatonin.
We Recommend Sleep Better, Feel Better: Melatonin + Vitamin D for Sleep Hygiene
Have you tried these sleep recommendations? Have they helped you?