Does your morning ritual involve multiple rounds with the snooze alarm button, followed by copious amounts of caffeine to turbo charge the day and clear the cobwebs from your brain?
Sleep is important.
There is a direct connection between sleep and physical and emotional health. During sleep your body repairs and heals itself; the mind and emotions become balanced. When sleep patterns are regulated, your mind becomes sharper, and you are more productive, have more energy, your metabolism processes food better and you feel more joy.
Ayurveda says that when you don’t get sufficient quantity and quality of sleep, ama or toxins increase, moods and emotions become unstable and judgment becomes impaired. Western studies have shown links between chronic lack of sleep and increased blood pressure, weight gain, low libido, diabetes, depression, heart attacks and decreased lifespan.
The system of Ayurveda doesn’t focus on treating symptoms. Instead, it seeks to find the root cause of imbalances. By treating the root cause, the imbalance can be permanently eliminated. Western studies show that over 90% of disease or imbalances are cured and prevented by diet and lifestyle.
In terms of diet, Ayurveda considers not only what you eat, but also: when you eat, how much you eat, what combinations of food you eat, and more. In terms of lifestyle, Ayurveda considers your sleep habits, exercise habits, relationship patterns, life stressors (i.e., boss, partner, family, school, parents, children, deadlines, financial) et cetera, as factors that affect your health.
There may be many different reasons for sleepless nights or even the type of sleeplessness. Trouble falling asleep is different than falling asleep easily and waking at 2am with racing thoughts. Some people may even have the opposite problem of sleeping a lot but not feeling rested. An Ayurveda practitioner will do a thorough assessment to determine the cause and then recommend specific remedies.
In general, most sleep problems can be linked to vata-vitiating lifestyles choices and habits that don’t promote our natural sleep-wake cycle. Late night eating, stress, anxiety, racing thoughts and late bed time are the main causes of sleeplessness. Seasonal disturbances (i.e., longer days of summer and longer periods of darkness in the winter) and old-age (when our bodies enter the vata stage of life) may also impact our ability to sleep.
Millions of people turn to sleeping pills as a quick fix to end insomnia. But sleeping pills do not replicate the natural state of sleep, so one does not receive the restorative benefits. From an Ayurvedic perspective, taking sleeping pills is not a good choice because they don’t address the root cause. They can undermine the immune system and they can be highly addictive.
Similarly, some people feel that a glass or two of wine (or other alcoholic beverage) after work can take the edge off the day and help them fall asleep. Again, from an Ayurvedic perspective, alcohol is not an ideal choice as it doesn’t address the root cause. It doesn’t replicate the natural state of sleep and can have unwanted side effects.
Treating the cause brings lasting results.
The holistic system of Ayurveda has been used successfully for thousands of years to prevent disease. Ayurveda believes that living in sync with the natural cycles of nature promotes balance with our internal clocks and all the things they regulate like the wake-sleep cycles, hormones, digestion and body temperature.
Ayurveda offers general guidelines on how to live harmoniously which will let you experience optimal health. Try this evening routine for a week and feel the difference for yourself.
1. Eat a light dinner before 6pm.
A light, vegetarian meal consisting of dal, lentils or vegetable soup, rice, seasonal steamed vegetables and/or a chutney. Eating a light dinner promotes proper digestion and elimination, weight maintenance and sound sleep (since your body isn’t trying to digest heavy food all night).
2. Avoid caffeine and alcohol after dinner.
Caffeine and alcohol can interfere with your sleep cycle and the quality of sleep.
3. Power down.
Turn off all electronics – TV, computers, tablets and phones – an hour before bed time.
4. Drink warm milk.
About an hour before bed, have a glass of warm milk (cow, almond or rice milk) with a pinch of nutmeg. This will promote sleep and provide added calories (in case your dinner was too light!).
5. Massage the feet with oil.
Gently massaging the soles of your feet with oil (sesame or coconut) is said to help ground your energy.
6. Meditate to quiet the mind.
Meditation is similar to when you shift your car to “park” when you are finished driving. At the end of the day, you can use meditation to shift your mind to the present moment.
Meditation helps digest thoughts from the day – thoughts that could keep you awake if not adequately processed prior to lying down.
7. Get to bed before 10pm.
Ayurveda divides the day into dosha times. From 6pm-10pm it’s “kapha” time which is slow, heavy and dull – perfect for sleep. So if you are starting to feel snoozy in the early evening, take your body’s cue and get to bed.
From 10pm – 2 am it’s pitta time. This is fiery energy that effects the mind and digestion; as you slip into this zone, your mind
will become more alert and you may start feeling hungry!
8. Rise by 6 am.
Sleep requirements will vary for different individuals for various reasons. In general, vata dosha needs more sleep (8 hours is ideal) and pitta dosha needs less sleep. Kapha needs the least amount of sleep. If you meditate a lot, you may need less sleep. Also in the summer you may need less sleep.
This is a simple, yet powerful evening wellness routine. You can support the evening wellness routine with healthy recipes. Diet and lifestyle changes are the best place to start and the Ayurveda system is authentic and time-tested. If you need help implementing a daily wellness routine for your unique set of circumstances, an Ayurvedic practitioner is trained to create a customized plan to help you on your journey.
Food, meditation, yoga, exercise and pranayama are all powerful medicines that can heal the body, mind and soul. For most complaints, you will see immediate improvements and over time, permanent benefits.
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