If you don't get enough sleep it can take its toll on your physical health, your sex life, relationships and even your job. Sleep gives your body, mind and senses a chance to refresh and rejuvenate. In Ayurvedic Medicine, sleep is considered one of the 3 pillars of life (sex and food being the other 2!). According to Ayurveda we, and everything around us, are made up of the 5 elements: air (Vāyu ), fire (Agni), water (Jala), earth (Prithvi) and ether (Akasha). The elements combine to form the 3 doshas: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. These energies influence our bodies and minds, each having its own particular qualities and traits:
- Vata: Light, mobile, dry, cold, erratic and subtle.
- Pitta: Hot, sharp, light and intense.
- Kapha: Heavy, dull, stable, soft and static.
The doshas influence the day’s energy, each dosha is dominant twice a day and when it is, it affects the way we feel by increasing that respective energy within us. Kapha is most dominant at 10pm so Ayurveda recommends going to sleep by or around 10:00 p.m. It also recommends that everyone wakes up early, so try to be up by around 6:00 a.m (the idea is to be awake during Vata time) 6-8 hours of sleep is essential. Going to bed at these times may help, but they are not the be all and end all cure for sleepless nights. The cure for sleep difficulties can often be found in your daily routine. Think about all the things that influence how well you sleep; stress from pressure at work, relationship issues, money worries, what you eat, what you drink and how much you exercise. The good news is that you can adopt habits that encourage better sleep. Changes to your bedtime habits and day-to-day lifestyle choices make an enormous difference to the quality of your nightly slumber. Having said that, not everyone is the same so the secret is to experiment with strategies, it’s important to find the one that work best for you.
Here are our top 7 strategies to help you off to the Land of Nod:
1. Stick to a sleep schedule
Get in sync with your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle—your circadian rhythm —go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Like we mentioned before, try to go to bed around 10pm and wake up around 6am. Do this even on weekends, holidays and days off. Consistency is key; it helps to reinforce your body's sleep-wake cycle and promotes better sleep at night. There's a stipulation though; if you aren’t snoozing within about 20 minutes, get up and do something relaxing, then go back to bed when you're tired. If you agonise and stress over falling asleep, you might find it even tougher to nod off.
2. Become aware of food, drink & exercise
Here it might pay to keep a diary of what and when you eat, drink and exercise to try and figure out what may be keeping you up. However, there are a few general rules:
- Avoid caffeine after lunch: Caffeine can cause sleep problems up to ten to twelve hours after drinking it!
- Don’t go to bed full or hungry: A big meal within 2 hours of bed means your digestive system is working and it will be difficult to fall asleep, similarly hunger pains are distracting. Eating a few hours before bed gives the digestive system an opportunity to wind down and get into rest mode.
- Avoid alcohol in the few hours before bed: It may make you fall asleep faster but it reduces your sleep quality, waking you up later in the night.
- Avoid drinking too many liquids in the evening: Drinking lots of fluids can end up meaning frequent trips to the loo in the night!
- Engage in daily physical activity: Regular physical activity helps you to fall asleep faster and to enjoy deeper sleep. However, when you exercise is critical; avoid it too close to bedtime because it can overstimulate you making it harder to fall asleep. Why not try a few relaxing yoga poses though such as Viparita karani or Supta Baddha Konasana.
We have a hormone in our body called melatonin; it’s responsible for regulating our sleep-wake cycle. The production of melatonin is controlled by exposure to light. We should have more in our system at night to make us sleepy but modern life has become disruptive to the production of this hormone and in this turn that affects our sleep. Bright lights at night e.g. hours spent in front of the TV or computer, can suppress your body’s production of melatonin and make it harder to sleep. To counter act this, make sure you get periods of natural sunlight during the day and restrict the artificial light that you subject yourself to at night. A minimum of 1 hour before bed it is important to turn off TVs, screens, computers, video games, tablets and put down the phone.
4. Create a ritual
Create your very own ritual to get your body ready for sleep. Make sure you do the same things each night to signal your body that it’s bedtime. You could take a shower or warm bath with candles, read a book (make sure it’s not too stimulating!), listen to soothing music, make a cup of decaffeinated herbal tea or do some chores. You might want to consider including the yogic technique of Trataka (candle gazing) into your ritual. The technique has to do with gazing or fixing the eyes on one point, either on an object or on a candle flame.When we concentrate on one object our thoughts are focused and we induce a steady concentrated mind.
I know it sounds simple but it is essential, if your mind is busy thinking about what happened at work or an argument with a loved one, you aren’t going to fall asleep easily. You can try writing down your thoughts as a way of releasing them. Another approach is to learn some relaxation techniques, such as meditation, guided imagery or progressive muscle relaxation. Try this one on for size, curl your toes tightly for a count of seven, and then relax. Repeat through each muscle group, working up from your toes to your neck.
6. Fix the cause of stress
If you are being kept awake at night by one particular source of stress, it’s worth considering fixing the root cause. Maybe you are being kept awake by confrontation, situations at work, or relationship issues or money problems. To find the solution to your sleep you may need to take a course in communication techniques, change jobs, go to marriage therapy or create and stick to a budget.
7. Limit daytime naps
Naps can interfere with your sleep-wake cycle, if you do choose to nap, try to limit them to a maximum of 30 minutes.
Happy sleeping Yogis, we hope that some of this advice works for you. If not, we encourage you to do some more research into different techniques and experiment to find what works for you. As a final caution, we do encourage you to seek professional advice if lack of sleep is an on-going issue.
Western Wellness Team
(Your friendly neighbourhood yogis)