7 Steps to Improving Your Sleep
We are a sleep deprived nation. The Institute of Medicine released a report linking sleep disorders and sleep deprivation to a host of illnesses, including an increased risk of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack, and stroke. Our regular routine of shut-eye regulates our weight, strengthens our immunity, protects our cardiovascular health, repairs our tissues and cells, and restores our energy. Sleep also allows us to process, consolidate, and retain new memories; it balances our emotions, makes us better problem solvers, and feeds our creativity.
Depending on pills to put us to sleep are only masking our problems. The drug companies tempt us with quick-fix promises that can be hard to resist. An example of this is from a Lunesta commercial which asks, “Are you at home, trying to sleep, but your mind is still at the office, reviewing tomorrow’s agenda, charting out the future? Maybe it’s time for you to be the boss. Ask your doctor about Lunesta.” The subliminal message is that you are not the boss over your health and you don’t have to master your mind—you can gain control simply by taking a pill. Sleeping pill sales have surged by 60 percent since 2000, with 42 million prescriptions filled last year alone. More than 26 million of these prescriptions were for Ambien, the 12th best-selling pill in the nation. There are many reports of devastating situations from taking Ambien.
Ayurveda says that all illnesses begin with some form of indigestion. In the case of insomnia, Carrie Demers, MD, who uses Ayurveda in her medical practice, explains: “At some level—whether it’s physical, mental, or emotional—we haven’t finished extracting what is helpful to us and eliminating what is indigestible. On the physical level, indigestion is caused by bad food or by weak digestion and leads to conditions like heartburn (a contributor to insomnia), flatulence, and diarrhea. Mental indigestion is the inability to let go of a certain incident or thought—usually an unpleasant experience. Emotional indigestion is the recurrence of a feeling, often sadness or anger, long after the precipitating event. The emotion has not been sufficiently digested and remains just under the surface, springing up for no apparent reason”—and keeping us awake at night.
Yoga and Ayurveda offer a variety of methods that get to the root cause of insomnia, whether it’s a vata imbalance or a form of indigestion. These methods work on a deeper, more subtle level than sleeping pills and have only long term positive side effects.
Improving Your Sleep Routine
The following recommendations work to balance sleep cycles by quieting and grounding the mind, emphasizing the heavy, slow, and stable qualities in ways that specifically support sleep, embracing a daily routine that awakens our natural biological rhythms, and by reducing stress and tension in the mind and body.
Supplement with melatonin. Take 1 mg to 3 mg to start. Take 30 minutes before sleep.
2. Take A Bath
A bath relaxes the nervous system, releases tension, and helps to quiet the mind. Use hot water for vata, warm water for pitta. Hop In The Spa has a line of Bath Brews for the bath that incorporates herbs, hops, and minerals that are great for relaxation and sleep.
3. Having a cup of boiled milk or chamomile tea
These drinks are grounding and soothing in nature. If you like, add a pinch of nutmeg, cardamom, and some ghee to the milk.
4. Massaging your feet and scalp with warm oil
This practice is grounding, supports downward moving energy, and helps to soothe the mind. If you massage your scalp, be sure use a towel or some other means of protecting your pillow from the oil. Herbal infused oils are balancing for vata and pitta; it helps to calm the mind and soothe the nervous system in support of healthy sleep patterns, deep rest, and improved relaxation. Sesame Oil are good for vata. And for pitta, Sunflower Oil is a great choice.
5. Eat foods high in melatonin
Kiwi fruit, Pineapple, Asparagus, Cucumber, Sweet corn, Carrots, Spinach, Banana, Apples, Grapes, Red Wine, Sunflower seeds.
Adaptogenic herbs like ginseng, rhodiola, astragalus, and licorice root help our bodies counter stress by nourishing the adrenals and supporting homeostasis.
Try this tea by mixing equal parts of powdered tagara, valerian, and chamomile. Put 1/4 teaspoon of the mixture into a little warm water and drink just before bed. Tagara (valeriana wallichi) and valerian (valeriana officinalis) are vata-pacifying sedatives, and chamomile balances the emotions.
Another herb that works great with insomnia are Hops. It's not just for the bitter taste in beer! Hops have an oil in the flower called lupuline which helps treat insomnia, nervous tension, anxiety, stress, restlessness and headaches. Hops is a cousin to cannabis and has many of the same properties as cannabis. Try making a tea with hops. Careful, it is bitter so it does not need to be infused very long.
7. Yoga & Pranayama
A regular, balanced hatha yoga practice circulates the lymph and blood, tones the channels of elimination, and balances both the endocrine and nervous systems, calming vata and helping the body and mind digest the events of the day. Whether you practice in the morning, afternoon, or at bedtime, yoga paves the way to a good night’s sleep.