Have you ever experienced Insomnia?Or, perhaps you have had periods of your life when you just don’t or can’t get enough sleep?
One sleepless night is something that we can easily get away with. But, a whole string of sleepless nights that are of the restless, toss and turn and ‘I just wish I could get to sleep’ variety are very debilitating and depleting.
I have experienced these. For me this started as a young teen and has come and gone throughout my life ….especially when I allow life to be too busy.
Not having enough sleep makes everything much harder. It leaves us feeling wrung out and incapable of making decisions, cranky and, of course, just plain exhausted.
We all we know that sleep gives great nourishment and rejuvenation not only to our brain but to our whole body. Modern studies show that lack of sleep can increase inflammation, reduce immune function, create many gastro-intestinal problems and suggests that “individuals with sleep abnormalities are at greater risk of all-cause mortality and serious adverse health and economic consequences”. 1.
In Ayurveda we recognise that sleep is our time of rejuvenation and digestion. Whilst sleeping, we digest the food we have eaten that day. Our body shifts into the ‘house cleaning mode’ of detoxing the blood and other tissues and preparing our waste for elimination in the morning. On a subtle level we also digest our experiences. The impressions we have ingested through the day which reside in our mind, our emotions and even our subtle Pranic body.
Good deep sleep promotes Ojas production and preservation in the body. Ojas is the essence of consciousness, the gel or golden goodness that is an end product of good digestion. It supports strength, stamina, and good immunity, slows aging and gives a glow of vitality!
Low Ojas means we are depleted, wired and tired. Low ojas means we have high cortisol the stress hormone. In Ayurveda we note that there are several things that directly reduce our levels of Ojas. Worry, Stress and Alcohol. Worry and stress raise the levels of cortisol in our blood stream and shunt our energy away from our core organs of digestion and the heart, to the muscles for ‘fight or flight’. This gradually reduces Ojas via disturbing our heart energy and compromising our digestion. Alcohol is hot and evaporative and directly dries up our Ojas.
When we are depleted we have too much of the air energy called Vata in our body/mind/emotions. From an Ayurvedic perspective insomnia is caused by having too much of the light, erratic, cold and mobile qualities elevated in the body and mind. This makes sense as these qualities are the opposite of what we would equate as qualities of a good sleep which are heavy, warm, calm and stable.
Often the Pitta, fiery energy, is also at play. Its kinetic energy, or driving force can keep us up and working later than is good for us!
If you are experiencing poor sleep, having trouble falling asleep, or waking through the night you are experiencing the effects of high Vata and low Ojas.
You may already know what is creating this scenario in your life but read on to see if there is anything you may be missing and tips of how to create regular deep sleep!
Staying up late – I know…obvious right!! But, the later we stay up the harder it is to wind down. Ayurveda says that the Pitta energy rises at approximately 10pm. This gives us that seconds wind of doing energy despite already feeling tired. Ideally we want our Pitta energy to be internal at this time to do the ‘bodily house cleaning’ between 10pm and 2am. When we stay up past 10pm it is much harder to fall sleep and we are doing our body, (and mind) a disservice.
Listen to your body and honour your tiredness. Don’t push on, but go to bed as early as your body is asking. There is always tomorrow for tasks and early morning is often a more productive time than late at night!
Screen time – “We now know that the blue wavelength light from LED-based devices (phones, tablets, computers) increases the release of cortisol in the brain, which makes us more alert, and inhibits the production of melatonin, which is needed to fall asleep”. 2. Between 6pm and 10pm is a Kapha (earthy) energy time. Kapha energy likes connecting and family time. Switch off the screens and play a family game or chat about your day with those you live with!
Some substances – It is common in our society to use coffee to get going in the morning, and alcohol to wind down at night. Both alcohol and coffee disturb our ability to have a good night’s sleep. Gradually reduce these substances in your days and please seek help if your coffee or alcohol intake is negatively affecting your life.
- Coffee. Yes, even one coffee in the morning can adversely affect your ability to fall asleep 12 hours later. Women metabolise coffee at a slower rate than men do.
- Alcohol tends to be used for relaxation and reward after a hard day but it too can affect good sleep. It often creates wakeful times between 1-4am.
- Too much chocolate can also make it hard to fall asleep. Even the good quality dark chocolate… darn it! Chocolate contains both caffeine and theobromine which acts similarly to caffeine.
Stress, worry, and high cortisol – there are many studies that cite how high cortisol, our stress related hormone, adversely affects good sleep.
Eating late – when we eat late ie after 7pm in summer and 6pm in winter then it can disturb our sleep. Eating an earlier and lighter dinner that is easy to digest will help promote good sleep and help to feel lighter on waking in the morning!
To recap here is what we can do to promote good sound sleep…night after night:
-eat an earlier lighter dinner-a walk outside after dinner helps to settle the body and mind-reduce screen time in the evenings. Leave a one hour gap between screen use and bed time-fill this time reading books, connecting with family or friends or spend some time in meditation/sitting in silence and connecting with your breath-write a to do list for the next day…empty your mind of the whirling thoughts and worries-lights out by 10pm – honour your tiredness-warm milk before bed – milk contains tryptophan which aids in the production of serotonin, a hormone that supports good sleep!
-abhyanga (self massage) applying warm oil to the whole body is one of the best ways to reduce the Vata or air energy and soothe the nervous system. If oiling the whole body feels like too much for you then try simply massaging the soles of your feet before bed and pop on some old socks to keep the oil off your sheets. A warm foot bath before the massage is grounding and feels wonderfully indulgent! Try adding some essential oils that sooth the mind such as lavendar, sandalwood or rose. -practice meditation or simply sitting in silence and bringing your attention to the breath-to calm the mind bring your breath into your belly. This calms the nervous system by switching on the para sympathetic nervous system. When lying down rest your hands on your belly and breathe low into the abdomen creating smooth and rhythmic breaths-if you can’t sleep, rather than tossing and turning, do gentle forward bends making sure that your forehead is resting on some support. Try kneeling in bed with torso resting on your thighs and head resting on pillow. Stay for a few minutes breathing smoothly and rhythmically. -in general avoid stimulating spices such a chilli and garlic as these will stimulate the mind and reduce intake of coffee and alcohol.
I hope that these tips help you in creating deeply peaceful and rejuvenating sleep!
x Jacq 1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3882397/2.https://hbr.org/2015/08/research-shows-how-anxiety-and-technology-are-affecting-our-sleep