How To Get Better Sleep From An Ayurvedic Perspective
Sleep is one of the three pillars of health in Ayurveda, along with diet and creative output. Arguably, sleep is the most important pillar in that, if you don’t get enough sleep, you won’t have the energy to do the other two—you won’t have the energy to make healthy and supportive food choices, and you won’t have the energy to bring forth into the world what you are inspired to create or manifest (at the very least, you won’t be able to work to support yourself).
Sleep is what we, as humans, spend a third of lives doing (assuming you’re getting the recommended 8 hours). Sleep is perhaps the cornerstone of our health, and ironically, I’d say most people would admit that they’re either not getting enough sleep, or they’re not getting quality sleep—they’re not feeling rested upon rising in the morning.
How To Get Better Sleep:
Schedule If you have a schedule that allows you to sleep at night (versus a job that requires you to take a night shift, etc.), Ayurveda tells us to be in bed by 10pm at the latest. Ideally, we would be asleep by this time. If you stay up later than this, you’ll get a “second wind.”
Why? Well…Ayurveda tells us that the liver is doing really important detoxification jobs between 10pm and 2pm. Among the 500 or so other metabolic processes it assists with, the liver gets “revved up” around 10pm to clean up any toxins you consumed over the course of the day that it couldn’t get to (because it was assisting with digesting your food), recycling old blood cells, and turning all of that into bile.
So your metabolism gets going to do its nighttime janitorial duties around 10pm. If you’re asleep, you won’t even notice, unless you’ve done something to interfere with this process like consume a lot of alcohol or eat too close to bedtime (in which case you’ll probably wake up nice and warm, even hot—more on this later). If you’re awake, however, you might notice that, no matter how tired you are, you “become alive,” or get a second wind, and want to start watching a new series on Netflix, interact with social media, or start cleaning out your closet.
For me, I notice this begins around 9:30pm or so. So I have to start winding down around 9pm in order to thwart this tendency; otherwise, I’ll be up until 2am organizing my pantry and planning my calendar for the next year. True story. And obviously, this unsupportive habit sets you up for a vicious cycle of waking up groggy, exhausted, and sleepy, slogging your way through the workday, plopping yourself down on the couch, ordering take out because you’re too tired to cook, watching TV and checking your phone all night, interfering with your circadian rhythms with all that blue light (more on this later too), and then getting that second wind to repeat it all over again, only to try to catch up on the weekends or on your days off, which then messes up your rhythm even more.
So what do you do?
1) Eat an earlier, lighter dinner. Be finished with your dinner and all eating by 7pm at the very latest (I, personally, try to eat around 6pm and be done with the meal by 6:30pm). This will give you at least 3 hours between dinner and bedtime. If you go to bed with food on your stomach, your liver won’t be able to do all those nighttime janitorial duties about which I just spoke. This is also where I feel a lot of diet pitfalls come into play for so many of us. We eat at night for comfort, looking for a reward for doing a hard job all day or just for making through the day. I promise you will drop weight if you stick to this rule of finishing dinner and all food by 7pm or earlier.
Also, make sure dinner is not the largest meal of your day. Your metabolism is higher around Noon, so eating your largest meal at that time is best and ensures you’ll digest any heavier choices well before bedtime. Your metabolism is beginning to lower to get you ready for sleep in the evening, so make dinner a smaller version of lunch, or choose lighter options like soup or salad at this time.
Have a family or partner that expects dinner to be a big event? Do what I do and cook a big pot of soup or stew and just have a smaller portion of it. What if your family likes to eat later? Have a cup of soup or a lite salad on your own, and then join them when they eat dinner with a cup of herbal tea for yourself. Explain to them what you’re trying to do and why you’re doing it. Ensure them that you’re so happy to sit down and join them, catch up with them about their day, etc. even though you’re not eating with them.
Maybe you have a partner who likes to cook, but they always do it later in the evening. Have them put aside a portion for you to eat for lunch the next day. Make sure to tell them how much you loved and appreciated it. Again, join them while they eat and enjoy the company and conversation. Explain to them what you’re doing.
I’ve seen all of these strategies work really well for people, when they actually mean business about improving their sleep and getting their digestion and health back on track. You have to stand in your confidence and conviction; be loving but firm in your resolve. It’s possible to make this work, even if the rest of your household isn’t on board.
If you need a little treat or get hungry about an hour before bed, have ½ a cup of warm oat, almond, hemp, or dairy milk with a ¼ teaspoon of Ashwagandha powder (you can order this from Banyan Botanicals), a pinch of nutmeg to digest it (incidentally, it’s also a mild sedative), and a little raw honey or maple syrup. This will help you sleep, satisfy a sweet tooth, and it’s light enough that it won’t interfere with your liver’s clean-up-on-aisle-six job. Limit it to half a cup so you don’t have to wake up and pee in the middle of the night.
On a side note, cut out any beverages an hour before bed to help with that issue, if it is one for you.
2) Limit Alcohol Consumption Speaking of beverages, alcohol is one of the main culprits for disrupted sleep. It requires a LOT of work from your liver since it is basically poison (don’t get me wrong: I love my wine!), disrupts your hormones, and dehydrates you. If you drink more than one drink a night, you’re probably waking up in the middle of the night, usually hot and thirsty, possibly with anxiety or problem-solving on your mind, or you have to get up to pee multiple times in the night because of alcohol’s diuretic qualities. If you choose to consume alcohol, limit it to one drink, have it with a meal (incidentally, the Mediterranean diet correlates red wine consumption WITH food to its positive health benefits), and have it before 7pm so your liver doesn’t have to spend its nighttime janitorial duties processing alcohol while you sleep.
3) Evening Activities In order to induce sleep at the right time, you’ll need to allow your eyes and your brain to observe the increasing darkness outside. You are part of nature; just like the animals that are awake with the sun and asleep when it’s dark, so should you be in order to prevent disease and feel your most balanced self. Screens and bright lights interfere directly with this process. -Blue light from screens interferes with our circadian rhythms (biorhythms that follow the light of the sun) – blue light suppresses melatonin, which is the hormone that makes us sleepy – okay during the daytime but problematic after sunset b/c it will keep you from being sleepy at appropriate times -Blue light is emitted by fluorescent lights, LED lights, and all of your devices/screens -Some ideas: Turn off screens at LEAST 1 hour before bed (2-3 if you are having serious sleep problems) Dim lights / use more candles (carefully) Trade your regular reading lamp’s light bulb for a red or orange light (longer wavelengths than blue, so doesn’t penetrate the skin like blue light) – one that doesn’t emit blue light – or try candlelight if it doesn’t cause you to strain your eyes Blue-light blocking or amber glasses to mitigate the melatonin-suppressing effects of the blue light if you have to/want to look at screens after dark
So what do you do instead of look at screens or eat? Try some of these options to wind down: At 9pm, turn off the TV and/or put away your phone (go ahead and set your alarm for in the morning, if you use your phone for that). Take a warm, Epsom salt bath (I like 2 cups per bath) to absorb muscle and nervous system-relaxing Magnesium. Drop 20-40 drops of Lavender and a few drops of Chamomile essential oils into your bath. Relax. Rub almond or coconut oil on your skin, massaging gently and with self-love. Slip on some PJ’s you don’t care about getting a little oil on. Use my 30 minute Relaxation/Restorative video or any of the techniques and stretches in those videos to get your body prepped for sleep. I like to sit outside under the stars and listen to an audiobook. I get to “read” without using a screen. I also like to curl up after my bath/nighttime beauty rituals with an actual paper book or magazine (remember those?).
Creating a ritual that you start one hour before bed will get your body and nervous system back into the habit of getting sleepy at an appropriate time each night. Give it time; be patient. It might be hard to do this at first, and you might not be sleepy the first couple of nights or even the first week. But trust me, you will feel so much better once you get into the groove.
4) Bonus Tips To Help You Get Better Sleep - Lower the temperature of your sleeping room/bedroom to somewhere between 60 and 69 degrees Farenheit (some sources say even lower!). We like 68 degrees. - Invest in blackout curtains OR wear a sleeping mask (cheap ones that work really well on Amazon). I can’t live or travel without mine now. It’s amazing how much light can come in from streetlights, automatic lights on your house, etc. The darker the better. - If you are a light sleeper, consider investing in some earplugs. I like Mack’s silicone putty ear plugs. They’re a little tricky to get used to the first time you use them in that you’ll hear the sound of your own breathing very distinctly (kind of like being in a sound deprivation tank), but trust me, once you get used to it, you will be amazed at how much sounder you sleep and how much less you awaken to random noises in the night. - Try my Ayurvedic Sleep Tincture! Link here! Take one whole dropper-full (you might need to "dip" the dropper twice to get the whole dosage) when you're tossing and turning and need a "nudge" to get some Zzzz's.
I hope this helps give you some ideas about how to get better sleep. If you simply adhere to having an earlier, lighter dinner by 7pm (6:30pm even better), you will improve your digestion, your weight, AND your sleep.
Summary - How to Get Better Sleep
_Bed/Asleep by 10pm _Dinner/All Food by 7pm or earlier (I try for 6:30pm) _Dinner should be lighter than lunch. _½ cup warm Milk, ¼ teaspoon Ashwagandha powder, pinch nutmeg, and honey or maple syrup to taste about an hour before bed _Limit all other beverages/liquids one hour before bed _Limit alcohol to one drink/glass of wine with a meal and be done by 7pm. _Turn off all screens 1 hour before bed. _Create a nighttime ritual that you start that 1 hour before bed that can include anything you’d like, as long as it doesn’t involve screens. _Create an optimal environment for sleep by lowering the temperature a great deal and investing in a sleep mask and/or ear plugs that work for you. Try a few until you find the one(s) that feel good.
If you'd like Ayurveda in Salt Lake City and to work more closely on sleep and insomnia, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I also offer virtual appointments to anyone in the world. You can learn more about Ayurvedic Health Counseling by clicking here.
Ayurvedic Elements - Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Ether - Introduction to Ayurveda
Thousands of years ago, the original Ayurvedic scholars, called "rishis," observed that everything in nature, including ourselves, is made of five ayurvedic elements: earth, water, fire, air, and ether. While these elements are not to be taken literally (rather, they are metaphors for all the molecules and energies that make up our universe), we can find health and harmony in our lives by observing and working to balance these elements through Ayurvedic diet, lifestyle, and daily habits/practices.
Here is an overview of what those elements might look like in your mind and body. When these elements come together, they are called the Ayurvedic "doshas." You can read more about the doshas here.
The Earth Element = Structure and Stability
The earth element is what gives everything shape and form--anything you can touch or feel contains the earth element. In the body, earth gives us our form and shape. It gives rise to all of our bodily tissues. In the mind, earth brings stability.
When we have too much earth element in the body, we will have too much tissue (weight gain). When we have too much earth in the mind, it leads to dullness and lethargy. Conversely, when you have deficient earth element in your body, you will also be deficient in tissue. When you have deficient earth in the mind, you will experience instability and have difficulty maintaining information.
The Water Element = Moisture and Flow
The water element gives rise to all substances that contain or involve moisture. In the body water represents all bodily fluids, specifically the lymphatic and interstitial fluids. The water element is also involved in byproducts and waste fluids like mucous, sweat, urine, tears, breast milk, and male and female reproductive fluids.
The water element In the mind is involved in flow, which allows you to flow from one task to another in your day and allows you to experience a healthy flow of thoughts. When we have excessive water element in the body, you might experience swelling, or edema, and excess fluid production.
In the mind, excess water element will manifest in excessive emotional flow (ex. excessive tears and even excessively deep feelings of sadness). When water is deficient in the body, we will experience dry mucous membranes and tissues. In the mind, deficient water element will show up as an inability to "flow"--or an emotional "dryness" of sorts. This could be seen in an inability to form emotional attachments.
The Fire Element = transformation/metabolism/clarity
The Fire Element is involved in anything that produces heat. The fire element, therefore, is involved in digestive fire, and metabolism in the body at both the gross and cellular level,
The fire element gives you the ability to transform food into healthy bodily tissue. In the mind, fire element gives you the ability to transform sensory input into clear concepts and to discern and experience clarity.
In excess, the fire element produces too much heat, or inflammation, in the body. This could manifest in your metabolism processing food and energy too quickly. It can potentially "eat up" tissue when it runs out of fuel and cause symptoms like redness, heat/fever, and/or weight loss.
Excess fire in the mind results in angry emotions, intensity around work and projects, and criticism of others. Laci of fire element in the body can cause coldness, sluggishness, and even weight gain. In the mind, deficient fire element will cause lack of clarity and discernment, making deciding things difficult, and motivation scarce.
The Air Element = Motion
The air element is involved in all movement in the universe. It is a unique element in that it is the only element that has innate movement, and can move around the other elements.
The Air Element, like the wind, has a variable nature to it. It is always changing. Becuase of this, the air element is inherently unstable.
The air element governs all the movement in the body: everything from nutrients and wastes moving in and out of cellular membranes, to blood circulating through your veins, to the movement of your limbs, to the movement of your thoughts, and especially the movement of food and waste through your digestive tract.
Excessive air element in the body can result in dryness and coolness (think of air evaporating sweat from your skin and cooling you off), nervous ticks and tremors, and variable digestive symptoms.
Excessive air element in the mind will usually result in agitation, "circling" thoughts, repetitive thought patterns, fear, anxiety, and worry.
If you don't have enough air element you might experience dullness, lethargy, and potentially slow reflexes. Deficient air in the mind will be reflected similarly as dullness, heaviness, and potential difficulty recalling concepts.
The Ether Element = Idea of "connectedness" / Space
The Ether Element is the container in which all of the other elements reside. It is the context within which the other f0ur ayurvedic elements assemble or manifest. You can think of the ether element as the "vacuum" of space. Ether element tends to have a diminishing effect on the other elements.
As an example, the ether element increases in you as you age. Think about the changes aging brings about. Your hair grows thinner, your skin and bones grow thinner/diminish, Your mind becomes more unstable.
It follows, then, when the ether element accumulates in the body, we have weaker and drier tissues; when it accumulates in the mind, we become ungrounded, unfocused, and spacey. When we don't have enough in the body, we become heavy and dull; when ether is deficient in the mind, we have trouble connecting concepts, connecting with others, and connecting with the Divine.
The Five Elements and the Doshas The five elements come together to make up your unique constitution. They also come together to formthe three, Ayurvedic Doshas.
Since we interact with the world and elements around us, it is inevitable that we will accumulate too much of one or more elements or become deficient in them throughout our day, throughout the seasons, and throughout our lifetimes.
Ayurveda seeks to teach us about ourselves so that we can take responsibility for our health and bring ourselves back into balance through diet, lifestyle, daily habits, and remembering that we are Nature--we are Divine.
In your 2-hour Initial Ayurvedic Consultation and 50-min Report of Findings, we will determine the unique combination of elements in you--at birth and in the current moment. We will give you the tools you need to bring yourself back into balance--to heal yourself from the inside-out.
Combinations of all the elements make up all of nature, including our bodies and minds. Each one of us has all five elements in different combinations. The elements make up the three, Ayurvedic doshas, or the fundamental energy in the universe and in our bodies and minds. Each of us has a unique balance of these elements and doshas at conception, or birth. These energies tend to go out of balance at different times in our lives due to environmental factors, such as diet, lifestyle, climate, relationships, daily habits, and even thought patterns.
Summary The Five Elements of Ayurveda Are: Earth, Fire, Water, Air, and Ether. Everything in nature that can be said to exist are comprised of these five basic elements. Ayurveda seeks to restore balance to the individual through balance of the five Ayurvedic Elements.
Disclaimer; Meghan Hays is not a medical doctor nor is she a licensed health professional in any state. Meghan Hays is trained and certified through the California College of Ayurveda as an Ayurvedic Doctor (aka Medical Ayurvedic Specialist) an Ayurvedic Health Counselor, and a Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist. The information on this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content, including text, graphics, images and information, contained on or available through this web site is for general information purposes only. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.