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.