According to Ayurveda, sleep is the nursemaid to humanity. During deep, restful sleep, our body recovers from stress and we wake up feeling refreshed, clear-minded, and energized. Unfortunately, with the turbulence in people’s personal lives and in the world at large, many of us suffer from insomnia and a lack of adequate rest.
While sleep medication can provide a temporary altered state that resembles sleep, it doesn’t offer the level of rejuvenation that comes with normal sleep. To restore our innate capacity to sleep soundly, Ayurveda suggests that we focus on creating a lifestyle that includes optimal nutrition, exercise, a regular meditation practice, and a daily routine. Restful sleep is the natural result of making choices that support physical and emotional balance throughout the day.
In Ayurvedic terminology, insomnia is an imbalance of the Vata dosha. Vata is the principle of movement and is light, changeable, active, and quick.
When you have excess Vata, your mind will be overactive and filled with the racing, anxious thoughts that keep you up at night. There are many different approaches that can help calm an aggravated Vata.
One of the most powerful techniques for quieting the mind is meditation, which allows you to go beyond the mind’s noisy internal dialog into a space of silence and stillness. After your meditation session, you carry this sense of greater calm with you into your day, allowing you to stay more centered and peaceful even in the face of life’s inevitable stresses. Ideally, meditate first thing in the morning, and than again in the early afternoon or evening. You can learn Primordial Sound Meditation from a certified instructor in your area. Find a meditation instructor here.
2.) Use Calming Oils and Herbs
The essential oils from certain herbs and flowers have been traditionally used in Ayurveda to calm an overactive system. Fragrances that are warm, sweet, and heavy are most useful. Sandalwood, patchouli, and vanilla can be calming and are best diffused in your room as you are preparing for sleep or added to a warm bath.Herbs that tend to be calming include chamomile and valerian. A cup of either of these teas a couple of times per day can be soothing and help slow you down.
The Ayurvedic herb known as winter cherry or ashwagandha is one of the most potent tonics in both ayurvedic and Tibetan medicine. The usual dose is 300 to 400 milligrams twice daily. If you can locate them, the Ayurvedic herbs jatamamsi (nardostachys jatamamsi) and shankhapushpi (canscora decussata) have calming and quieting effects on the mind and body.
A daily self-massage with a Vata-pacifying oil is a calming intervention. Use a couple tablespoons of oil after your bath or shower and allow it to soak into your skin. Snacking on roasted sesame seeds mixed with pump golden raisins in another Vata-pacifying approach
3.) Create a Soothing Evening Routine
At the Chopra Center we find that if people can commit to a consistent sleep ritual, they can usually retrain their mind to experience healthy sleep patterns.From the Ayurvedic perspective, the ideal bedtime is 10 p.m. Begin preparing for sleep shortly after dinnertime by taking a light walk and minimizing intense mental activity in the evening. Eat your larger meal in the middle of the day and try eating lightly in the evening, so that you’re not trying to fall asleep on a full stomach. Try not to work on your taxes, balance your checkbook, or watch a violent thriller on television right before bedtime – all of these activities can over stimulate the Vata dosha and make it hard to fall asleep.
Begin getting ready about an hour before sleep by running a hot bath and performing a slow, oil massage on your body with Vata or Pitta massage oil. Put a few drops of lavender oil in the bath water and play some soothing music. Have the intention to allow the stress of the day to leave your body.
Once you’ve completed your bath, try drinking a warm herbal tea or heated milk with a pinch of nutmeg. Alternatively jatamansi, an ayurvedic herb related to valerian can help quiet the mind. Once in bed, avoid watching television or reading mentally stimulating material. Reading spiritual or inspirational literature before bed can help shift your awareness away from the usual demands of your life to a more expanded perspective.
Turn off the lights, close your eyes and just lie comfortably on your back observing your breath. Allow your attention to float through your body. If you notice areas of tension, consciously release the pressure.
4.) Use a Sleeping Mantra
If after following the calming evening routine you are still having trouble falling asleep, the sleeping mantra Om Agasthi Shahina (Ōm Ah-gah´-stee Shah-ee´-nah) can sometimes be helpful.
Simply repeat the mantra silently to yourself. If your mind gets pulled away to thoughts or distractions, gently return your attention to the repetition of the mantra.
5.) Let Go of Trying
Insomnia is a common problem, and many people try to force themselves to sleep at one time or another. Sleep is a natural process, and “trying” will have no positive effect. In fact, it will probably aggravate the insomnia because the harder you try and less successful you are, the more frustrated you’ll feel. Trying is not the way in which nature functions.
The Law of Least Effort (from The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success) offers some useful guidance on how to let go:“Today I will practice acceptance. I will know that this moment is as it should be, because the whole universe is as it should be. I will not struggle against the whole universe by struggling against this moment. My acceptance is total and complete. I accept things as they are this moment, not as I wish they were.”