Without a good night’s sleep we not only feel like crap the next day because we’re tired, but because our bodies and minds have missed out on their chance to recharge. In Ayurveda, sleep is considered one of the three pillars (or necessities) of life, along with food and sex.
The role of ahara, or wholesome and compatible food, is fairly obvious; without it we waste away. Brahmacharya, or sex, is a bit more obscure. It refers to the proper use of one’s energy, sexual and otherwise; without which our immunity diminishes. We also cannot live without nidra, or sleep. This is the body’s time to relax and rejuvenate. Sleep gives the senses a chance to withdraw so that the mind can rest.
A solid night’s rest doesn’t come easily to all, unfortunately. For insomniacs, those with sleep disorders, and anyone who wants better sleep, Ayurveda offers many pill-free and natural remedies.
1. Start winding down a couple of hours before bedtime. Avoid TV, the computer, loud music, and looking at your smartphone screen; all of which are too stimulating for the mind before bed.
2. Finish your dinner 3 hours before bedtime so that process of digestion doesn’t interrupt your sleep.
3. Create a bedtime routine; whether that be a bath, meditation, or your own form of quiet time. This will put your body in the sleeping mindset.
4. Take a warm bath with a few drops of calming lavender oil in the evenings.
5. Drink either: a warm glass of milk (cow, almond, or milk) with a pinch of nutmeg; or a warm glass of milk infused with 10 strands of saffron to induce sleep.
6. Massage your temples, hands and feet with warm almond or sesame oil just before going to sleep. You could alternatively massage the soles of your feet with castor oil.
7. Try this simple breathing exercise before bed: with each inhale, mentally repeat I breathe in peace; with each exhale, mentally repeat I breathe out stress.
8. Be in bed by 10 pm, which will make it easier to fall asleep and promote a sounder night of sleep in general. This keeps you in harmony with the natural rhythms of the day- explained here.
9. Avoid sleeping on your belly, which can obstruct deep and healthy breathing. Instead, sleep on your right side to encourage left nostril breathing. This activates the body’s cooling, relaxing moon energy.
10. Sleep with your head facing facing east and your feet facing west, which encourages restful sleep. The second best direction is to sleep with your head facing south, which improves health. Do not sleep with your head facing north, which disturbs sleep and health.
11. Remove clutter from your bedroom. Physical clutter causes mental clutter, and a clean, peaceful space encourages the same for the mind.
12. Establish a regular sleep cycle. Try to go to bed and wake up around the same time every day.
13. Some people are very sensitive to caffeine, and should avoid coffee, caffeinated tea and ginseng after morning time or all together.
14. Avoid exercising too late at night, which can be invigorating rather than relaxing. If you do practice yoga in the evenings, use calming sequences and omit stimulating pranayama exercises such as kapalabhati.
15. Resist napping. Sleep is meant for nighttime. There are a few exceptions: naps are okay for the elderly, pregnant, and ill; and power naps are fine for everyone in the hot summer months.
(This article was also published on elephant journal.)