Living with vitality goes beyond good eating habits, healthy food, and getting plenty of exercise. Ayurveda teaches that sleep is one of the three key pillars of life. Getting ample, sound, quality sleep is one of the best ways to boost your well-being, recover from stress, and improve mental fitness. Fortunately, when it comes to getting restful sleep, Ayurveda and modern science have loads of wisdom to bestow. The consequences of sleep deprivation can be quite damaging, whereas good quality restful sleep has a huge positive impact on metabolism, mood, and memory. Experts recommend 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Getting less than 6 hours per night puts you at higher risk for diabetes, stroke, obesity, immune dysfunction, hypertension, mood disorders, and cognitive decline (Harvard Medical School, 2020; Rao, 2020).
One fascinating aspect of sleep is that sound, prolonged sleep literally washes your brain—in a good way! The glymphatic system—the physiological mechanism responsible for brain rinsing—is a fairly new scientific discovery. One of the key functions of brain rinsing is that it washes away a harmful protein called beta-amyloid that may be indicated in Alzheimers (Harvard Medical School, 2020). Restful sleep allows the brain to clear out harmful toxins and maximizes the flow of cerebrospinal fluid. This brain-rinsing process promotes clear thinking and reduces the risk of dementia and other brain diseases (Rao, 2020).
The Perks of Restful Sleep
If you still aren’t sold on the wonders of restful sleep, consider these additional benefits of getting your zzz’s:
- Sleep regulates the appetite. Sleep deprivation causes a spike in the hormone, ghrelin, which stimulates the appetite. Conversely, ample sleep boosts leptin, which decreases the appetite (Sleep Foundation).
- Sleep assists in memory consolidation and cognitive function. Studies show that people do significantly better on cognitive tests when they are well-rested (Rao, 2020).
- Sleep helps you prune memories, experiences, and neural connections. This lets our brain weed out information that it doesn’t need. The result is that you can think and recall more clearly (Rao, 2020).
Sound Sleep Tips
You may be aware of the importance of restful sleep, and yet actually getting some quality shut-eye may elude you. Let’s check out what Ayurveda can offer for restful sleep.
- Get regular with your sleep habits. Go to bed and arise around the same time each day. Ayurveda promotes getting to sleep by 10pm and arising around sunrise, with some variation depending on your Ayurvedic constitution (link to what’s my dosha article).
- Avoid screen use and bright lights before bed. Light exposure—particularly the blue light emitted by phone and computer screens—may disrupt circadian rhythms and impact melatonin levels. Therefore, try to avoid using your smartphone and computer about an hour or two before bed.
- Allow 3-4 hours between your last meal and bedtime. Having your last meal a few hours before bedtime will not only benefit your digestive system and liver function. This habit also assists with restful sleep because it helps normalize your circadian rhythms.
- Take time to unwind. You don’t need me to tell you that worry and stress can interfere with restful sleep. If you are feeling amped up, or something is on your mind, give yourself some extra time to wind down before bed. Taking a warm bath, reading a book, journaling, and doing some quieting yoga poses can all help bring your nervous system down a notch or two.
- Avoid caffeine and other stimulants especially after lunch time. We all have different levels of tolerance and sensitivity around caffeine. If you have trouble sleeping, take an honest look at your caffeine consumption. You may not need to cut out tea and coffee entirely, but try to avoid caffeine in the afternoon and see if the quality of your sleep benefits.
Ayurvedic Herbs for Restful Sleep
If you try all these tips for restful sleep and deep rest still alludes you, you may want to consider herbal supplements. Herbs tend to be less habit forming than sleeping pills and generally have fewer side effects. Here are a few of my favorite herbs to support restful sleep:
- Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) root is an ayurvedic herb with many uses. It is an adaptogen, meaning that is helps support a healthy response to stress. Ashwagandha can be both energizing and relaxing. It strengthens your nervous system, supports an active lifestyle, and supports a normal sleep cycle. Ashwagandha can be taken as powder infused in hot water, as a capsule, or tincture form. This root is a nightshade so those with nightshade sensitivities should use caution.
- Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) soothes insomnia, irritability, and anxiety. It has a gently relaxing and sedating effect and is therefore best enjoyed in the evening. This lovely sleep-inducing flower can be taken as a tea, tincture, or capsule.
- Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) root is a heavy-hitter when it comes to herbs for restful sleep. This strong-smelling root can be very effective at assisting with deep, uninterrupted sleep. Plus, it doubles as a muscle relaxant. Valerian can heat up the body, so is best for individuals who run on the cold side. (Those who run warm may even find it stimulating!) Ayurvedic practitioners recommend that you don’t take this somniferous root for more than several weeks in row as it can cause grogginess. Best enjoyed as a tincture or capsule. Valerian is often found in herbal sleep blends.
In the words of Homer, “There is a time for many words, and there is also a time for sleep.” I hope that these ayurvedic tips for restful sleep inspire you to prioritize and fully enjoy some much needed rest. Sweet dreams! You deserve it.
Harvard Medical School. (2020). In Search of sleep. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/womens-health/in-search-of-sleep
Groves, M. N.(2016). Body into balance: An herbal guide to holistic self-care. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing.
Rao, R. (2020). Good living practices. KaivalyaWellness.com
Sleep Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/