Nobody can emphasize the importance of good sleep more than the one you find walking around in a daze—whose entire workday stands ruined by lack of sleep. And sometimes no amount of caffeine can fix this deep lack of rest, which shows up as eye bags and mood swings.
Staying up all night for a one-off event can be tiring, but lack of sleep for days on end or insomnia can barrel into chronic health problems, impacting both your body and mind.
Sleep disorders can compromise the quality of your life by affecting the central nervous system, motor function, memory and concentration. Consistently poor quality of sleep plays havoc with your digestion potentially leading to weight gain and bloating. Elevated blood pressure, an impaired immune system, anxiety, depression are only a few of the many health problems that Insomnia can trigger. Here are some non-invasive remedies that will help you sleep like a baby.
This is an old but relevant one. Studies suggest that exercise helps you get a good night’s sleep. One of the many ways it does this is by signaling your body to produce the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin early in the evening. In addition to producing many feel-good hormones like endorphins, exercising also boosts both confidence and contentment—and so it also helps you if you are anxious or depressed, which can be an important risk factor for insomnia. More sleep hormones and a content, happier mind bring better snoozing!
Exercise in the evening might interfere with your sleep because of the adrenaline coursing through your body. The best time to exercise for people who struggle to sleep is in the morning.
What You Eat Impacts How Well You Sleep
It is recommended you finish your last meal of the day at least two hours before bedtime. Make sure you have some mild physical activity like a slow relaxing walk for 10–15 minutes after your meal; avoid sitting or lying down immediately. Keep your dinner light but at the same time enough to keep you satiated until bedtime as overeating and starvation can both interfere with sleep. Consuming complex carbohydrates hastens sleep because they boost the release of tryptophan and serotonin, both of which are relaxing and sleep-inducing hormones. Nuts and seeds like almonds, walnuts, mustard seeds, and flax seeds are rich in melatonin and thus are pro-sleep. Other melatonin-rich food sources include grains like rice, barley, and rolled oats and fruits like cherries, pomegranate, and grapes. It is also important to consume adequate water during the day in order to have an uninterrupted and restful sleep during the night. Reduce your water intake before sleep so that your bladder doesn’t wake you up at night.
Consuming alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine is extremely detrimental to your sleep. Any stimulant, especially those consumed in the evenings, will only worsen your insomnia. So instead of caffeine, go for a relaxing cup of fennel tea made by boiling a teaspoon of fennel seeds in water. To help you sleep better at night, you may add a little honey to taste. Another great option is mint tea made by boiling around three grams of mint leaves in a cup of water for 15 minutes and adding a teaspoon of honey right before drinking it.
A few other great sleep-inducing beverages that you can try are
- Warm milk with honey before bedtime
- Chamomile tea
- Passionflower tea with little honey
- Lavender tea.
Maintaining Regular Sleep Time and Limiting Screen Time
If you want a relaxing and sound sleep, make it a habit to go to bed at the same time every night; preferably before or around 10:00 pm, as it is easiest to fall asleep at this time. The use of electronic devices like cell phones, laptops, and TV interfere with sleep—the blue light emitted from the screens of these devices hinders the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. So getting away from these stimulating devices at least an hour before going to bed is necessary for a restful sleep. If possible, switch off your phone for the night or put it on night mode. Also, switch off your Wi-Fi router before retiring for the day. If you are still having difficulty falling asleep, you can listen to soft music or mantras that support sleep.
Exposure to Sunlight
Another way to boost your melatonin production is by increasing your exposure to natural light. Soaking in sunlight, preferably in the morning through bare skin, especially the navel regions for around 15 minutes is important for synthesis of the required amount of vitamin D, deficiency of which is linked to insomnia, anxiety, and depression.
Aroma and Ambiance for Restful Sleep
Here are a few quick tips about sleep management.
- Use your bed only for sleeping at night.
- Avoid sleeping during the daytime.
- The bedroom should be quiet, neat, and clutter-free, and the temperature should be comfortable for uninterrupted sleep—on the cool side but not too cold.
- Aromatherapy is an excellent way to feel relaxed and induce sleep. The soothing aroma of lavender works great in relieving stress, stabilizing mood, and promoting sleep. Essential oils like lavender, chamomile, valerian, and sandalwood can be used in an aroma lamp or potpourri in order to reap their stress-busting and sleep-inducing effects.
Yogasanas and Pranayama
Yoga is not just about physical postures. It caters to your body, mind and soul in deeper ways than you can imagine. Practicing yoga asanas mindfully, releases feel-good hormones and reduces stress hormones like cortisol, increasing a sense of well-being and giving your body and mind total rest. People who practice yoga, including senior citizens, “sleep for longer, fall asleep faster, and return to sleep more quickly if they wake up in the middle of the night,” according to the Sleep Foundation. Some asanas improve the supply of oxygen to the brain and rejuvenate the nervous system. If you’re struggling with sleep issues, try some of these poses before bed:
Often when Vata dosha (the air and space element) is imbalanced, the mind doesn’t stop racing and one has difficulty falling asleep; when pitta is out of balance, the person is irritable and angry. Pranayama are breathing techniques that have the ability to balance your tridoshas and clear up your energy channels. The better the balance of doshas, the more organized and balanced life becomes. Pranayama helps streamline the flow of prana or life force in the body, which has a deeply restorative effect on the body-mind complex. This relaxation makes it an effective cure for anxiety disorders including depression and insomnia. Some pranayamas that can be done before bed, for better sleep include
- Chandra Bhedana or left nostril breathing. This is a variation of the more popular alternate nostril breathing or Nadi Shodhana pranayama. Practicing alternate nostril breathing at night, make you feel more energized than you want to feel right before hitting the bed. Here in the left nostril breathing, you slowly breathe in and breathe out from the left nostril, which activates the Chandra nadi, which produces a calming effect, lulling you to sleep.
- Bhramari or bumblebee breath. Here, all you need to do is, breathe in and as you breathe out, making a humming sound like a bee, with your mouth closed. This will instantly put your mind in a calm and meditative state, drowning out your worries and stress of the day.
- Ujjayi or victory breath. This is one of the most powerful pranayamas you can practice before going to sleep. Here, you breathe in and out through the back of your throat. Because of the constricted breathing, this is also called the Darth Vader breath. Practicing Ujjayi for a few minutes before going to sleep, can soothe and silence the mind.
Meditation can drastically improve your sleep patterns and your overall quality of life. An overactive sympathetic nervous system often contributes to sleep disorders. Stress and overstimulation caused by overuse of electronic gadgets, information overkill, caffeine reliance, and improper food habits have led to a situation where we sleep twenty percent less than we did about a hundred years ago.
Meditation pacifies the nervous system and promotes sleep by reducing cortisol levels and increasing melatonin, the sleep hormone. Besides the limited scientific research done in this area, meditation helps and uplifts you in all dimensions of existence; it helps you experience the truth and brings you closer to self.
Even a glimpse of the eternal truth is enough to sprout a seed of dispassion; this dispassion is the basic requirement to be able to relax and sleep. Learning mantra-based meditations can also help you slip into Samadhi easily.
Ayurveda to the Rescue
Ayurvedic therapies like abhyanga (full body massage) make use of certain pressure techniques that bring deep relaxation and help you sleep better. Self-abhyanga can also be highly beneficial when done correctly. Shirodhara is one of the most effective therapies for insomnia and anxiety issues. It is performed by pouring specific herbal oils from a certain height for a definite time on the forehead, using a measured stream of flow. The oils are chosen based on an individual’s health condition and Prakriti. Ayurvedic herbs like Ashwagandha (withania somnifera), Shankhpushpi (morning glory), brahmi( bacopa monnier) and jatamasi (valerian root) also effectively counter anxiety and depression and promote sound sleep.
Here are some other effective Ayurveda based remedies for insomnia:
- Put a drop or ghee (clarified butter) in each nostril before sleeping.
- Wash your feet with water before sleeping.
- Oil massage your feet and head.
Sleep is all about being able to let go! Retiring for the day is really about letting go of all your thoughts and worries and surrendering to the restfulness and guidance of the night. You can have a small diary on your bed stand to pen down worries or ideas running through your mind, so you can get back to it later. While all the tips and remedies are meant to help you sleep, ‘trying’ to sleep after you go to bed can actually give rise to anxiety and stress which in turn can drive your sleep further away. It is advisable to get out of bed in case you are unable to sleep after lying there for more than 20 minutes and try and read something dense, or listen to light music or chants that calms down your nervous system and brings relaxation. Also, bear in mind, trying to bring about lifestyle changes to improve the quality of your sleep may take some time, a week or two, to show results. But give it that time. The results that you will see then will be long-lasting and transformative.