Beauty Sleep Dos and Dont's : Ayurvedic Guidelines for Bedtime
Along with healthy digestion and regular physical activity, sleep hygiene is another crucial aspect of our overall wellbeing. As we now are still transitioning into Vata season, described in Ayurveda as late fall and early winter, it would come as no surprise if one experiences more disturbed sleep patterns due to the light and mobile (if not erratic) quality of this dosha. This includes a more restless mind and body at night, waking from sleep, acute or chronic insomnia, vivid dreams, as well as teeth grinding. Many other factors can also be considered to be the cause of poor sleep, such as acute or chronic stress, frequent traveling and change of schedule, side effects from certain medication, illness and anxiety to name a few. If you are currently experiencing these symptoms and conditions, or if you simply wish to commit to a healthier bedtime routine and adapt to the seasonal change, please read below for my 10 ayurvedic ''Dos and Don'ts'' to guide you towards balanced sleep:
Bedtime Dos and Dont's
1. Do commit to a consistent bedtime and wake time
One of the main keys to health and longevity in Ayurveda is routine. Establish a set time for bed, meaning the moment you rest your head of the pillow, and a set time for waking up. Ideally, you want to hit the sack before 10:00 pm, allowing you to wind down completely in the Kapha cycle of the day (6:00 pm to 10:00 pm), which encourages deeper relaxation. If you go to bed earlier, you will find it easier to rise at the prescribed time, which is slightly before the sun rises - at this time of year, it is about at 7:00 am. The more you are consistent with this routine, the more you will feel refreshed and rejuvenated upon waking.
2. Do use of therapeutic body oil before sleep
By massaging in sesame (Vata), coconut (Pitta) or almond oil (Kapha) on the soles of your feet, ears and the top of your head right as you prepare to go to sleep, you are soothing your body and mind, helping them to settle into bedtime and a sense of being grounded. If you want to enhance the effect of the oil, you can also add a drop of lavender, chamomile or any other calming essential oil for each part that you are gently rubbing.
3. Do calming pranayama (breathing technique) in the evening
I really like to practice Nadi Shodhana pranayama (alternate nostril breathing) as described in my post here, however my bedtime version consists of lengthening the time of inhalation, exhalation, and the holding of breath in between the respiration movement in order to bring more tranquility to the mind-body. Although it is not always easy and can seem impossible for some, I really encourage you to not make your mind wander too much during the pranayama, but instead to focus solely on your breath and third eye center (the point in between your eyebrows).
4. Do write in your personal or gratitude journal
By writing down your thoughts, emotions or a list of things that you are grateful for at the end of the day, you are allowing more space for stillness, freeing the mind and heart of what needs to be expressed or fill it with a sense of contentment. Take whatever time you need to this, even a few minutes of journaling can be really beneficial.
5. Do make yourself a night cap of warm milk
Like in many other traditions, in Ayurveda the classic cup of warm milk is often recommended to aid sleep. I personally use organic almond milk and add a dash of nutmeg to increase its sleep-inducing effect as well as 1/4 tsp of cinnamon honey (especially beneficial for Kapha to loosen any kind of congestion). If you are using honey however, make sure to add it when the milk you have boiled has cooled to just warm, as heating honey is considered very difficult to digest and even ''toxic'' in Ayurveda.
6. Don't overindulge in electronic devices
I know. It's not easy. Nowadays, our lives seem to revolve around social media (some of us also depend on it for work) and TV show binge watching, although this one is even more important in our current society where we barely take time away from our screens during the day. Overindulging in technology at night has been proven to have a negative impact on sleep as it suppresses melatonin production (the hormone that controls your sleep/wake cycle or circadian rhythm) and keep your brain overly alert when it should be in a more restful state. Ideally, we would disconnect at least an hour, if not more, before bedtime and keep any electronic devices away from the bedroom while we sleep. Of course there was no rule in place talking about this specific guideline in ancient Ayurvedic texts, however everything did center around stillness of mind to allow one to connect to the greater whole. Is there anything more distracting to the mind then constantly checking our feeds for updates? It is an ongoing struggle, but I daily aim to limit my use of all devices to daytime. One thing that has helped me is to remove notification notices from practically all of our phone applications. Whatever works!
7. Don't ''pillow problem solve''
Sometimes, even when our bodies are exhausted, the lights are out and the house is instilled with silence, our minds have ingenious ways to creep up and remind us of the list of the things we need to accomplish or of a particularly stressful event that took place during the day. Although it's tempting to go over a number of solutions or do constant mental replay of situations, there is most likely nothing beneficial that can come of it. We have this beautiful mechanism in the depths of our minds that are called dreams whose purpose it its to bring resolution to such experiences, wether we rare conscious of them or not. Also, the energy available to you at night is quite different, if not opposite to the problem solving energy that we can use during the day. The simple tiredness of our mind and bodies could taint any efficient strategy that we come up with and we end up simply with wasted ''brain power''. Trust that sleep will provide you with a more rested outlook in the morning. Every day is a new beginning!
8. Don't eat your heaviest meal at dinnertime
As opposed to how we were brought up to do in North America, the largest meal of the day should be consumed at lunchtime or the Pitta cycle of the day (between 10:00am and 2:00pm), according to Ayurveda. As mentioned before, our bodies use sleep to regenerate - if its energy has to work overtime at night to digest an excess of foods, especially the heavy kind, then there is less energy available for restful sleep. Also, try to reserve any kind of meats, dairy and fattier foods for daytime as these take a longer to digest, sometimes up to 6 hours. Ideally, you would opt for a vegetarian or vegan meal at dinnertime and no larger than your two hands cupped together. This also brings me to:
9. Don't snack after your last meal of the day
For the same reasons mentioned above, it is best to avoid or limit snacking after dinnertime. This may be a great challenge for some of you, as constant munching can be a sign of emotional vulnerability, especially if it feels out of your control. If this is the case, perhaps booking some sessions with a qualified therapist or holistic nutritionist can help you get at the bottom of what feeds the addiction to continually consume food. Of course we are assuming that true hunger is not present, which can also involve other factors like hormonal imbalances or insufficient nourishment during the day. If you feel that you must eat, I find that a warm milk "night cap" really helps - on such nights I sometimes add some unsweetened coconut flakes or ghee to add consistency.
10. Don't do high intensity exercise in the evening
Physical fitness is definitely beneficial and necessary for optimal health - I make a point of including it in my everyday life. However, assuming that you are not a high level athlete or work night shifts, higher intensity exercise - the type that makes it difficulty to breathe through the nose and makes your forehead sweat - should be reserved for morning or before dinner. Instead, opt for a 15-30 minute leisurely walk after dinner or gentle yoga. According to Ayurveda, Yoga, its sister science, is the ideal form of exercise for all body types and ages, balancing all three doshas, as well as toning the muscles and the organs. Most importantly, never exercise beyond your present capacity, which may change according to many factors. I can speak from experience when I say that not knowing or respecting your limit can have serious health consequences that can take time to heal. Balance is what we aim for.
Wishing you all healthier and regenerative sleep so you can live to your fullest potential!