Just as it is essential to have a consistent and healthy routine for the daytime (known as Dinacharya in Ayurveda), it is equally as essential to have a soothing nighttime routine in order to wind-down and de-stress each night before bed. By welcoming in calming activities in the evening time, we are allowing the energy to ground and the mind to quiet. The stress that has accumulated throughout the day is able to be processed and released, allowing us to sleep deeper, longer and more soundly. With sleep disorders being one of the most prevalent issues I encounter as a practitioner, this article should be able to help those of all ages and body-types as we bring a bit more intention and attention to our nightly habits.
Sleep issues often stem from high Vata invading the Nervous System and Mind. This creates restless thinking, anxiety, fear, worry, loneliness, adrenaline surges (aka second wind) and an overactive Nervous System; all of which will keep one from falling asleep when desired and/or cause disturbed sleep throughout the night. Since the Vata time of day is between 2am-6am, people often report waking up around this time and having a hard time falling back asleep. Of course there may be other doshic involvement such as the overactive Pitta type that works until all hours of the night. This excessive late-night thinking often leads to difficultly shutting off the mind and therefore sleep issues arise.
Although everybody’s causes and symptoms may look a bit different, performing some simple calming exercises before bed (on a consistent basis) should help a wide range of sleep issues. However, please keep in mind that how we go about our entire day will also effect our sleep patterns as well. Therefore establishing a healthy daytime routine, healthy diet, and balanced mind will also be necessary to treat the sleep disorder.
Finally before we get to the calming practices to add into your nighttime routine, please note that equally important are some stimulating activities that should be avoided in the evening. Here is a general, non-exhaustive list of some common activities to steer away from, ideally by 8pm if not earlier.
Activities to Avoid after 8pm:
- Avoid staying up past 10pm (this often leads to a second wind)
- Avoid bright lights in the house
- Avoid all work including conversations about work
- Avoid homework or school related activities (studying, reading text books, etc)
- Avoid checking or answering emails
- Avoid computers, phones and other stimulating electronics
- Avoid television or movies (especially stimulating ones)
- If television is to be watched, make sure to watch it outside of your bed and perform some of the recommended calming activities afterwards
- Avoid loud music
- Avoid heavy conversations or arguments
- Avoid exercise (a gentle walk is alright)
- Avoid eating
- Avoid drinking too much fluids
- Avoid sleeping on the couch
So keeping these in mind, here are some soothing practices to begin to include at this time. As with all Ayurvedic treatment programs, consistency is essential. Therefore only doing this once and a while will not show you the effective and long-lasting benefits that you most likely desire. Of course this is a long-list with many examples, so it is not intended for you to do everything, every night. Rather it is best to choose what is most needed on any given evening and performing 1-3 of these recommendations as needed.
Ayurvedic Nighttime Routine for Healthy Sleep:
- Finish a light dinner by 7pm; avoid all food after
- Begin the wind-down phase by 8pm (or earlier)
- Be in bed by 9-930pm, asleep by 10pm
1. Oil the feet before bed.
This is a simple, yet effective ritual that you will not want to go without! Taking a few minutes to massage each foot before bed is a great way to bring the energy downwards, calm the mind and release tension from the body. As an added bonus, it even distally works to encourage hair growth and prevent hair loss.
Directions: This is best done either directly before bed or before the restorative Yoga if applicable. Ideally one should use a calming massage oil such as Vata Oil, as the infused herbs are absorbed into the soles of the feet making this ritual much more potent. Of course, if this is unavailable then a simple coconut oil is great for Pitta types, or a sesame oil for Vata and Kapha types.
Once you have your chosen oil, take a small amount and warm it slightly (optional, but recommended). Sitting in a comfortable, quiet and low lit space, apply a small nickel size amount to the right foot and massage each area thoroughly making sure to give a bit more attention to any areas of soreness. Once finished, place on an old sock to encourage absorption and avoid getting oil on the bed or floor. Repeat on the left foot. **The socks only need to stay on for about 10 minutes if you do not wish to sleep with them on.
2. Perform a full body oil massage.
The full body oil massage (aka Abhyanga) is a bit more time consuming and effortful, but the calming effects that come with this ritual are well worth it! The skin is said to be the gateway to the nervous system. Therefore applying a soothing oil massage with a calming medicated oil acts directly upon the nervous system which is often imbalanced in sleep disorders. Since this method is more timely, it is recommended to perform this at least once a week and perform recommendation #1 (see above) on the “off-nights”. Of course if you are suffering from a severe or chronic sleep disorder, it is recommended to perform the oil massage 3-7 nights a week, especially in the beginning stages of healing.
3. Take a warm ginger and baking soda bath.
The ginger and baking soda bath is a common Ayurvedic remedy that possesses many healing benefits. In this context, it is mainly recommended for its ability to calm the body, activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System (also called the rest and digest system), slow down the heart rate, alleviate anxiety, quiet a restless mind, relieve stress and encourage a sleepy state.
Directions: Begin to fill the bathtub with hot to warm water. Once the tub is filled about halfway, add in 1/3 cup of dry ginger and 1/3 cup of baking soda. Mix the ingredient until they are thoroughly dissolved. Soak in the tub for at least 15 minutes or as long as needed.
For additional benefits:
- Add in some calming essential oils such as lavender, rosemary, rose and/or tulsi
- Play some calming music (I often use the “healing sounds” category on Pandora)
- Turn off the lights and use some soothing candle light instead
4. Go for a peaceful walk.
Sometimes all you need to release some stress is to get some fresh air and gentle movement with a calming evening walk. If you do this after dinner, it also helps to digest the dinner meal increasing the health benefits even further. This can be done by yourself, with a friend or with a loved one. Just keep in mind to avoid electronics such as your phone and avoid heavy or excessive conversation.
Whether you are alone or with a friend, it is essential that you take some time to listen to the noises around you, inhale the fresh air, take in your surroundings and above all be present! Make this your walking meditation, allowing time for processing any disturbances throughout the day, however, avoid dwelling on anything in particular. Even if you only get a 10 minute walk in 2-3 nights a week, this is a great start!
5. Drink some calming herbal tea.
Creating a nighttime ritual to sip on a soothing cup of herbal tea is a great way to induce the sleepy state in the body and mind. Not only will the herbs be effective for calming the overall energy, but overtime (if done consistently) the very process of taking in this tea will spark a remembrance in the brain telling yourself that it is time for sleep.
Directions: Each night about 1 hour before the desired sleep time, make a cup of your favorite calming herbal tea blend. This is not recommended directly before bed however, as this could cause an overactive bladder during the night. For more severe sleeping issues, try making a stronger infusion by starting with three cups of water and boiling it down to one cup on a low heat and slightly covered (this requires planning ahead since it will take longer to prepare). Once the tea has cooled, add a tiny amount of honey if needed, although sugar can cause energy spikes so this should be avoided by anyone that may be sensitive to sugar.
6. Perform some restorative Yoga postures.
Now we come to my favorite of the bunch, restorative Yoga. This is nice, as it can be done in the privacy of your bedroom, needing very little props except for some pillows and blankets. There are a handful of grounding postures to choose from, allowing you to only do the poses that you need on any given night. I will be sharing a restorative nighttime routine in the future (stay tuned!), but for now, here are my three essential Yoga poses for a calming nighttime routine:
- Supported Supta Badhakonasana (reclined butterfly pose)
- Supported forward fold
- Legs up the wall
**If time is short, just performing “legs up the wall” is a great compromise and still holds an exceptional amount of healing, calming benefits!
7. Perform a short meditation.
A short meditation is an excellent way to end the evening, as it is quieting to the mind and calming to the nervous system. It also is a great way to process through the days stress allowing you to release the unnecessary tension before bedtime. This can be done in a comfortable seated position, or even better for the nighttime is to perform the meditation in Shavasana (corpse pose). I would aim for a minimum of 10 minutes, although anything is always better than nothing. Since this should get you pretty drowsy, it is best to make this the last thing you do for the evening.
**If you are new to meditation, try finding a guided mediation cd or youtube video to follow until you feel comfortable doing it on your own.
8. Take 10 deep belly breaths.
This is not only a simple and concise practice, it can even be performed in the comfort of your own bed. Whether you chose to do this in a seated position, Shavasana (corpse pose), or in your bed, take just a few moments to quiet the mind and bring the attention to the breath. Take a long, slow and steady inhale through the nose, bringing it all the way down to the lower abdomen. Take a short natural pause, and then bring the exhale up and out the nose. To make sure the inhale and the exhale are both elongated and equal in length, it is further recommended to internally count to five for the inhale and again on the exhale. Perform at least 10 breaths (or as many as needed). If you are able, it is recommended to follow this with the short mediation recommended above.
**This breathing practice can also be performed if you wake up in the middle of the night and have a hard time falling back to sleep.
9. Discover your Mantra.
A mantra is a short group of words repeated internally or out loud in order to quiet the mind, increase concentration and bring positive energy to the practitioner. It is considered a powerful tool for healing the subtle body and the nervous system.
In hinduism it is typical to use short prayers written in Sanskrit such as “Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha”. If this resonates with you I definitely recommended finding one that is meaningful to your needs; however, this mantra can also be a simple english saying as well if preferred (see examples below).
No matter what you choose, you can take some time each night to repeat your mantra 108 times using a mala (buddhist-hindu rosary), or simply just perform this for a set amount of minutes. Once again this can be done in a nice seated position (recommended if chanting the mantra out load), in Shavasana (corpse pose) or in bed.
Simple Mantras for Sleep (in Sanskrit and English):
- Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha
- Om Nama Shivaya
- Om Agasthi Shahina
- Sa Ta Na Ma
- So Ham (pronounced So Hum); inhale So, exhale Ham
- Aum (OM)
- I am peace
- I welcome in stillness
- I am tired, I will sleep
- May all beings be happy and healthy
- I inhale peace, I exhale stress
- I am not my anxiety, I am not my fear
- My mind is quiet, my heart is still
9. Read a pleasant book.
What better way to end the night then by cozying up to a nice book. Of course it is important to choose a light, fluffy type of book while avoiding ones that require much thinking such as text books or informational writings. If you’re like me, you may not get too far into the reading, but it is a really nice way to calm excessive mind chatter and focus the energy on some fictional fun. I further recommended avoiding bright lights, so a small book light will be extremely helpful. **Since computer lights often stimulate the mind, it is not recommended to read books from the computer at this time.
10. Take an herbal sleep aid.
Herbal sleep aids are great compliments to these other recommendations given. This means that although they may have a slight effect on their own, they are much more potent when used simultaneously with some calming nighttime practices. Here is a short list of some simple, non-habit forming and effective sleep aids that you can utilize for a peaceful night’s rest.
Ayurvedic Sleep Aids:
- Sleep Easy Tincture
- Sleep Easy Syrup
- Warm milk with Ashwagandha and Nutmeg
- Shankapushpi, Tagar, and Ashwagandha (taken in hot water)
- Majja Ghrita