Dear Ask Ayurveda:
“I am writing today to ask for advice on an issue that seems to be getting worse and worse by the week. I have never been a morning person, but for the last 2 months or so I feel like I can hardly get out of bed each morning. No matter how long I sleep for, I have to lay in bed for at least 30 minutes before I can even think about getting up to get ready for work. After I slowly make my way out of bed, I then drag on for the next 3-4 hours before my mind finally gets a little more clear and my energy becomes “normal”. Even my morning coffee doesn’t seem to make much of a difference anymore. When my energy gets better by mid-day or so, I never really feel quite as energized as I had before this shift happened 2 months ago. Being in the Pacific Northwest, this is usually the best time of year for my energy levels since the sun is out more and it is a bit warmer. Unfortunately, this is not the case this year.
I have thought about it, but I cannot pinpoint any reason for these changes. My morning appetite is pretty much non-existent, which also began around the same time and is extremely unusual for me. My work has been pretty stressful lately which has led to me eating more sugary and junky foods, but otherwise, my day to day life is about the same. I did go through a pretty big move three months ago, although this was more of a positive change for me and my family (I am married with three kids, ages 3-8). I am hoping you may have some explanation for these issues and also some ways to remedy them naturally. Thank you for your time!” Sleepy in Seattle
Dear Sleepy in Seattle:
Thank you for writing in with your story. I was excited to get this question, since this is a very real problem for many of my clients and people I talk to. I am also excited because there are many simple changes you can make in your daily (and nightly) routine that should help to alleviate this morning lethargy you are experiencing.
Although I would need to hear more detailed information in order to really determine the reasons for this sudden shift in your energy levels, there are some common reasons for this issue. The main ones that I am seeing in your description seem to be:
- More stress at work
- Recent poor food choices
- Major life change (moving)
Any stress that is relatively chronic can lead to exhaustion and depletion, both mentally and physically. The fact that it is also leading you to eat foods that have high sugar content and are more “junky” than usual will only feed this fire even further. Finally, although the energy change seemed to occur after the move was over, this is a very likely cause to your morning lethargy since major life changes (even good ones) are still extremely stressful on the body and mind, especially when you are making this big move with three little ones. The fact that it happened after the move shows that your body was probably running on adrenaline (the fight or flight hormone) for most of this time of moving and then getting settled. Once the settling happened, the adrenaline decreased and you are now reaping the exhaustion that was actually occurring for many months now. If this theory is correct, then there is also a pretty good chance you are experiencing adrenal fatigue, as trouble getting out of bed in the morning is a very common symptom of this condition.
In case your morning fatigue is stemming from other areas, I will also list out some common causes of low energy upon awakening and trouble getting out of bed each morning. According to Ayurveda, the first line of action for any treatment is to get rid of the cause. So if any of these other common causes seem a bit too familiar for you, then it will be essential to address them as well.
Common Causes of Morning Fatigue
- Adrenal fatigue
- Chronic stress
- Poor diet
- Weak or sluggish digestive fire (Agni)
- Overload of toxins in the system
- Kapha imbalance
- Vata imbalance
- Eating too late at night
- Eating directly before laying down
- Staying up too late at night (even if the total hours of sleep is enough)
- Chronic exhaustion (typically due to chronic stress, excessive work, etc)
- Major life changes (death, break-up, divorce, move, etc)
- Malabsorption, nutrient deficiency
- Excessive caffeine intake or taking caffeine too late at night
Once you determine the cause(s), then you can begin to choose the best treatment options for you and your unique needs. Of course if you would like to go over this together during a consultation, I would be happy to set you up with a more specific diet and lifestyle recommendations for you. Until then, here is a general list of some Ayurvedic remedies for sluggishness in the morning.
Ayurvedic Remedies for Morning Sleepiness
1. Create a healthy morning routine.
The morning routine in Ayurveda (known as Dinacharya) is essential for every-body, and when done regularly, will be of much benefit for morning fatigue. Everyone may have different activities and self-care practices that they resonate with more, but here is a list of some that would be beneficial for those who are having a hard time getting going in the morning:
- Scrape the tongue upon awakening (read more details here).
- Splash very cold water into the eyes (yes, keeping them open) upon awakening. This really works!
- Drink 8-16 ounces of hot lemon water, before any other food or drink (read more details here).
- Ideally you should have a bowel movement each morning (this shows a healthy digestion and will leave the body more light and energized).
- Vigorous oil massage (known as abhyanga). Unlike the nighttime oil massage, if you choose to perform this in the morning, this should be done with faster movements, moving from feet to head to bring the energy upwards and get the blood flowing.
- Take a 15 minute walk after breakfast. This will increase the digestion after food, encourage movement in the body and provide you with fresh oxygen.
- Morning Yoga routine (see #5).
- Morning Meditation.
2. Avoid all food after 6pm at night.
There is not much worse things for your morning energy levels (and overall health) than to eat food late at night. When you are showing signs of sluggishness in the morning and no appetite upon awakening, this food rule becomes even more important to follow each and every night. This means to finish dinner by 6pm (or as close to it as possible) and avoid any snacking after. This may take some training for your appetite and your mind, but once this habit becomes habitual, you won’t even feel like eating late at night (I know from experience!).
3. Increase the digestion.
Sluggishness in the morning and a dull appetite upon awaking are both signs of a slow digestive fire. On the other hand, one with a robust digestion with feel refreshed upon awakening and have steady energy through the day. Therefore if we can increase the digestion (Agni) then the energy should return in the mornings and remain consistent throughout the day. Some simple tips to increase digestion is to take a digestive appetizer before each meal such as the Kapha Honey Infusion, drink a digestive enhancing tea between meals such as Tulsi; Turmeric and Ginger Tea or our Healthy Digestion Tea blend; eat a light dinner by 6pm each night (avoiding heavier foods such as meat, dairy, sugar, heavy starches and gluten at this time); and avoid snacking between meals.
4. Sleep at proper times.
When it comes to a healthy, restful, rejuvenating sleep it is not always just the amount of hours you sleep that is important. Instead, WHEN we sleep is equally as vital for our mood, energy and overall health. Science has determined that the most nourishing hours to be sleeping are from 10pm-2am. Therefore, anyone that is having a hard time getting up in the morning would benefit greatly from being in bed and asleep by 10pm each night. Going to bed earlier will also help reduce late night munchies and that second wind that typically occurs around 10-11pm.
But wait! Going to bed early is one thing, but also making it a habit to wake up early will (eventually) create a more energized morning too. This will give you plenty of time for accomplishing your morning routine and having a nourishing breakfast as well. Depending on your dosha type, it is said that one should wake up between 5:30am (sorry Kapha types) and 7am. If you do not know your doshic type, then simply awakening with the sun is also a good practice to getting back into a natural rhythm.
5. Create a morning Yoga routine.
The best time to practice Yoga is in the morning (between 5-7am), before breakfast and yes, before coffee. Yoga is an amazing way to energize the body and mind in a balanced, sustainable way. It also helps to reduce stiffness, boost digestion and increase circulation. If you do not have an established Yoga practice, something simple such as performing 3-7 sun salutations is a great option. Otherwise choose a handful of poses that you enjoy working with and slowly move through each one. In order to sharpen the mind and increase the energy however, it is important to utilize postures that require some movement and are not held for too long. For example, restorative postures such as supta badhakonasana and shavasana (corpse pose) should be avoided for the most part in the mornings.
6. Get at least 30 minutes of exercise daily.
No matter if you are skinny, overweight or anywhere in between, we all need exercise each and every day. Ayurveda recommends to get at least 30 minutes of intentional movement in whether it is walking, mild cardio, swimming, hiking, biking, dancing, or whatever resonates with you. Exercising regularly will help to increase overall energy, promote healthy digestion and elimination, boost the mood, help you sleep more sound-fully and wake-up each morning refreshed and ready to go! Avoid exercising late at night however, as this can be too stimulating and leave you to having disrupted sleep.
7. Reduce overall stress.
Chronic stress is by far one of the leading causes of morning sluggishness, and overall exhaustion. Even if you cannot change the stressful job you are working (or at least not immediately), you can still perform simple stress relieving practices each day to help reduce your stress load. This way you will be processing through your daily stressors instead of letting them consume you. Of course there are many different stress-relieving techniques you can utilize, but it really depends on what works for you and what you can realistically fit into your schedule. Here is a non-exhaustive list of some stress-relieving activities:
- Restorative Yoga
- Alternate nostril breathing (aka Nadi Shodhana)
- Self-oil massage (Abhyanga)
- Being out in nature
- Talking to a therapist, mentor or loved one
- Ginger-baking soda baths
- Sauna or steam room
- Reducing your workload
- Spending more time with loved ones
- Making time for recreation and hobbies each week
- Doing something nice for your Self each day
8. Remove unhealthy foods from the diet.
It is no surprise that one factor that occurred during the time your energy shifted was the intake of more “sugary and junky foods”. Our energy levels are often directly correlated with our diet, and therefore the healthier the diet, the higher the energy will be. Further if you are consuming foods that are not being digested properly by your system, this can lead to sluggish digestion, slow metabolism, general heaviness, toxic build-up and sleepy mornings. The common culprits are dairy, gluten, wheat, grains, sugar, soy, corn, etc; but this list can also include processed foods with preservative, dyes and additives.
If you are serious about wanting to feel more refreshed in the mornings and throughout the day, then the diet must be examined. Once you determine the foods that should be eliminated, then you can begin to replace them with healthier food choices such as fresh fruits, colorful veggies and whole foods.
9. Avoid caffeine.
Although the caffeine creates initial energy in the system, it is far from natural and is very temporary. Caffeine is also known to overtax the adrenals, and since morning fatigue is a common sign of adrenal fatigue, this is all the more reason to cut out this tri-doshically disruptive substance. Taking in coffee on a regular basis will often overstimulate the nervous system and inhibit you from falling into a deep, restorative sleep at night. Of course initially you may feel more sluggish due to any withdrawal symptoms, but in the long run, your energy levels should increase to a normal range and beyond.
10. Create a healthy nighttime routine.
Just as it is essential to begin our day on a fresh and balanced note, it is equally as vital to end this way as well. A nighttime routine can consistent of several factors including restorative practices to include, as well as stimulating practices to avoid. If you plan to be asleep by 10pm, it will be needed to begin your nighttime routine by 8:30 or 9pm. This will help you wind-down for the night, while releasing any stress or tension that has built-up throughout the day. This in turn will create a deeper, more nourishing sleep, allowing you to awaken refreshed and anew each morning.
Restorative Nighttime Practices to Include:
- Restorative Yoga postures such as supta badhakonasana and legs up the wall
- Soothing self-oil massage with Vata Massage Oil
- Ginger-baking soda bath
- Foot soak with ginger-bath blend
- Foot massage with Vata Massage Oil
- Reading (something light)
Activities to Avoid at Night:
- Electronics including phone, computer and television
- Intense conversations and arguments
- Conversations or activities related to work
- Loud music
So Sleepy in Seattle, here are quite a bit of options for you to begin to utilize in your daily routine. Of course the more you are able to do, the more powerful and noticeable the effects will be. However, it is never recommended to make a ton of changes all at once, so it would be best for you to choose a few recommendations to begin with and slowly add more in over the next couple of weeks. A custom blended herbal formula and/or an Ayurvedic cleanse could be extremely helpful for morning fatigue, although I would prefer to speak with you directly if this is something that you would like to incorporate.
In the meantime, do your best to work on some of these changes to reduce stress, make better dietary choices, boost the digestion and create a healthy daily routine. You will be amazed at the differences these changes can make! In fact, you may end up feeling even better than before the morning fatigue came on! Keep me updated with your progress and contact me anytime with questions. Many blessing to you as you welcome these positive changes into your life!!