Moving onto Part 5 of this series, we find ourselves looking more in depth into a sleep disorder that is caused by increased Pitta (fire) in the system. Although most sleep disorders have some component of a Vata imbalance related to them, this is not always the main dosha at hand. A pitta sleep disorder is often characterized by increased heat in the system, inflammation, anger, irritability, hyper-metabolism, low blood sugar, overworking and/or excessive critical thinking. Therefore in order to provide effective treatment to this type of sleep disorder, we must balance out the overactive fire in both the body and mind.
When treating any type of health issue, you must make sure to treat the individual and their specific symptoms and not just the disorder itself. Furthermore, it is vital to make sure the root cause of the disorder is discovered and then removed. If the cause continues to flourish, any treatment plan will merely pacify the symptoms, while the disorder itself continues to progress. If you are not sure of the root cause of your sleep disorder, then it may be best to eventually seek out a knowledgeable Ayurvedic practitioner in your area. In the meantime, you can begin to balance out your sleep issues using some general Ayurvedic protocols that I will share with you here. But before moving on, let us recap on what the common characteristics are in regards to a Pitta type sleep disorder.
A Pitta Sleep Disorder is typically accompanied by:
- Falling asleep easily, but waking up in the middle of the night with difficulty falling back asleep
- Thoughts of work and continuous problem solving keeping you awake
- Boost of energy (second wind) around 10pm
- Late night munchies around 10 pm; craving salty, sweet or spicy foods
- Heartburn or hyperacidity, keeping one awake
- Dreams of fire, anger, blood, fighting, arguing or working
- Disorder is increased by heat (meaning you cannot sleep if you are too hot)
- Disorder worsens in the summer season
- Once lack of sleep occurs, typical symptoms the following day include increased irritability, frustration, anger, large appetite, excessive sweating, temporal headache and heat
Ayurvedic Treatment for a Pitta Sleep Disorder
Overall Sleep Goals:
- Wind-down at 8pm (or earlier)
- In bed by 9:30pm, asleep by 10pm
- Sleep soundly, without disruption
- Awaken between 6 and 6:30am
- Feel refreshed, alert and ready for the day upon awakening
Our diet governs over all that we do and will play a key role in the treatment for any sleep disorder. Having a balanced and healthy diet that is appropriate for your body-type is essential for both our mental and physical health. Therefore a great place to start when treating a Pitta-type sleep disorder is to begin following the Pitta-dietary food rules. Here are the main ones to keep in mind:
1. Avoid hot, spicy and inflammatory foods; favor cooling options.
Pitta sleep disorders often are characterized by excessive heat and inflammation in the system. Therefore it will be essential to remove any foods that are hot, spicy or are known to cause inflammation while favoring foods that will instead cool down the body and soothe inflammation. Here is a list of some of the main heating foods to avoid and cooling foods to incorporate.
Pitta-Provoking Foods to Avoid:
- Nightshades (tomatoes, white potatoes, peppers, eggplant)
- Hot-spicy foods
- Excessive salty or sour foods
- Fatty, fried foods
- All trans-fats and partially hydrogenated fats; limit saturated fats (coconut oil is alright)
- Red meat
- Refined sugar
- Refined grains (aged white basmati rice is fine in moderation)
- Processed foods, preservatives and additives
- Citrus fruits (except lime)
- Fermented foods
Pitta-Reducing Foods to Favor:
- Coconut meat, coconut water, coconut milk and coconut oil
- Cilantro (try our Cilantro Juice Remedy!)
- Aloe juice
- Cooling spices such as: fresh ginger, fennel, coriander, turmeric, cardamom, parsley, cloves and mint
- Sweet, juicy fruits such as watermelon, dates, ripe mango, figs, coconut and avocado
- Almonds (soaked with skins removed) and almond milk
2. Eat on a consistent and healthy meal schedule; avoid skipping meals!
High Pitta often causes a sharp appetite, cranky hunger, hyper metabolism and low blood sugar. Therefore the meals should be kept at consistent and healthy times while always avoiding skipping meals. Here is a great chart to follow for the duration of the treatment (and beyond!). It may take a little getting used to and you may have to switch up your schedule a bit; just please remember that consistency is the key for restoring health and a proper sleep cycle.
- Breakfast: 6:30-730am
- Snack: Optional; 10am
- Lunch: 12-1pm
- Snack: Optional; 3pm
- Dinner: 6-7pm
***Healthy Pitta snack options are sweet, juicy fruits such as apples, pears, watermelon, pomegranate, grapes, dates and figs (always eat fruit by itself!); toast and ghee, avocado, coconut, a spoonful of unsalted, raw almond butter OR plain yogurt with maple syrup, vanilla and cardamom.
3. Eat a small, nourishing dinner before 7pm each night; avoid all food after 730pm.
The body should be at rest after 8pm and this includes the digestion. Eating too late at night is very disruptive to our sleep cycle and should be avoided always! Of course, we do not want to go to bed hungry either, so make sure to get a small, yet sustaining dinner in by 6-7pm each night with no snacking afterwards.
4. Remove processed, preserved and refined foods from the diet.
These foods are not only well known for causing digestive disfunction, but they are also extremely heating and inflammatory to the GI tract. These include: white sugar, white bread, white pasta and ANYTHING with artificial preservatives, colors and flavors. Our diet can be a huge supporter or destroyer in our path to health. If you are putting processed, unrecognizable food into your system, the digestion becomes weak, toxins begin to build and disease soon manifests. Making a change such as this will have an enormously positive impact on our sleep cycle, emotions, energy, and overall wellbeing.
6. Replace the above mentioned foods with whole grains and whole foods.
Hearty whole grains are great for Pitta’s powerful metabolism and intense hunger, as they keep one sustained and satisfied for many hours. The intake of whole foods encourages regular digestion and elimination, vital nutrients and a sense of nourishment and grounding.
7. Avoid cold, raw, rough and dry foods in the diet.
Raw food is generally not terrible for Pitta types, however, since the nature of a sleep disorder is kinetic (Air and Space), we really need to reduce the raw foods in order to pacify this excessive energy. This includes raw salads, frozen food, dry crackers, dry toast, cold cereal with milk, raw veggies and dried fruits (unless soaked).
8. Incorporate warm, well cooked meals in the diet.
Eating mostly warm, well-cooked meals is a great way to promote a sense of grounding and nourishment in the body, balance the blood sugar, and reduce the overactivity that often accompanies a sleep disorder. Some good examples include oatmeal, quinoa, rice dishes, sautéed veggies, soup, stews, casseroles and stir-fries. Remember to use lots of cooling oils and spices too!
It is not only what we are doing before bed that matters when dealing with a sleep disorder, rather it is the activities that we are performing throughout the entire day. One of the best treatments for a Vata or Pitta sleep disorder is to incorporate a healthy and consistent daily routine. Here are some detailed recommendations for a Pitta type of sleep disorder:
1. Drink a 16oz cup of warm water, first thing each morning.
This simple, yet powerful practice will awaken the vital organs and flush out the system each morning. It will also increase hydration and encourage a bowel movement. All of these factors will help to promote balance in the body and mind and in turn encourage proper sleep. **It is further recommended to sip on hot-warm water between meals as well, making sure to get in about 56-64oz of water daily.
2. Begin each day by sitting in a quiet space and taking 10-15 deep breaths into the belly.
Pitta types are known for their “go, go, go” mentalities. By practicing this simple breathing exercise each morning, you will be able to start the day by calming the mind, checking in with yourself, bringing awareness to the breath and establishing a sense of peacefulness. Overtime, this should also help to encourage deeper breathing throughout the entire day.
3. Reduce or eliminate caffeine (including caffeinated teas!).
Caffeine has a very penetrating effect on the nervous system and a negative effect on sleep disorders. If you are drinking over 1 cup of coffee or tea a day, it is best to cut the amount in half and continue to reduce each week until the caffeine is no longer needed. While implementing this weening process, it is also recommended to avoid all caffeine after 12pm and on an empty stomach. A helpful Ayurvedic remedy to balance the negative caffeine effects is to add a bit of cinnamon or cardamom to the coffee or tea (although the ultimate goal is still to ween off completely).
If you are only drinking 1 cup of tea or coffee daily as it is, then begin by implementing the above recommendations while reducing the 1 cup to a 1/2 cup. After this is accomplished, replace the caffeinated beverage with warm water or a tasty herbal tea that you enjoy.
**Please remember that chocolate is also caffeinated and should be taken in moderation and completely avoided after 2pm, despite any late night cravings.
4. Reduce or eliminate alcohol.
Alcohol not only is known to disrupt our sleep cycle (even in small amounts), but is extremely provoking to Pitta due to its heating and penetrating properties. Therefore, until balance has been found and the sleep issues have resolved long-term, it is strongly recommended to avoid alcohol 100%. Just as the caffeine however, this may be a process if you are taking in multiple cups each evening. Therefore, be realistic and set up weekly goals to help you ween off slowly, but steadily. Once you begin to see the positive benefits from this, it will help to encourage you to continue through!
5. Avoid stressful situations.
Pitta types are especially prone to stress, overwork, irritability and anger. Further, stress hormones are already high in individuals with a sleep disorder due to the internal imbalances that result. For both of these reasons, it is very important to avoid situations that raise the stress levels at work, home and everywhere in between. If we do find ourselves in a stressful situation, just remember to breath deep, take a step back and do not lose control of your emotions.
6. Take a walk at least 3-5 days each week.
Taking a walk is a nice way to clear the mind and take a break from your day. When done in the evenings, it is also beneficial for releasing any built-up stress that has accumulated. Find a time that works with your schedule and try to walk at the same time each day. Some recommended times include first thing in the morning, after lunch or after dinner. Keep pace mild, but try to walk for about 15-30 minutes altogether. Remember to be present, observe your surroundings and take in some full, fresh breathes of air!
NOTE: If it is summertime, avoid walking in the hot sun, mid-day. Being in the sun for extended amounts of time is never recommended for Pitta types and Pitta disorders!
7. Begin to take awareness of your emotional state throughout the day and night.
The health of our emotional state is almost always involved when it comes to sleep disorders. The first step in healing our emotional imbalances is to bring awareness to what they are and when they are coming up.
Take a look directly at the anger, irritability, criticism, anxiety, worry, fear or any other emotions that become excessive during this time. Take a step back when things get intense, and remember to take deep breaths. Process through the emotion by acknowledging it, asking yourself where it is coming from and asking yourself if it is needed. Journaling may help you to process through everything that comes up.
**With a sleeping disorder you are dealing with the nervous system, mind and emotions first hand, making this an essential practice in the healing process.
8. Incorporate a gentle or restorative Yoga class into your weekly routine.
Gentle yoga is an amazing tool for quieting the mind, calming the nervous system and reducing stress, all of which are common factors in many Pitta sleep disorders. Find a set class to go to, and make this a consistent weekly treat for yourself. If you have never tried yoga before, give it a shot! These classes are slow, simple and made for all body types and skill levels.
A healthy nighttime routine is another essential for treating any type of sleep disorder. Just as we begin the day with healing practices, we should end the day the same way. In order to quite the mind and encourage sleep, it is important to avoid stimulating activities and instead practice ones that calm the mind and release any stress and tension that we may be holding onto. Here are the best practices for the nighttime when dealing with a Pitta type of sleep disorder:
1. Turn off any stimulating devices after 7pm.
In Pitta sleep issues, there is often a component of overworking, over thinking, constant problem solving and not being able to turn the mind off. Therefore one of the best things you can do is to turn off all stimulating electronics after 7pm each night. This includes cell phones, computers, emails, loud music and television. Also avoid excessive talking or emotionally intense conversations at this time. Avoid any work relates activities (including talking about work) and books that stimulate the mind such as text books. Keep things light and simple. Remember, our goal is to be asleep by 10pm!
2. Massage the souls of the feet with warm oil each night before bed.
This traditional Ayurvedic nighttime practice is quick and simple, yet very effective. Massaging the feet with warm oil each night helps to ground the energy and reduce stress throughout the entire body. The best oil to use for Pitta is Pitta Massage Oil, Brahmi oil, ghee or just plain coconut oil. Add calming essential oils such as lavender, rose, lemongrass or chamomile if they are not already added.
3. Perform a whole body, self-oil massage at least once a week.
There is not much more direct treatment for nervous system disorders than the Ayurvedic oil massage. Using the same oils as mentioned in #2, perform a full body massage (abhyanga) 1-2 times each week. Begin the massage at the head and work your way down to the feet in order to bring the energy downwards for the evening. Leave the oil on overnight, but make sure to wear old pajamas to avoid staining and stretching. **For extreme sleep disorders, this should be a nightly practice for the beginning of the treatment process.
4. Incorporate a warm bath in your evening routine 1-2 days per week.
If a bath is available, try using epson salt, baking soda and a small pinch of ginger powder. For an added bonus, include some calming and cooling essential oils such as lavender, chamomile, rose or lemongrass. Make sure the water is not too hot however, as too much heat can provoke Pitta further. If a bath is not available, you can substitute with a quick sauna or steam, but only for about a 10 minute duration to avoid overheating.
5. Sit in meditation for 5-30 minutes each night before bed.
Meditation is a great tool for inducing sleep, alleviating stress, clearing the mind and healing the nervous system. Even if you can only sit for 5 minutes, make this a nightly habit to reset your nerves each night before bed. Bring the awareness to the breath as you breathe deep into the belly. Even if you have never meditated before, give it a shot. There is no wrong way to do it as long as you use awareness and the breath. If you prefer a guided mediation, you can find many soothing options on YouTube!
1. Drink Tulsi-Brahmi tea throughout the day.
By drinking Tulsi-Brahmi tea throughout the day, you will begin to soothe the mind and the nervous system while reducing your stress load. This will keep the cortisol levels lower in the evening, preparing you for a sound sleep. Tulsi is also great for boosting the immunity and balancing blood sugar while Brahmi is great for cooling Pitta, reducing irritability and keeping the mind alert.
2. Take 1/2 tsp of Tikta Ghrita (Bitter Ghee) in hot water each morning on an empty stomach.
This medicated ghee will help to cool down the excessive heat and inflammation in the body, cleanse the blood, balance the hormones, balance the digestion, and cleanse-strengthen the liver. Since a Pitta sleep disorder is often accompanied by these types of issues, treating the overall imbalances will also help ease one into a restful sleep by the nighttime (remember, everything is connected!).
3. Take 1/2 tsp of Triphala Churna each night before bed.
Triphala is a great herb to begin treatment with, as it pacifies all the doshas, rejuvenates the tissues on a cellular level, removes toxins from the GI tract and balances the digestion. This herbal regimen will help to build a solid foundation, increasing the effectiveness of the following treatments.
4. Take 1.5 tsp of Passionflower, Jatamamsi and Shankapushpi (1/2 tsp per herb) each night before bed.
This formula will calm the mind and soothe the nervous system directly each night before bed. Mix this formula in 1/2 cup of warm water, steep for 5 minutes but do not strain. Take this each night about 30 minutes before the desired bedtime (can be taken at the same time as the Triphala if desired).