In Ayurvedic medicine, insomnia or sleep disorders can arise from lack of sleep and due to sleep disturbances or broken sleep. And of course, when either of these happens, it leads to multiple complications.
Sleep disorders and poor mental health are closely related. Lack of sleep often makes menopausal women and others struggling from insomnia confused, frustrated, prone to anxiety and depression.
Ayurvedic physicians and gurus were well aware of these cause and effects. And hence, they prescribed daily and seasonal regimens to get hold of this primary pillar of health – “Sleep”.
And in this post, we will delve into all of that.
So, whether you are struggling to sleep or have lost sleep; we will put our best to catch it. And let you sleep better. Let’s dive in!
You can also download our guide to sleep better here.
Sleep Disorders and Insomnia in Ayurveda
In Ayurveda, Nidra (sleep) is considered as one of the three pillars of life! It is essential for the perception of joy, proper physical growth, nourishment, immunity, fertility, memory and retention of knowledge, and long life. However, excess sleep is also considered to be a disorder in Ayurveda.
Sleep should ideally be good in quality and just right duration (6-8 hours for adults) and at the right time (in the night) for it to have a positive effect on an individual’s health.
Now, let’s look into sleep disorders and types of insomnia per Ayurveda:
1. Anidratha (Lack of sleep)
Anidratha ultimately leads to a disturbance in the Vata dosha. Insomnia can also be linked to an imbalance in the vata dosha, as individuals with the vata as their dominant dosha generally sleep less.
By extension, if vata gets aggravated, then there is a good chance of getting sleep disorders.
This is probably the most common type of sleep disturbance. In fact, anidra can be translated to mean insomnia. It is characterized by difficulty falling asleep.
If the patient eventually falls asleep, there is still difficulty staying asleep. It is more prevalent among women and older people, though it can affect anybody. Insomnia can be classified based on different factors:
Acute Insomnia: only lasts for a short time, and the symptoms are only transient.
Chronic Insomnia: The symptoms don’t just go away, and can remain for months or years.
- Primary Insomnia: This type is caused by itself, and there are no underlying medical or health conditions to it. It could either by due to stress of a loss, changing shifts at a job, or even jet lag.
- Secondary Insomnia: This is caused by underlying health conditions, and it can only be cured by first taking care of the underlying conditions.
Ranging from mild (where it causes just tiredness), to moderate, to severe (where it has significant impact on quality of life).
2. Atinidratha or Hypersomnia
In hypersomnia, there is excessive sleepiness. It is so bad that the individual feels sleepy even during the day. This is dangerous because the patient could fall asleep while driving!
3. Alpanidratha (Broken sleep or Sleep Disturbances)
A person suffering from Alpanidratha is at increased risk of having the pitta fire grow overboard. Also, if one is struggling with Pitta Imbalance, they will struggle with broken sleep or struggle to fall asleep in the first place.
Central Sleep Apnea
Central sleep apnea is a breathing disorder that causes your body to decrease or stop the effort of breathing during sleep. This occurs in an off-and-on cycle.
It is usually a result of a problem in the functioning of brain or heart. It is different from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) because the problem is not caused by a blockage of the airway.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea happens when there is either complete or partial collapse of the upper airway during sleep. This makes it hard to breathe, and can be very disruptive to a full night’s sleep.
It can happen in adults or children, although it is more common in elderly. Obstructive sleep is often compared to breathing through a straw or narrow pipe.
When you go through this while you are awake, you can make conscious changes in your breathing rate. However, when you are sleeping, you can’t really make out that sufficient air is not going in. Hence, it often results into dangerous situation, where a person chokes up or wakes up.
Who is at risk of insomnia?
- Taking caffeine in excess or closer to your sleeping hours
- Excessive alcoholic beverages or depending on alcohol to fall asleep
- Certain medications
- Hormone Imbalances in women, particularly during pregnancy or during menopause.
- A genetic predisposition to insomnia
- Experiencing significant life events involving big changes
- Excessive travel
If you’re suffering from insomnia, you might be in danger of a lot of Health Complications
Loss of sleep leads severely affects the health of a person. Repercussions of insomnia can range from short term daily effects to debilitating effects on health and quality of life in the long run.
1. The brain is severely affected
In the daily activities, there is a build up of toxins in the brain. During sleep, the brain takes care of this by ‘flushing out the toxins.’ However, if a person does not get sufficient sleep, the toxins remain.
These toxins hamper the effective functioning of the brain, and can compress the brain. Eventually, it leads to decreased concentration, memory loss, low reaction time.
There’s also an increased risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease.
2. The eyes become bloodshot
Eyelids begin to droop and dark circles show up under they eyes.
3. Fine lines and wrinkles appear on the skin
The skin loses water and becomes less elastic. Your skin begins to wrinkle. Sleep deprivation accelerates aging.
4. There’s increased appetite but a decreased metabolism
This leads to build up of calories and fats, since more is taken in than is needed and less is broken down. Insomnia, or sleep deprivation, also messes up the hunger and satiation hormones, ghrelin and leptin.
You must have felt severely hungry sometime in the middle of the night when you kept a late night before.
5. It reduces the efficiency of the immune system
and leaves you more vulnerable to attacks by foreign substances in your system. Learn how to boost your immune system with Ayurveda.
6. Being awake is catabolic (it breaks you down), while sleep is anabolic (it builds your body tissues)
because in sleep, tissues are built up and repaired, revitalizing you for another day. Losing sleep robs you of this chance, and you get broken a little more everyday, and eventually, have a shorter lifespan.
7. Lack of sleep has been linked to obesity
8. Poor memory and brain damage
With insomnia, you begin to forget things often. It has been confirmed that even one night of sleep deprivation leads to a loss of brain tissues.
9. Fatty Liver and Diabetes
Sleep deprivation affects liver health and fat metabolism. It has been studied that merely 6 hours of sleep loss in a day can significantly increase your chances of getting Diabetes and Fatty liver disease.
Ayurveda suggests the same. Sleep is an essential pillar to health and balance in Ayurveda. And there are ample of guidelines to maintain sleep hygeine.
If you have insomnia, this is how you can know
Insomnia could be diagnosed by a doctor, but it can also be self-diagnosed, being a fairly common condition. The symptoms that are commonly presented in cases of insomnia are:
- Grogginess and drowsiness during the day.
- Feeling physically and mentally unwell.
- Anxiety and mood disorders.
- Poor concentration and focus.
- Worry about sleeping.
- Difficulty studying, working or socializing.
- Tension headaches.
These all link up, because when you do not have enough sleep during the night, it makes sense that it should come to hunt you during the day.
Due to the drowsiness, you feel confused and are unable to make better decisions or process information. In the end, your constant slip offs become frustrating, and you feel like something is really wrong.
Sometimes, all you need is just a good sleep in the night. But this is easier said than done for insomniacs, and that is why Medhya Herbals is here to help you.
Why over the counter sleeping pills don’t work and you should avoid them?
Sleeping pills give a temporary relief for one night, and then they have to be taken the next time again. Eventually, your body gets adapted to them.
Sleeping pills are addictive, and they are not an effective cure for insomnia. In any case, you might want to avoid them because:
- They are addictive, as stated, and make you dependent on them.
- They suppress breathing, making the breathing shallower. This is a problem for people who already have respiratory disorders like asthma.
- They disturb the body’s balance mechanism. People who take sleeping pills are five times more likely to fall.
- Increased risk of cancer.
- Weight gain, to mention but a few.
Ayurvedic Natural Remedies for Good Quality Sleep
In the long run, there’s no facet of your life that is not affected by the quality of sleep that you get. And you read that right, quality of sleep, and not quantity of sleep.
If you’ve been having trouble sleeping, then following Ayurvedic remedies can assist you to get this essential part of life:
1. Pranayama (Breathing Exercises) to Calm Down and Sleep Fast
Practice relaxation techniques such as meditation and pranayama at bedtime. Pranayama is a set of breathing exercises that relax the body, slow the heart rate and calm the mind.
This will help to calm your mind down and help to wind off a busy day. De-stressing helps balance up hormones and other metabolic activities in the body that might disturb your sleep.
Here are the pranayama that you can practice before bed to prevent sleep problems:
- Anuloma-Viloma Pranayama or Alternate Nostril Breathing Exercise
- Brahmari Pranayama or Humming Bee Breath
- Deep Breathing through Belly or Yogic Breathing exercise
2. Adaptogens for good sleep and to prevent Insomnia
Adaptogens are class of Ayurvedic herbs that build our body’s threshold to physical and mental stress. They support nervous system, proper metabolism, and functioning of the hormones (when taken in the right way).
In fact, Adaptogens have a significant influence on our stress hormones and our body’s response to stress. They can alter the physiological changes due to emotional or physical stress that we go through on day-to-day basis.
Here are some ways in which you can include adaptogens in your day to fight insomnia:
- 1/4 tsp of Ashwangadha powder and 1/4 tsp Brahmi (Bacopa Monnieri) powder mixed with 1 tsp sugar candy (Mishri) taken about 1 hour before bedtime is helpful. Alternatively, it can be taken as a tea. Boil both the powders in 1 cup water, strain, and sip as a tea.
- 1/4 tsp of Ashwangadha powder and 1/4 tsp Shatavari powder mixed (optional) with optional 1 tsp sugar candy (Mishri). This is especially useful for women going through Menopause symptoms.
- Boil 1/4 tsp Ashwagandha powder and few leaves of Tulsi along with 1/4 tsp Sunth (dry ginger) in cow’s milk. Take it 30 mins before bed-time. This is useful for those struggling with high Kapha (mucus).
Make sure that you consult an Ayurvedic physician to take adaptogens. Although, they are beneficial for most of the cases. However, your dosage of Adaptogens should be such that there are no interactions with your current medications or your health condition.
3. Warm Milk with Dry Ginger (Sunth) and Nutmeg
Drink a warm glass of fresh cow milk about 30 mins before you sleep. Calcium and Magnesium in milk help in generation of sleep hormone.
Do keep a gap of at least 1 hour between dinner and milk. This means having early dinner.
A warm glass of milk made by boiling 1/2 tsp of nutmeg powder and 1/2 tsp dry ginger powder makes for a highly effective Ayurvedic sleep remedy. Here’s how dry ginger and nutmeg are helpful:
- Both dry ginger and nutmeg help to releases tryptophan, a brain chemical that induces a natural drowsy state.
- Ginger helps to boost Serotonin (relaxation hormone) and nutmeg turns serotonin into sleep hormone melatonin
- They are rich source of Magnesium, which is a natural tranquilizer
- Nutmeg contains trimyristin, which helps to induce sleep. It also relaxes tired muscles, nerves and creates a sense of deep relaxation.
4. Lifestyle Habits you should adopt or drop to sleep better
- You should exercise regularly, but don’t perform any exercise after four to five hours to your bed time. This only raises stress levels and makes your body too excited to sleep.
- Get more sunlight during the day. Melatonin, the sleep signaling hormone, needs the sunlight to help you regulate your circadian rhythm(sleep-wake cycle).
- Turn off all screens at about ninety minutes before bedtime. The blue light from the screen fools your body into thinking it is still day, and keeps you awake, even though you’re tired. If you must do some important, late night work very quickly, then use blue light filters.
- Perform relaxing activities that can ease you into sleep, such as reading a book (an actual paper book, not on the screen).
5. Replace Caffeine with Herbal Teas
Caffeine is a stimulant and it is addictive. Intake of caffeine keeps your body active even when your brain and other systems are fagged out. Don’t take caffeine towards bedtime.
It takes a lot of time to clear out of your blood stream. If you take a big cup of caffeine around 6 am, it will still remain about half of it in your bloodstream at bedtime. If you have insomnia particularly, you want to avoid this.
Replace caffeine with herbal teas such as blue pea flower, nutmeg, rosemary, lavender, lemon grass, or ginger tea. These herbal teas will support your health, relax your nervous system, and help you sleep better.
6. Time of Sleep should be right!
The optimal time for good sleep is between 10 pm and 2 am. Hence, you should always try to be in the bed before 10 PM. This is also the time when your body naturally produces Melatonin (the sleep hormone) at its maximum efficiency.
If your prolong your time to bed by spending time on other activities or in front of the screen, it really pushes away the natural wave of your body’s rhythms. Sleeping after 10 PM makes you prone to tendencies from Pitta Dosha, which becomes active then. You tend to be hungry rather than sleepy.
This is actually fake hunger, which is caused by the untimely flow of hormones.
7. Massage or Abhyanga before you sleep
Daily body massage and head massage improves circulation and relaxation of the nervous system. It is called Abhyanga in Ayurveda. Abhyanga reduces fatigue, ensures satisfaction, leads to strength and sound sleep.
The whole body, specifically the head and feet, should be regularly massaged with sesame oil (to prevent sleeplessness) or with coconut oil (to prevent broken sleep or waking up in the middle of the night).
8. Your diet to prevent insomnia
As we saw earlier that insominia is primarily triggered by Vata Imbalance. Hence, you should introduce Vata balancing diet to improve your sleep quality.
Go for warm and easy to digest foods such as soups, porridge, gruel, or lightly steamed but cooked foods. These will help to balance the Vata dosha and tremendously improve your sleep quality.
Take a lot of healthy grains, plenty of fruits, vegetables and lean meats (in moderation).
9. Eat right for dinner
Your dinner shouldn’t be too light, not too heavy, but preferably something light.
If you take very heavy meals for dinner or take late night snacks; your digestive system will suck up all the energy to assimilate the food that you took in.
This removes your body’s focus from natural detoxification that should have been taking place at this time. Hence, you end up missing on the beauty part of the sleep.
So, get an early and light dinner for a clear and gorgeous skin. This rule also applies for a healthy brain behind the beautiful skin.
Day One or One Day…You Decide! These Ayurvedic remedies to fight insomnia will work well for you if you stick to them and follow consistently.
Don’t rush it though! Take baby steps…and start with one thing at a time. Give yourself and your body time to adjust to the change that you are bringing in. Once, you are cool with the new thing, move on to the next step.
Now we would like to hear from you. Have you tried any of the above Ayurvedic remedies to address your sleep disorders? What worked for you and what was your experience? Do let me know in the comments below.
Or if you have any queries. Ping me here and I’ll get back the soonest. Wishing you vibrant health!
- Losing just six hours of sleep could increase diabetes risk, study finds
- Insomnia and its Management- An Ayurvedic Overview
- Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief
- INSOMNIA (ANIDRA) AND AYURVEDA–A CRITICAL REVIEW: International Ayurvedic Medical Journal ISSN:2320 5091 | Patil Abhijeet B, Amod Kumar, Kumari Meena