Sleep (or Nidra in Sanskrit) plays a very important role in the mental and physical health of a healthy individual. The dosha which is mainly affected by insomnia is prana vayu, a sub-dosha of Vata which resides in the head, although an imbalance in each dosha can lead to insomnia. A lifestyle consultation can help to find what underlying causes may be and a plan of eating, exercise and therapies can be recommended. I’ve had some people, in consultation with their medical professional, decrease their sleep medication following an Ayurveda plan – a fabulous result.
Foods rich in tryptophan, magnesium, calcium, vitamin B and those that boost serotonin and melatonin levels, are the best foods for a lack of sleep or inability to get to sleep and stay asleep. Tryptophan, an essential amino acid and a precursor of serotonin helps in restoring sleep. Magnesium enhances secretion of melatonin from the pineal gland, prevents nervousness and induces sleep. Vitamin B12 prevents confusion, dementia and fatigue. Vitamin B5 helps in reducing stress and anxiety.
Ayurveda practice recommends eating some of the following foods an hour or so before bed – fruits like grapes can induce sleep, or you can soak 10 to 15 raisins in warm water for 4 to 5 hours. Consume the raisins along with the water (actually very yummy).
Foods also beneficial are kiwifruit, cherries, pumpkin seeds, tuna and oats. An oaty milky snack before bed with a drizzle of maple syrup can also be sleep enhancing.
Dried prunes and bananas high in magnesium can help and avocado also has been shown to regulate sleep due to its high levels of potassium and folate.
You could try a cup of warm frothed herbal milk. Milk helps to control melatonin production since it is a great source of calcium, a mineral that plays a role in the regulation of melatonin in the body. Milk is also rich in the amino acid tryptophan which has a calming effect on the body. Warm milk calms down Vata and Pitta dosha. It is also Ojas-increasing helping to balance any stress and depletion from the day. People with Kapha imbalances who are often chesty or phlegmy or those that don’t like milk could try chamomile tea.
Here is a delicious milky recipe for sleep:
This Ayurvedic Ojas Rasayana from Purusha Ayurveda can help ensure a deep and restorative sleep. The recipe makes about two servings and can be diluted with hot water if it is too thick for your liking.
- 10 almonds, soaked for 8 hours (or if you are like me and not organised enough – blanch them in boiling water for 1 min then drain and run them under cold water, then remove and discard their skins).
- 1 cup whole milk (milk of your choice)
- 2 tsp ghee
- 4-5 dates, preferably Medjool
- 8 black peppercorns
- 1/2 tsp of cardamom
- 1/2 tsp of cinnamon
- A pinch of cumin
- A pinch of turmeric
- A pinch of nutmeg
Liquefy all the ingredients in a blender until it reaches a smooth consistency then pour into a pot on the stove on medium heat and bring it to a very gentle boil. Stir and serve. Easy peasy.
The juice beverage prepared from tart cherries is beneficial in enhancing sleep in insomnia conditions. Tart cherries are also a natural source of melatonin and tryptophan.The anti-inflammatory properties of tart cherries are responsible for its mechanism of action in insomnia conditions. I hadn’t heard of this drink before I studied Ayurveda – you can get this drink from Cherryvite in NZ – it’s expensive but works out about $1.50 per day as you only have 30mls of the concentrate made up in a glass per day (also has other wonderful health benefits especially for gout – but that’s another newsletter!).
Massage warm sesame oil on the soles of the feet before bed. Wipe clean after 15 minutes or sleep with your feet covered with a pair of old socks (this is my go-to remedy – a tip given to me by my Ayurvedic Doctor Manasi.)
A shirodhara session or regular shirodhara sessions can help with improved sleep. This is where warm medicated herbal oils are poured continuously over the forehead and scalp. Studies show this therapy helps due due to the warm oil therapy slightly altering the fluid flow around the brain, kind of like a massage for the brain – see http://www.fusionayurveda.co.nz/therapies/ayurveda-therapy/
Easy to say, but hard to do …Shut down the television, news, emails and social media at least an hour before bed, all are Vata increasing. Vata is literally in the ether – the element of space which is associated with Vata. Vata is stimulating, moving, active and can manifest as anxiety and insomnia. Ground yourself before bed with reading a book, listening to music or performing some nadi shodhana, alternate nostril breathing.