Getting Better Sleep with Ayurveda

Summary: Simple Ayurvedic advice on achieving better sleep – for all mind-body types. Plus advice from Vastu and Modern Science for getting better sleep.

Ayurveda recognises that our natural sleep patterns are largely determined by our mind-body type. For example, a ‘pure’ Vata type will have a tendency towards light, interrupted sleep with the possibility of mild insomnia: ‘pure’ Pitta types usually sleep a moderate length of time (e.g. around 8 hours) but can wake up hot and thirsty: ‘pure’ Kapha types usually experience long and heavy sleep. However, whatever our body type, we can all benefit from the advice Ayurveda gives for getting a good night’s sleep.

    • Try to go to bed at the same time each day. Having a regular routine helps pacify the Vata element. An out of balance Vata can lead to insomnia.
    • Leave at least 2 to 3 hours between the end of a light dinner and going to sleep, so our food is properly digested before we rest. Going to sleep on a full stomach creates problems, not only for our sleep but also for our general health too.  According to Ayurveda, poorly digested food gives rise to toxins in our system which can then lead to disease.
    • Ayurveda suggests the ideal bedtime is around 10pm. The theory behind this  suggests that this time is towards the end of nature’s daily Kapha period. This period is conducive to rest, sleep and rejuvenation. If we leave it much later we get into nature’s daily Pitta period, which is not at all conducive to sleep. It means our natural tiredness goes away and we start to experience more energy, therefore keeping us awake.
    • Spend the evening after dinner in a reasonably restful way. A short walk (eg 10 to 15 minutes) is useful. Activities such as reading, listening to music or pleasant conversation are ideal. If we watch violent or frightening films Ayurveda tells us that we have to ‘digest’ them too! Even the news before bedtime can be disturbing.
    • Leave at least an hour before bedtime free from any focused activity, such as planning, looking at emails, social media, etc. The type of mental activity needed to process or respond is not conducive to sleep.
    • Although we shouldn’t have dinner within a few hours of going to bed, a drink of warm milk taken just before bedtime helps calm the mind and nourishes the body. We can add herbs to the milk to aid sleep – e.g.  a couple of strands of pure saffron. If we add a teaspoon of ghee it also helps with mild constipation. A pinch of ginger helps digest the milk too.
    • If we have serious sleep problems and visit an Ayurvedic practitioner they could recommend Ayurvedic herbs such as Gotu Kola, Brahmi, Shankhpushpi, Ashwagandha, Yashtimadhu, etc. They will also specify the correct dosage, possible side effects (although many have numerous ‘side benefits’), duration of time to continue taking them and monitor their effectiveness. Practitioners could also prescribe treatments designed to reduce Vata, such as those involving oils: Shirodhara (warm medicated oil poured slowly over the forehead), or Abhyanga (whole body oil massage).  Complete Ayurvedic detoxification programmes such as Panchakarma are also said to promote sound sleep.
    • We can also use aromatherapy oils in our bedroom provided they have the specific property of reducing Vata. There is a good article by the Chopra Institute on Vata reducing oils.
    • Getting a good night’s sleep is also dependent on our activities during the day and getting the right amount of physical exercise is important for sound sleep. What’s ‘right’ depends on our individual mind-body type. For example, Kapha types need far more physical exercise than do Vata types. Again, the Chopra Institute has information on the correct level of exercise for our particular dosha.
    • Learn to meditate! Almost everyone who learns to meditate notices an improvement in their sleep patterns. Contrary to popular opinion meditation is not difficult and requires no concentration – we just sit comfortably and easily with eyes closed. Rest assured in the knowledge that if we can think, then we can meditate! It is that easy. What type of meditation should we choose? Vedic meditation techniques (based on the effortless use of sanskrit mantras) such as Sahaj Samadhi, Transcendental Meditation (TM) and their equivalents are ideal. Failing this, there are lots of very good guided meditations from the Vedic tradition (e.g. from the enlightened saint Sri Sri Ravi Shankar) on YouTube.

Advice for Good Sleep from Related Subject of Vastu

    • The Yoga related ancient science of Vastu (Vedic equivalent of Feng Shui) says that it is best to sleep with our heads pointing towards either the South or the East – never the North. This is something which can be applied relatively simply by changing the orientation of our beds. This makes a noticeable difference to sleep patterns. If we are unsure of directions, then we can either get a compass, or see where the sun is at midday and use this position to determine true South.
    • Modern Vastu experts suggest keeping our sleeping area reasonably free from strong magnetic (or electromagnetic) fields – so probably best to avoid electronic equipment such as clocks, battery chargers, transformers,  phones, etc.  in close proximity to our heads when we are sleeping.

Additional Advice for Good Sleep from Modern Science

    • Make sure our bedrooms are sufficiently dark at night. Modern cities have a lot of ‘light pollution’ at night (e.g. from street lights, traffic headlights, advertising, security lights). This can seriously disturb our sleep patterns.  Fitting a blackout blind is a simple solution.
    • It is best to avoid using our bedroom for any activities other than sleep and sex.  This includes doing any planning or work related matters, watching films, using our computer, responding to emails or social media interactions, etc. This is so we only associate the bedroom with sleep and not any other activity.
    • Choose an evening environment with soft, warm lighting. In technical terms the colour temperature should be ‘warm white’, e.g. 2700K or less, rather than a ‘daylight’ colour temperature, e.g.  4 – 5000K or more. If our evening activity is mobile or computer screen based, then the white colour of the screen can also be detrimental to sleep. This is because the white colour tricks our brain into thinking it is daytime.
    • Avoid coffee, tea and other stimulants for four to six hours before going to bed. Alcohol should be avoided too for a period of 3 hours before bed time.  Although it initially makes us feel drowsy, it then disturbs our sleep after a few hours later. (Ayurveda attributes this to the fact that alcohol increases Pitta dosha – thus acting as a stimulant which, when combined with the natural Pitta period late on in the night, makes us wake up fully alert!)

Additional Information on Ayurveda

Introduction to Ayurveda. A range of articles for people new to this subject, including: Introductions, FAQs, Vata–Pitta–Kapha Explained and Origins of Ayurveda.

Top Tips from Ayurveda. Articles giving practical advice from Ayurveda on: Getting Better Sleep and Achieving Good Digestion.

Improving Our Immune System. More in-depth articles covering ways we can use Ayurveda to improve our immune system by: Using Herbs, Lifestyle Changes, Using Yoga / Pranayama / Meditation, Increasing our Digestive ‘Fire’ (Agni), Increasing Ojas.

Vedic Meditation. Articles looking at the techniques, health benefits and unique features of mantra-based Vedic Meditation.