Just about everyone suffers from insomnia every once in a while, whether it is from too much going on at work, or excitement about a trip or other big plans happening the next day. I myself had several months where I had multiple nights in a row of insomnia. I don’t know if mine is part of my grieving process for my sweet dog I lost last October or the stress of striving for a work/lifestyle change or vata (air) imbalance since fall/early winter is vata season in Ayurveda (ancient Indian medicine). At first I got really frustrated, but I got better at just trying to relax and breath no matter how much my mind is racing. After following some of these methods regularly, my insomnia has been gone for the last couple of months.
Surprisingly over 54% of Americans have suffered a bout of insomnia that lasted more than 6 weeks. Our society makes it easy to automatically turn to pills to help you sleep, which is fine for the occasional night of insomnia. However they are not a good long term solution.
But there is hope. There are several different approaches to take for insomnia based on what may be causing it. The following info addresses issues with rhythm and routine. Your habits and daily routines could be causing your loss of sleep. The body and mind need time to shift gears from active/alert to quiet/serene, so watching TV, exercising vigorously, or any other stimulation does not actually prepare us for sleep.
Bedtime Rituals and Routines:
Smell – lavender, chamomile, ylang-ylang, and vanilla help the brain regulate the stress hormone cortisol (which is released when your body shifts into “fight or flight” mode). Mix your favorite of these essential oils with water and spray onto your pillow case.
Touch – try massaging your feet (especially inner and outer heel) and forehead with sesame oil for about 10 minutes before going to bed, in order to shift your awareness from thoughts into your body and how it feels. I do this one every night and love it!
Taste –a cup of organic or almond milk with a little honey (maple syrup in the summer) and nutmeg is an excellent sleep inducer.
Sight – if all the lights in the house are on full blast, your body has no idea that it is night time and should be shifting towards sleep. Keep only lamps (on low settings) or even candles on at night. Also, make sure when you do turn out the lights that your room is pitch black; remove or cover any electronics that have lights, including your alarm clock.
Sound – I personally can’t sleep now without the hum of a small fan. If I’m travelling and there is no noise, I use earplugs and hone in on the sound of my breath. The dull noise helps quiet all the chatter going on in your head.
Scheduling Your Sleep
According to Ayurveda, the doshas (vata/air, pitta/fire, kapha/water & earth) translate to different times of day: 2-6 am & pm = air; 6-10 am & pm = water/earth; 10-2 am & pm = fire. Kapha, the earth/water element, is associated with sleeping while excess vata, the air element, is what causes insomnia. So it is best to begin bedtime rituals and try to get to be by 10pm, during the kapha time. Once pitta/fire kicks in after 10, you will get an energetic burst. On the flip side, if you wake up during vata time (before 7am), you feel more energetic and ready to start your day.
Most importantly though it to have a set routine that your body rhythms can get used to. If an 11pm to 7am sleep schedule works for you, then stick to it. But if your schedule is not working, here is an interesting way to begin resetting it from Dr. Roger Cole, a sleep research scientist in Del Mar, CA:
Determine how many hours per night you are actually sleeping.
Give yourself only that amount of time in bed. If it is 4, give yourself only 4 hours to sleep (or not). So if you go to bed at midnight, set your alarm for 4 am.
Do not nap during the day
After a few days of this schedule, your body will learn to sleep during its designated time
After a few days of solid sleep you can gradually increase your designated hours.
According to Cole, people who stick to this program find relief in a couple of weeks and see lasting results after six weeks. To me, this seems like a tough approach, but I think if I had chronic sleep problems, I’d be willing to give anything a try.
From my experience, what I’ve found that works the best for me is focusing on doubling my exhale. I count my breath, meaning I inhale for 6 to 8 counts and exhale for 12 to 16 counts. The exhale is calming and counting doesn’t let your mind race. Also, even if you don’t sleep much breathing deeper will provide almost as much energy and you will get out of bed feeling refreshed.