“There are three supports (pillars) of life. They are food, sleep and observances of bramacharya. Being supported by these, the body is endowed with strength, complexion and growth, and this continues up [until] the full span of life, provided that the person does not indulge in regimens detrimental to health.”
This Ayurvedic quote reminds us that sleep is one of the most critical elements of health and well-being. Flip ahead a few thousand years to modern times, where lack of sleep tops the charts for chronic health complaints. Ayurveda holds sleep as the “wet nurse of the world.” It is a time when our body heals tissue, detoxifies and does a major sub-conscious dump on any undigested life emotions and scenarios. And so, if we aren’t satisfied with our nightly slumber, we just aren’t getting enough of the wet nurse.
In that light, I wanted to give you some super-practical, easy home remedies that will help ensure that you sleep like a baby this season. These pointers will help you turn bedtime into sacred ritual:
Make it cozy. Make sure your body feels comfortable. Sometimes feeling cold is enough to keep your body from relaxing into dreamland. Invest in eco-friendly, soft sheets and other bedding.
Get rid of the clutter. There should be nothing in the bedroom that distracts the mind from relaxation. Remove stacks of papers you need to file at the office. Take any spare change and old piles of mail off the top of your dresser. Throw out anything that has lived under your bed for more than a year.
Eat light at night. Have your last meal at least 3 hours before bedtime.
Set the mood for sleep. One of the first questions I ask insomniacs is, “Are your lights still on at 8 and 9 pm?” Start turning off overhead lights an hour or so before bedtime. Avoid fluorescent lights always, but especially at night. Low lighting helps inform the body that it is time to start turning in for sleep. Try using lamps and candles instead, and if you do have overhead lighting, think about installing dimmers.
Turn off the screens. Set an intention to turn off all electronic screens (computers, cellphones, TVs) by 9 pm. Screens and artificial lighting can disturb the circadian rhythms that produce sleep hormones.
Be in bed by 10 pm. I know, I know, this one is tough. But have you ever noticed that you get a second wind around 10 or 10:30? That’s because the energy and metabolic processes your body normally uses for cleaning itself out while you sleep get diverted to mental energy if we’re awake. According to Ayurveda, our body detoxifies and rejuvenates from 10pm through 2 am. When we stay up late, we truly do miss out on beauty sleep. If you typically go to bed at midnight, try the 15-minute rule. Each night, head to bed a mere 15 minutes earlier. Within a few weeks, you will be soundly sleeping at 10!
Take a warm bath. Taking a scented, warm bath before bed almost always induces amazing slumber. Add a few drops of essential oils, such as myrrh, lavender, honeysuckle, jatamamsi (an Ayurvedic herb that grows in the Himalayas), sandalwood, chamomile, neroli, or pure rose.
Oil up. Rub some pure sesame oil in your ears, nose, on the crown of the head and on the soles of the feet before bed. This is a tried-and-true Ayurvedic sleep enhancer.
Unravel the day. This powerful Tantric practice actually strengthens your ability to assimilate life, and can enhance your memory. Once in bed, mentally go back through your day in increments of 30 minutes. Try to simply register what happened during the day, in the 30 minutes before bedtime, then 30 minutes before that, et cetera, without judgment. Notice any feelings that come up as you go through the catalog of your day, then let them go. End with the point where you woke up in the morning. Gently drift into sleep.
Brew a cup. Herbal teas soothe the mind and body, and are a lovely way to wind down before sleep. Try lavender, chamomile, oat straw, or lemon balm. Add a little ghee or coconut oil for added lusciousness, or a few strands of saffron and some warm milk.
This article originally appeared on the Yoga Journal Blog on November 15, 2012.