how to overcome insomnia, naturally

I have dealt with sleeping issues all of my adult life. And, judging from the amount of times I’ve given advice to people on how to sleep better, a lot of you have sleep issues as well. Recently, I’ve decided to really delve into this issue and make some changes to my lifestyle to address it. I’m studying to become an Ayurvedic Health Counselor, so I thought I’d turn to Ayurveda for some ideas. This blog is a list of things I’ve tried and incorporated into my life that have really worked for me to have a solid night’s sleep. Get ready, this is a long post!

My type of insomnia looks like this: I easily fall asleep, but around 4 am I wake up, and am unable to get back to sleep even though I am so tired. I can get away with this for one or two nights, but the cumulative effect of not getting a full night’s sleep after a few days, weeks and months really starts to take its toll on my energy and overall well being. In Ayurveda, this is considered a disturbance of vata dosha. I’ll be writing more about Ayurveda and doshas in the weeks to come if your not familiar. But basically, vata dosha is related to the elements of ether and air and overall needs calming and grounding.

Ok, so here’s the list of what I do to ensure a full night’s sleep…

Daily Routine

In Ayurveda, keeping a daily routine, or dinacharya, is huge. This means getting up at the same time every day, eating at the same time, getting to bed at the same time. This way your body is conditioned to times of waking up and going to sleep every day, which will result in better sleep. Additionally, eating meals around the same time every day will help you have better digestion. This was hard for me to do at first, especially as I don’t have a regular work schedule.  In Ayurveda school, we learn that the mind loves freedom, and the body loves routine. 

Generally, you should be waking with the sun at sunrise, then getting to bed in time to get you 7-8 hours of sleep.

Light and Early Dinner

I used to eat dinner on the later side, around 7:30 to 8 pm, or even later. On nights that I would eat that late, I would always wake up the next morning feeling groggier than normal. That is because when my body was supposed to be doing detoxifying processes while I slept, it was still digesting my late meal. Now I aim to have eaten dinner by 7 pm. Also, consider making lunch is the biggest meal of your day, and eat a lighter dinner. Some light dinner ideas I enjoy are basmati rice/ quinoa with steamed or sauteed veggies, or a homemade soup.

Create a Night Time Routine

Now, I’ve always been a big believer in having a good morning routine. Until I saw an Ayurvedic practitioner, it didn’t really occur to me to have a night time routine as well. Here is what my night time routine for awesome sleep looks like:

  • No electronics 2 hours before bed – this is usually when I read a book
  • 5 minutes of nadi shodhan (alternate nostril breath) followed by 15 minutes of meditation. I use Insight Timer for meditation and practice a mantra based meditation.
  • I do a brain dump every night – I simply make a list of things I want to remember for the following day. I keep a small journal on my bed side table for this.
  • Keep your bedroom clean and tidy. Create a calming environment. Get rid of any lights in your bedroom, use black tape on top of any electronics that have a light that doesn’t turn off, like an electric toothbrush, air conditioner, etc. I got rid of my clock radio with a digital display. Obviously, no TV in the bedroom!
  • Use a few drops of lavender essential oil on your pillowcase at night, or diffuse lavender oil.
  • Drink a spiced milk or a calming tea – I like good ole chamomile tea. There are a lot of herbal teas on the market now for calming or good sleep, find one you like.
  • Right before bed, rub some sesame oil on your feet. This is a great grounding practice. I have one old pair of socks that I’ll put on right after this so I don’t ruin my sheets.

Cut Out Caffeine

Now, I know this is going to bum out you coffee and tea lovers. If you are drinking coffee and tea daily and having any kind of sleep problem, you should try cutting out caffeine completely. Even that early morning cup of coffee may be affecting your sleep that night. And, if you are waking up in the morning craving the stimulation of a cup of coffee, that is a sign you didn’t get the best quality sleep. I quit drinking coffee about a year ago and I notice I actually have MORE energy in the morning without it. Here are some tips on how to quit drinking coffee if you are addicted to it (which I was!)

Calming Herbs

You can use calming herbs to support deep sleep. Lavender essential oil is great for this, I use a few drops on my pillowcase, or you can diffuse the oil in your bedroom. Chamomile tea is a good calming tea to drink before bed. Nutmeg is also a sedative herb, try making the nutmeg milk recipe below. 

Spiced Milk Recipe

1 cup almond milk (or any milk)

1/8 tsp nutmeg

1/8 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp cardamom

1 tsp coconut oil

Optional: honey to taste

Bring all ingredients except for honey to boil, then simmer for a few minutes. Take off heat, let cool for a minute or two before stirring in honey.