I have always had a big love affair with sleep. My mom tells me that while my brothers would kick and scream to resist bedtime, I used to quietly grab her hand and bring her to my bed to tuck me in. I have naturally been on the early to bed, early to rise train for most of my life.
Yet, while I love nothing more than sleeping, I have spent many nights staring at my bedroom ceiling, unable to get my mind to slow down or turn off long enough to fall asleep.
I know the dilemma well: it usually starts with my desire for rest, while my racing mind blocks my ability to actually sleep. And, on top of that comes the anxiety around how my awful day will be tomorrow if I don’t get enough sleep.
I’m not alone in this struggle. In fact, roughly 60 million Americans are affected by sleep disorders each year!
Sleep is our chance each night to replenish our energy, detox our body, and integrate stress from our day. In Ayurveda, healthy sleep hygiene is said to be vitally important to every system of the body. Adequate sleep benefits our memory, decreases inflammation, reduces stress, keeps you at a healthy weight, and supports your blood pressure and heart - to name just a few vital benefits.
So, then, what about those of us who simply can’t get a good night of sleep? There are a lot of key factors we can begin to look at when creating healthier sleep patterns in the body.
I’m sure you’ve heard of melatonin. You may have even used it in supplement form from time to time when trying to get a good night of sleep. What many people don’t realize is that melatonin production is based upon our reservoir of serotonin, which is a feel good hormone in charge of our mood, appetite, sexual desire and function, and much more. Serotonin methylates in the pineal gland to yield melatonin. From there, melatonin is secreted to help us fall asleep when the body gets signals that it’s nighttime.
Key things to know about melatonin production
80% of our serotonin is created in the gut by our microbiome population. When our gut bugs are happy and balanced, more serotonin is created to support many functions in the body, including our ability to sleep. This is yet another reason why diet and gut health are vitally important.
Melatonin is secreted when light exposure is decreased and the temperature of our environment drops. Artificial lighting and heating can confuse our bodies biological rhythms to think it’s daytime all the time. When the body thinks the sun is out, it doesn’t secrete enough melatonin to fall asleep.
What can you do to help heal insomnia?
Look at your diet and gut health. In Ayurveda, it is said that all imbalances begin in the gut. For insomnia, this is definitely a contributing factor. Consider meeting with a nutritionist and starting on a good probiotic supplement to support healthy serotonin levels.
Avoid artificial light after the sun goes down. This includes TV’s, cell phones, and laptops. Try to opt for candles as a light source. If you need to use light bulbs, be mindful they are less than 40 watts. You could, alternatively, purchase a pair of red tinted glasses to filter out blue light as you prepare for bed.
Sleep routine: As best as you can, try to wake up and go to bed at the same time each day. In Ayurveda, it is recommended to wake up before 6am and to go to bed before 10pm to sync the body with the cycles of nature. However, this schedule is not always ideal for all of us. Try your best for a consistent sleep routine. If you struggle with getting up in the morning after a sleepless night, try your best to wake up wait to go back to sleep until the same evening.
Reduce stimulants all day long: Reduce your intake of caffeine, sugar, and other stimulants. These substances can disrupt the natural cycles of your body and make it even harder to sleep at night.
Eat an early dinner: When we go to sleep on a full belly, or wake up for a midnight snack, the energy of the body goes toward digestion rather than toward sleep. This also prohibits the liver from doing the important detox work it needs to do during your first four hours of sleep. Try to eat your final meal at least three hours before bed to give your body ample time to digest before sleep.
Exercise early in the day: Moving your body can reduce cortisol and adrenaline (stress hormones) from the body and increase the brain’s sensitivity to serotonin. In addition, the increase in body temperature that occurs during exercise can help the body temperature drop, which is a needed process for us to be able to fall asleep.
Decrease the temperature of your room: If your room is too warm, you won’t be able to sleep well. It is suggested that the temperature of your room should be between 60 and 67 degrees fahrenheit for the best night of sleep. This gives our body the signal that it’s nighttime and stimulates the secretion of melatonin.
Take a hot bath or infrared sauna before bed: This is a process that again elevates the body temperature in order to help it drop for sleep. The heat can also be stress reducing, detoxifying, and reduce blood pressure.
Brain Dump Journaling Practice: If you find that your brain simply can’t stop thinking or slow down, give this journaling practice a try. Write down everything and anything on your mind, with no filters. Write as long as you need and until you feel like everything is “dumped” out of the brain. When our brain is holding on to too much information, this practice can help us integrate and let go.
Yoga Nidra: I have a whole blog post on yoga nidra you could check out. This is a great practice to do before bed to help wind the body and mind down.
Down regulation breath practice: Try the following breathing practice to help engage your parasympathetic nervous system and tone the vagus nerve. Inhale for four counts, hold for two, and exhale for eight. Repeat until you fall asleep - it may take time.
We’d love to hear from you! Have these practices helped with your insomnia?
Are there any other healing suggestions you’d like to leave our community?
Leave your comments below.
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