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Ayurvedic Insomnia Treatments

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Article by Sajimon George


Insomnia...........? Try Ayurveda.

Insomnia is a widespread and common disorder affecting10 - 15% of adults, with an additional one third of all adults experiencing transient or occasional insomnia. Patients suffering from insomnia frequently present for Ayurvedic care, feeling dissatisfied with long term prescriptions for sleeping pills.

Currently accepted causes of insomnia include such vatagenic factors as  irregularity of schedule, use of caffeinated beverages, particularly in the afternoon, excess exercise at bed time, disorders causing pain or nocturnal urination, and excess anxiety and stress. Sleep disorder is also more common in elders (i.e. in the vata time of life) affecting up to 47% of the elderly population.

This concurs well with the Charak Samhita:

“Fear, anxiety, anger, smoking, exercise, blood-letting, fasting, uncomfortable bed… these very factors may be taken as causes of insomnia, along with overwork, old age, vatika disorders and aggravation of vata itself.”

Although, as the texts indicate, there is always an important vata component in insomnia, we typically distinguish between vata and pitta types of insomnia.

Pitta-type insomnia occurs in the pitta time of night, from ten at night to two in the morning and so is usually experienced as difficulty falling asleep. The mind is intense and overactive and it is difficult to relax. Instead, pitta may lay awake making mental lists and thinking of things that need to get done.
Pitta insomnia may be related to working late at night, using the computer too late, trying to cram too many activities into the evening, or simply staying up too late. Much as “early to bed, early to rise” is an ideal Ayurvedic lifestyle, this goal may be unattainable for busy parents. As one pitta reported, “It takes until nine to get my son to bed, and then I need some time to say at least a few words to my husband and some time to get ready for bed.” However, as a general rule, computer work should end no later than nine thirty, since computer screens provoke alochak and sadhak pitta and disturb tejas, especially when used in the pitta time of night.

For pitta types who can’t accomplish the ideal of actually getting to sleep in the kapha evening time, it is at least often feasible to make ten o’clock an official bedtime, with no more work or stimulating activities after that time.

Lights should be low, and pitta can take time to relax, sip some soothing tulsi and coriander tea or some warm milk with cardomon and massage the soles of their feet with Bhringaraj oil.

Valuable herbs to help pitta get to sleep include bhringaraj, passionflower, skullcap, Guduchi and chamomile, all of which are found in the “I Sleep Soundly” formulation. .  Sarvangasana is good for pitta insomnia, while Shitali, nadi shodan/anuloma /viloma and yoga nidra are invaluable.

 Work-related items, including computers, cell phones and papers should be kept out of the bedroom, so that the sleeping space becomes a peaceful retreat from the busyness of the day. A student or other person obliged to live and study or work in the same small space can still screen off a quiet area kept only for sleep. Pitta needs to avoid exposure to bright light for the entire duration of the night, so a bathroom night light is helpful to remove the need of turning on the light. Pitta is extremely light-sensitive and may need thick curtains to cut out the light from street lamps. Electronic devices with little red or green lights should be unplugged during sleep. 

Insomnia of any cause can be managed effectively by ayurvedic treatments and by following  ayurvedic daily & seasonal routines.

Here are some ayurvedic suggestions for falling asleep easily and naturally and for obtaining a more rejuvenating quality of sleep:

1. Since human beings are diurnal creatures, following Nature's pattern of sleep and wakefulness for us means rising with the sun or shortly before, and getting into bed early--no later than 9.45 p.m. Getting up before 6 a.m. is ideal, and 6-10 p.m. is the Kapha time of the evening, when sleep will come most easily. Follow this routine at the weekend as well.  

2. Arise and go to bed at about the same times each day. This helps your body and mind relax as the appointed bedtime approaches, and over time it conditions your physiology to fall asleep at that time.

3. Ayurveda decrees morning the best time to exercise. If you exercise in the morning, it will help you fall asleep easier at night. Working out late in the day is not recommended as this will raise energy levels and set you up for activity rather than sleep. Exercise moderately, according to the needs of your constitution, every day.

4. Do not eat a heavy dinner, and avoid spicy foods at night. Ayurveda recommends a light dinner eaten at least three hours before bed. A one-dish meal of a vegetable soup or mung bean kitcheree is nourishing yet not too heavy. Do not drink too much water or other beverages after 6.30 p.m.  Drink a cup of warm milk at bedtime to help lull you into sleep. Lace the milk with a large pinch of nutmeg for vatha , cardamom for Pitta and dried ginger for Kapha.

5. A lower limb massage last thing before you get into bed is also a pleasant, relaxing activity and helps improve sleep quality. Use a light, non-staining oil such as sweet almond or jojoba. Your bedtime massage oil can be spiced up with a few drops of essential oil of lavender if you like--6-8 drops for 2 oz. of base oil. Take a very small quantity of the oil in your palm and massage your lower legs, from your knees to your toes, and your lower arms, from your elbows to your fingertips, with easy up-and-down strokes.

6. Keep your bedroom dark and at a comfortable temperature so that you are neither too warm nor too cold. Wear comfortable sleepwear to bed-cotton is ideal. Your bedroom should be quiet, clutter-free and free of work-related material. Do not have a TV in your bedroom.

7. Do not drink alcohol or caffeinated beverages; they impact the quality and quantity of sleep you get. Avoid nicotine as well.

8. As bedtime draws near, try to get your mind and body to settle down. Avoid working or reading/watching stimulating entertainment at least an hour before bed. Calming activities such as listening to soft relaxing music or just sitting quietly and practicing deep breathing can help your mind and body wind down gradually.

9. Avoid napping during the day; it makes it harder to fall asleep at night. If stress or worrying keeps you up, learn and regularly practice a meditation technique. This will help strengthen your ability to deal with day-to-day stresses and worries.

10. A glass of warm milk at bedtime will induce better sleep.


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Article/Information supplied by Sajimon George

Disclaimer - Any general advice given in any article should not be relied upon and should not be taken as a substitute for visiting a qualified medical Doctor.