Traditional Indian remedies for sleep still contain wisdom for people who suffer from insomnia. Known as Ayurvedic medicine, these remedies include herbs, practices and meditations for increasing health and balancing the body humors, or Doshas. In Ayurvedic medicine, health is not seen as the absence of disease, but a state of well-being. This perspective has found support in the West, and is known as complementary and alternative medicine.
Ayurvedic herbs have been used for treating insomnia for centuries. If you are having trouble going to sleep or cannot get back to sleep in the first half of the night, an Ayurvedic solution will address an imbalance in the pittas, the humor related to metabolism and the elements fire and water. Try sipping some tulsi and coriander tea, or some warm milk with cardamom, suggests Alakananda Devi, principal teacher of the Alandi School of Ayurveda. Devi also recommends the herbs bhringaraj, passionflower, skullcap, Guduchi and chamomile.
For insomnia occurring in the middle of the night, or after 2:00 p.m., the issue may be due to an imbalance of the vata, the humor historically associated with the elements ether and air. In the Ayurvedic tradition, vata-based insomnia involves restless sleeping as well as nights disrupted by emotions like anxiety and fear. Nora Roberts, author of “Women in Overdrive,” suggests rubbing your head and feet with warm sesame oil before bed, or drawing a bath infused with fennel, orange, and tulsi oil.
Tactics for Good Sleep
Taking herbs can help insomnia, but there are other simple things you should also do around the house to prepare for bed and a good night’s sleep. Alakananda Devi recommends turning off the computer and the TV in the evening, because these electronic devises disturb our sleep/wake cycle, or in the Ayurvedic tradition, the Doshas. Evening should be a time for relaxing, not working. At the least, keep work-related material out of the bedroom so the room maintains its sanctuary function. Instead of watching television before bed, or even worse, in bed, pick up a good book.
In the Ayurvedic worldview, herbs and other tactics are worthless if a person is not also engaging in healthful mental practices. By cultivating a healthy mind and nurturing a positive demeanor, health comes back into balance. A few minutes of meditation can help sleeplessness of all types. For insomnia of the pitta type, yoga postures such as Sarvangasana may be helpful. If restless insomnia in the middle of the night is the problem, yoga nidra practices may sooth anxiety and help induce calm. In fact, yoga nidra is used by some medical care teams in U.S. veteran hospitals to help overcome insomnia and other symptoms associated with trauma, depression and anxiety, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.
- Madras Institute of Ayurveda: What Is Ayurveda?
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Ayurvedic Medicine: An Introduction
- Alandi Ayurveda Gurukula: Ayurvedic Management of Insomnia
- Yoga Journal: Ayurvedic Sleep Aids
- U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs: War Related Illness and Injury Study Center