Ayurveda, Stress and Sleepless Nights
On a typical day in America, 125 million people wake up feeling exhausted. For 50 percent of the nation's population, getting a good night's sleep is difficult.
Fatigue caused by sleep difficulties is now considered one of America's top health problems. Medical researchers say lack of sleep can lead to health problems ranging from blood sugar issues to high stress levels. Studies show that people who sleep fewer than six hours a night don't live as long as those who sleep seven hours or more. Sleeping only four hours a night can cause weight gain as well as difficulty maintaining healthy blood sugar and blood pressure levels. The National Sleep Foundation estimates that sleeplessness costs the U.S. economy $150 billion a year in higher levels of worker stress and reduced productivity.
Stress and Sleepless Nights: A Vicious Cycle
The incidence of sleep difficulties is on the rise in America. We are increasingly a 24/7 society, in which high stress levels and time pressures have become a part of normal modern living. Many people would gladly get more sleep if they could, but the information age, which was supposed to make everything more efficient, has only made everything busier.
Americans frequently find themselves too tense or worried to fall asleep at night because of stress accumulated throughout the day. This lack of sleep, in turn, creates even more stress on the job and at home, resulting in a vicious cycle. Many choose to short-change their sleep – sleeping less than six hours a night – making them highly vulnerable to sleep disorders, stress syndrome, and multiple health problems.
Millions are addicted to tranquilizers to reduce stress during the day, and sleeping pills to induce sleep at night. However, you can't induce a natural state of sleep with products that are unnatural, synthetic, and, in many cases, highly addictive. It is recommended that patients who have difficulty sleeping restore a balanced rest/activity cycle by practicing the Transcendental Meditation® technique, or other stress-reducing practices, to allow the body to deal with the stress of the day. The TM technique has been shown in a number of studies to reduce stress and sleep difficulties. Traditional Ayurvedic herbal formulations have also been shown to help. Study findings suggest that the Ayurvedic herbal supplement Blissful Sleep may be of benefit to patients who have difficulty falling asleep, while avoiding the negative side effects of commonly-prescribed medications. Ayurveda also offers diet and lifestyle recommendations to support normal healthy sleep and sleep patterns.
The Ayurvedic Approach
The goal of the Ayurvedic approach is to create more ojas – the finest product of digestion – which provides energy, enthusiasm, happiness, clarity of thinking, better coordination between the heart and mind, an experience of connection and better immunity. "Only the deepest, most restful sleep, called stage 4 sleep by researchers, creates ojas," say Ayurvedic experts. Good-quality sleep provides deeper rest to the mind and senses, and enhances capacity for mental and physical work the next day. On the other hand, lack of sleep increases ama, or toxins, in the body.
Following are a few tips from Maharishi Ayurveda:
- Do a morning massage, or abhyanga, with Youthful Skin Massage Oil.
- Exercise every day.
- Sip warm water throughout the day.
- Avoid eating too many heavy, sweet, sour, and salty foods.
- Eat a light, warm dinner (soup is ideal) and season the food with fresh ginger and a small amount of black pepper.
- Drink Organic Kapha Tea three times a day and Slumber Time Tea before bed.
- Take Deep Rest one hour before bed if you have trouble staying asleep and/or Blissful Sleep one hour before bed if you have trouble falling asleep.
- Try Slumber Time Aroma to help you fall asleep easily at night.
The sleep products from Maharishi Ayurveda have a three-fold action. Some of the herbs, such as Jatamansi and Indian Valerian, help a person to relax into sleep. A large number of research studies show that Indian Valerian promotes sleep. Other herbs, such as Bacopa and Ashwagandha, restore the body's own inner intelligence to promote a deeper quality of sleep. A third group of herbs helps address the effects resulting from prolonged sleep issues, such as weakened immunity or weakened coordination between heart and mind.
Due to the synergistic combination of a variety of whole herbs, there are no side effects. There is no groggy feeling (as created by modern drugs and by some single-ingredient natural remedies). Instead, people report a fresh feeling, a renewed ability to concentrate, reduced stress, and better management ability. Regardless of the cause of your sleep imbalance, Ayurvedic experts recommend that you try to be in bed before 10:00 at night. That's because after 10:00, a more active, Pitta-quality sleep sets in. If you fall asleep before then, you'll imbibe the slower, more restful Kapha qualities. Not only will you fall asleep more easily, but also the quality of your sleep will be deeper. Almost anyone can experience deep, restful, stage 4 sleep by doing just this one thing – going to bed before 10:00 at night.
Many of these recommendations are substantiated by research. Sleep researchers, for instance, have documented that a brief period of moderate exercise three to four hours before bed, such as taking a brisk walk after dinner, can really help deepen sleep. Other studies link physical fitness with improved sleep quality. Finally, a study at the University of California at San Diego by Dr. Paul Mills showed that the Worry Free herbal supplement is effective in reducing day-to-day anxiety and cortisol levels (a hormone associated with stress).
Creating a Timeless Bedroom
Create a timeless bedroom and keep time pressures away from your sleeping place. If you have to use an alarm clock, put it in a place where you can't see it. Preserve your bedroom as a comfortable, relaxing haven – a place for warm, intimate and relaxing relationships. Keep heated discussions, intense brainstorming, television-watching, computer work, and monthly budgets out of your bedroom.
Especially avoid violent, suspenseful TV shows before bed. Instead, surround yourself with influences that cultivate your peace of mind while you fall asleep. Before bed, try diffusing Slumber Time Aroma Oil or lavender essential oil to relax and help induce sleep, sometimes within minutes.
To relax your neck and shoulders, your back and abdomen, you can do some simple, light yoga postures. Soothing music, bedtime prayers, and positive affirmations can also help you to move in the direction of being more peaceful.
If your mind is active, recall your fondest memories, particularly of childhood, where you had soothing, blissful, wonderful sleep, or when you had an amazingly restful vacation. Favor those thoughts instead of ones that cause you worry and anxiety.
What is your sleep I.Q.?
Even if you don't have difficulty sleeping, you might not be getting enough sleep at night. In assessing your sleep health, you also need to look at how you feel during the day. If you answer "yes" to a majority of these questions, it might be a cue that your stress levels are too high, your lifestyle needs adjustment, or you're not sleeping enough.
- Do you experience mental or physical dullness?
- Do you have poor muscle tone?
- Do you experience a lack of spontaneity?
- Do you have a tendency to be bored or unhappy?
- Do you have tension, fear, or anxious feelings?
- Do you suffer from decreased cooperativeness, an inability to accept constructive criticism, irritability, temper outbursts, lowered attention span, impaired short-term memory, decreased sex drive, physical complaints such as headache or backache, or do you generally lack motivation?
- Are you addicted to coffee, cigarettes, stimulants, alcohol or drugs?
- Have you noticed a reduction in general health and joy in living?
Here are some traditional Ayurvedic Herbals to help with your stress levels, and some information about them:
Stress Free Emotions – The herbs in this formulation support natural resistance to emotional stress and fatigue. They promote self-confidence, positive thinking and feelings of fulfillment by balancing the sub-dosha of Pitta that governs emotional health (Sadhaka Pitta).
Organic Vata Tea – A few sips of Organic Vata Tea will help your whirling mind settle down and your body relax. Whether at work, at home, or on the road, sweet soothing Organic Vata Tea can help you stay calm and alert. Spices are ingredients in many synergistic ayurvedic herbal formulations, and an ayurvedic expert, when giving you advice, is as likely to recommend specific spices to include in your diet as to suggest herbal supplements for you to take.
- Licorice contributes the sweet taste, useful for pacifying Vata.
- Cardamom is considered an excellent digestive, especially beneficial for bloating and intestinal gas.
- Ginger is a zesty spice useful in aiding digestion, promoting appetite and helping with occasional stomach discomfort.
- In ayurveda, cinnamon is used to balance the digestion and can also help with occasional stomach discomfort.
Worry Free – This product simultaneously calms the nervous system while supporting mental acuity. It changes the automatic and immediate emotional reaction you have to stress. It also nourishes all forms of movement, including thought, speech and actions of the body and supports the following mental activities: creativity, perception, consciousness and self-realization. In addition, it supports the three types of mental ability: learning, memory and recall (called dhi, dhriti, and smriti in Sanskrit).
Worry Free Tea – The herbs in this tea help balance and calm your mind, emotions, brain and nerves.
Organic Digest Tone (Triphala Plus), with Cabbage Rose, is a classic Ayurvedic formula for balanced digestion, regular elimination (helping with occasional constipation as well) and nightly detoxification. It fulfills one of the simplest and most important recommendations in Ayurveda: toning digestion. Balanced digestion removes ama and increases ojas, the master biochemical of connectivity with nature's intelligence. Organic Digest Tone rejuvenates the digestive tract; assists the body in absorbing nutrients from food; promotes healthy circulation and includes capillary-supporting flavonoids; works as a cardio tonic; and it helps cleanse the liver of toxins and supports its efficient functioning. It is also rich in antioxidants.
Blissful Joy – The herbs in this traditional formulation nourish the mind-body connection by helping to remove toxins that make you feel dull or sad. They also support the memory of bliss in your cells, and help balance the hormones that govern emotions.
Stress Free Mind – The herbs in this formulation support natural resistance to daily mental stress and fatigue. This blend of whole herbal extracts, powders, and minerals nourishes and supports the immune system, which is often taxed by everyday mental stress. The herbs in this formulation support feeling more composed and simultaneously alert. Bacopa, Dwarf Morning Glory, Gotu Kola and Indian Tinospora all work to support learning, retention and long-term memory. Pearl, Greater Galangal, Licorice, Jatamansi and Ashwagandha support mental energy.
Mind Flex – The creative mind is calm, curious, imaginative and balanced. The herbs in this formulation support mental creativity and flexibility, making it easier to handle stress.
Mind Plus – This formulation contains the most potent Ayurvedic herbs for supporting the mind even in stressful situations. They also support the three types of Ayurvedic mental abilities: learning, retention and recall (dhi, dhriti, and smriti) – especially long-term retention and recall skills. In addition, these herbs calm and relax the mind while simultaneously helping concentration and focus.
Related Health Tips
- Establish a stable regular lifestyle routine.
- Get plenty of good-quality sleep. If you experience difficulty falling asleep, along with sleep-promoting lifestyle changes, consider taking one of our sleep products mentioned in this article.
- Partake in calming activities such as gardening and leisurely walks.
- Reduce travel and avoid stressful situations as much as possible.
- Follow a dosha-pacifying diet. For Vata imbalance – a major contributor to sleep imbalance – favor foods that are warm, heavier, oily, sweet, sour and salty and reduce cold, dry, light, pungent, bitter and astringent foods.
- Give yourself an Ayurvedic oil massage (abhyanga) daily.
- Protect yourself from dry, cold and windy weather.
- It is best to not read or watch TV while eating.
- Go to bed before 10:00 p.m.
Photo credit: susivinh
These articles provide a great resource from The Council of Maharishi Ayurveda Physicians on the knowledge, practices, products, and applications of Maharishi Ayurveda.
The sole purpose of these newsletters is to provide information about the tradition of ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have any serious acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the medical advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or e-mail us for the number of a physician in your area.