Ayurvedic Sleep Aids
A vata imbalance—where you wake up in the middle of the night (after 2 a.m.) and have trouble falling back to sleep—is the most common. Before going to bed, rub your head and feet with warm sesame oil or take a bath infused with fennel, orange, and tulsi oil. You can also drink tea made from brahmi, an ayurvedic herb known as a nerve tonic. Or try hot almond milk with any or all of the following: chopped dates, coconut flakes, cardamom, ginger, or honey.
Ayurvedic doctor John Douillard also recommends a breathing exercise and a short meditation before bed. Try the cooling Chandra Bhedana (Moon Breath) for five minutes. Breathe in through the left nostril and out through the right, closing the opposite one. Follow this with 30 seconds of Bhastrika (Bellows Breath) by taking full, deep breaths like a bellows in and out through your nose, using your full lung capacity. Afterward, do a minute of meditation. Repeat this until your agitating thoughts subside.
If you wake in the middle of the night, get up and have chamomile tea. Don't just lie there thinking.
Pitta-based insomnia is the diagnosis if you either have trouble getting to sleep or you wake up before 2 a.m. and can't get back to sleep. Before bed, Douillard recommends having a cup of brahmi tea or drinking warm almond milk, as described for vata types. Try some aromatherapy: Put a few drops of sandalwood, marjoram, or benzoin resin oil (which is vanilla scented) into your bath. You can also massage warm ghee (clarified butter) onto your head and the bottoms of your feet. Then do five minutes of Ujjayi breathing (close the root of the throat and breathe through your nose audibly). Finally, follow this with a minute or two of meditation.
According to Douillard, kapha-based insomnia is rare, but if you got to bed early and find yourself involuntarily awakening before 9 p.m., make yourself a cup of tea: Mix a teaspoon of brahmi with honey, stir it up, and drink. Give yourself a head and foot massage with olive oil, olive and mustard or sesame oil, or mustard oil alone. Aromatherapy works particularly well for kaphas: Try putting a blend of marjoram, frankincense, rose, and ylang-ylang essential oils into a hot bath. Just before you go to bed, practice two full minutes of Bhastrika (Bellows Breath) followed by a one-minute meditation.
Nora Isaacs is the author of Women in Overdrive.