When was the last time you fell asleep within minutes, and woke up feeling rested? At least 60 million Americans experience sleeplessness to a point that they seek support from a medical provider. In fact, sleep concerns in the U.S. add up to an estimated $16 billion in medical costs each year.
Stress, physical health, medications, and menopause are common underlying factors. Psychological factors are among the biggest culprits. You might not realize how strongly your mood and stress during the day affects your sleep performance. This is a two-way street, as sleep also impacts mental health.
Whether you are having trouble falling or staying asleep, consider these lifestyle changes:
- Support daytime relaxation and stress management with any of the following strategies:
- Turn off the TV at least 1 hour prior to bedtime. Also avoid looking at bright computer or mobile device screens.
- Exercise regularly – even exercise before bed can be beneficial based on the latest studies.
- Turn your bedroom into a “sleep sanctuary” that is quiet, dark and at a comfortable temperature – According to Ayurveda, the bedroom is only for sleep and sex, so no reading, eating or watching TV in the bedroom.
Eating for better sleep
Sleep depends on proper neurotransmission—the communication between neurons in the brain and nervous system. To support these delicate systems, your diet should contain plenty of leafy greens, fiber and protein to provide the amino acids, vitamins and minerals that the brain needs to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Foods to eat (depending on your Dosha of course)
- Fermented foods – More Kapha-typed individuals
- Legumes – More Kapha-typed individuals
- Root vegetables – usually more Vata-typed individuals, except potatoes, potatoes increase Vata
- Kale, spinach and other dark greens – More Kapha-typed individuals
- Berries – More Vata or Pitta-typed individuals, unless dried, then more for Kapha types
- Lean meats – that is if you’re not a vegetarian or vegan of course
- Cold-water fish (salmon, mackerel, herring, trout) – that is if you’re not a vegetarian or vegan of course
- Cruciferous vegetables – More Kapha-typed individuals
- Nuts, seeds and grains – More Vata or Pitta-typed individuals, unless aged, then more for Kapha types
- Eggs – Organic Chicken Eggs actually have more L-Tryptophan than turkey! L-Tryptophan is the precursor to and building block for Melatonin later in the day. Organic Duck eggs are also great options!
Foods to avoid
- Packaged foods
- Caffeine-containing beverages after 2:00 PM – Note: Cardamom is a great antidote for too much coffee
- Refined carbohydrates and sugars (though note: sugar is a must for Vata and Pitta-type people – just keep it in moderation)
Keep in mind that eating a large meal close to bedtime may cause you to toss and turn. On the other hand, not eating enough may cause you to wake up in the middle of the night, and if you’re feeling hungry before bed, drink a small glass of warm milk and according to Ayurveda will help with those hunger cravings that keep you up. Keep a diary as to when you eat and how well you sleep to help determine what works for you.
Supplements & Herbs
Supplements that provide the building blocks and cofactors for neurotransmission can also support and balance neurotransmission for restful sleep.
- Magnesium supports normal biorhythms and sleep patterns. It is one of the first minerals to be lost during food processing, and one of the first to leave the body during everyday stress. A dose of 200-300 mg magnesium glycinate or citrate before bed supports sleep onset and duration through the night. Several weeks may be needed to take effect.
- Glycine is an amino acid and neurotransmitter that starts working right away. Try 3 grams within 30-45 minutes before bed.
- 5-HTP is a precursor to serotonin that is often useful for sleep support when taken 30-60 minutes before bedtime at a dose of 50-200 mg.
- Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland, part of the body’s built-in clock known as the circadian system. Studies demonstrate enhanced sleep onset and sleep quality. 1-3 mg is usually ideal, but more is not always better. Just 0.5 mg can promote sleep onset within 30 minutes.
- GABA is another calming neurotransmitter that helps brain cells “calm down” as a prelude to a normal sleep cycle. During the day, it can help with stress management and mood without causing drowsiness. For sleep support, mix 500-750 mg with one cup of water. Drink half 30 minutes prior to bed, and if you awake in the night, drink the remaining half.
- L-theanine is a unique amino acid that promotes mental and physical relaxation within about 30-40 minutes after consumption. It does not cause drowsiness, but like GABA, it can create a calm mental state conducive to sleep onset.
- Valerian is a fantastic herbal choice from Ayurveda for the busy mind right before bed.
- I Sleep Soundly tablets & Sleep Ease Oil are also other great herbal choices. The Sleep Soundly tabs you take about 30 minutes before bed.
- Ashwagandha is a great multi-purpose herb. It helps to provide strength and stamina through the day, and helps those to sleep more soundly at night.
Studies show that sufficient sleep duration is essential to keeping a positive outlook on life, maintaining focus and mental acuity, and even keeping your appetite in check. More importantly, studies show that proper sleep protects the heart, blood vessels and keeps your metabolic health in check. With this holistic diet and lifestyle approach, you support both mind and body and help you stay on the path to total wellness.