During the night, especially between 10:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m., we are in full detox mode, shedding the physical, mental and emotional challenges of the day, as well as restoring all body systems and building new issues.
Sleep deprivation zaps physical and mental energy and disrupts heart rate, blood pressure, hormone levels and so much more. It wreaks havoc with one of these hormones/neurotransmitters in particular–serotonin–the primary “feel good” chemical in our body.
Serotonin transmits messages between nerve cells, is active in constricting smooth muscles, and contributes to feelings of wellbeing and happiness. As the precursor for melatonin, it helps regulate the body's sleep-wake cycles and internal clock. Melatonin, the “sleep hormone,” is produced by the pineal gland in the center of the brain. It has been linked to changes in mood, behavior, sleep patterns, fatigue, performance, and our biological rhythms. Light and darkness, temperature, serotonin deficits, and other factors affect natural levels of melatonin. If you believe your body is running low on melatonin, talk to your doctor about supplements.
Try these simple remedies to help you get a good night’s sleep.
Regular diaphragmatic breathing is essential for inducing sleep. However, some very specific breathing/pranayama techniques are especially powerful sleep-inducers. This two-to-one breathing pattern stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system—that part responsible for slowing down the heartbeat, lowering blood pressure, and creating harmonious brain wave patterns.
- Consciously slow down your exhalation so that it is twice as long as your inhalation: For instance, try counting to 3 on your inhale, then to 6 on your exhale.
- Contract your abdominals to help in increasing the exhalation.
- Focus on making each breath as smooth ad even as possible, without any pauses or shakiness.
- If you’re having trouble sleeping, lie on your back and take 8 breaths, then turn on your right side and take 16 breaths, then turn on your left side and take 32 breaths. Chances are you won’t finish this exercise before drifting off to sleep.
Ayurvedic Drink Recipe
My go-to nightly Rasāyana drink (any Ayurvedic Rejuvenation therapy) is as follows. Warm 6-8 ounces of organic milk in a saucepan. Add a pinch or two of (any or all) nutmeg*, cinnamon, cardamom, and a teaspoon of ghee. (other sleep-inducing adaptogenic herbs include turmeric and ashwagandha). Simmer for a couple minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in a half teaspoon of raw honey. *Nutmeg is one of the best medicines for calming the mind.
This warm elixir promises divine slumber—you will sleep like a baby! Milk has melatonin and the amino acid tryptophan —protein that causes sleepiness.
So many other modalities exist to help you sleep—I look forward to sharing more in the near future.
See these links for insight into the Ayurveda model of health: Optimal Well-Being with Ayurveda and What is Ayurveda? Or visit: Basics about Sleep, sleepfoundation.org and/or sleepassociation.org
MARY BETH JANSSEN is a certified mind-body health educator for the Chopra Center for Well Being and author of five books. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.