Ayurvedic Approach and Management of Insomnia

What is insomnia?

Normal sleep is thought to be under control of the reticular activating system in the upper brain stem and diencephalons. According to Ayurved, when the mind is exhausted and the exhausted sense organ distracts from its’ object, one gets sleep. Sleep influences happiness and misery, corpulence and leanness, strength and weakness, potency and impotency, intellect and non-intellect. Sleep needs in individuals vary tremendously and changes during the life cycle. Newborn child sleeps for 14 - 18 hours during early months of infancy. Then by the age of 10 years, it drops to 9 -10 hours. For adult person, good sound sleep of 7 - 8 hours is sufficient. As one get older sleep diminishes to an average of 5 - 6 hours. Insomnia becomes a serious problem when it affects daytime performance and behaviour.

Why do people develop insomnia?

Many complex physical and psychological interactions are combined to cause insomnia. 'Disorders of initiating and maintaining sleep' is the other term used for insomnia, and the causes are as follows:

1. Medical problems can cause sleeplessness. Physical pain from arthritis, ulcers, migraines, angina, breathing disorders like asthma, and respiratory problems such as cold and cough, irregular heart-beat or palpitation, cramps in legs, increased frequency of urination due to diabetes mellitus etc. leads to insomnia.

2. Many types of drugs may lead to insomnia such as stimulants, sedative and antidepressants, drugs acting on thyroid, contraceptives etc. can cause insomnia. Alcohol consumption also causes disturbance in sleep. Both sleeping pills and alcohol lead to fragmented sleep and frequent early awakening instead of good sound sleep.

3. Disturbing environment and bad habit can profoundly affect your sleep. Too noisy, too cold or too hot bedroom can keep you awake. Consumption of food in less or excess quantity at night may awake you in the middle of sleep. Fear of insomnia itself is a main causative factor. As you try hard for a good-night’s sleep desperately, you find it more and more difficult. So avoid anxiety and be relaxed.

According to Ayurved cause of insomnia (nidranasha) are as follows:

1) Vitiated vatadosha or pitta dosha.
2) Mental stress.
3) Dhatukshaya or emaciation due to improper diet and diseases.
4) Mental and physical trauma.

When you suffer from insomnia, your entire body gets disturbed and you are prone to get some disorders such as idleness, body-ache and heaviness in the body, restlessness, loss of appetite, constipation, headache and other symptoms.

How ayurved can help me to get relief from insomnia?

Sushruta had described regimen for the patients suffering from insomnia. You can follow these tips that will help to confront your problem.

1. Abhyanga: Massage your body with oil, processed with medicinal plants. By this your body becomes firm, skin becomes
smooth and it eliminates disturbance of vata and brings good sleep. Specific massage i.e. oil massage is recommended in insomnia preferably with taila (oil of sesame).
2. Rubbing grhita on sole and then massaging with small utensil made of bronze, before retiring to bed brings sound sleep. It also brings delicacy of skin, strength and firmness in feet; clarity of vision and it also pacifies vata.
3. Applying oil on head followed by gentle massage also brings good sleep.
4. Shirodhara or a head bath with water that is processed with medicinal herbs will bring you good sleep.


1. Have diet that is madhura, (sweet in taste and produces sweet like effect on the body after digestion).
2. Drink buffalo milk with sugar in adequate quantity, before retiring to bed.
3. Eat meat of aquatic animals and fish that will give you good sleep.
4. Drink milk or buttermilk, with a pinch of cinnamon powder and honey.
5. Tea made of chopped lettuce leaves facilitates sleep.

Dos and Don’ts

1. Try to avoid oversleep or nap during the day even if you get poor sleep during night. It will again keep you awake next night.
2. If you are below 40 years of age, plan your bed habits.
3. If you are over 60, avoid catnaps during the day. Get into the bed on regular time.
4. If you wake up at middle of night, don’t become desperate. Just relax in the bed and wait until sleep returns. Try reading, listening to music, which will ease you and will reduce your mental tension.
5. Do some light physical activities such as rolling from one side to another, movement of legs until you feel sleepy.
6. Avoid consumption of alcohol especially at night. Alcohol when taken at night often wakes you up in the middle of night and then you cannot get back to sleep.
7. Cut down on chocolates, coffee, tea, soft drink and smoking especially in the evening and before going to bed.
8. Mental stress is the main cause of insomnia. To distract yourself from your worries take up a hobby or indulge yourself in activities, which will relieve your stress and will help you to overcome your stress related sleep disorder.
9. Experiment with your bedroom noise and temperature level to find what is best for you.
10. Taking a warm bath an hour or two before bedtime increases deep stages of sleep.
11. Sleep on suitable bed, try to ease yourself in the bed.
12. Repaint your bedroom with colours, which gives calming effect, will calm your nerves and slow muscular response such as violet and other purple shades and pink.
13. Regular exercise will keep you fit and healthy.

Insomnia is our most typical sign of nervous distress. Frequent insomnia is most commonly a Vata (air) disorder involving nervousness, anxiety, ungrounded ness, hypersensitivity, and excess thought and worry.Sleep patterns include: difficulty in falling asleep, sleep easily disturbed, and difficulty in returning to sleep, once awakened. Dreams may be frightening, filled with flying, falling, nightmares, encounters with ghosts, etc. Causes of insomnia include stress, anxiety, excessive thinking, and taking of drugs or stimulants, too much travel, overwork and other Vata increasing factors.

General Treatment:

Diet should be anti-Vata, emphasizing heavy or grounding foods. These include dairy, whole grains and root vegetables. Coffee, tea and other stimulants, should be avoided. Warm milk with a little nutmeg can be taken an hour before sleep. Mental activity should be avoided in the evening, including reading, listening to loud music, watching stimulating movies, etc. Sleep hours should be adjusted, so that one retires early (around 11 p.m.) and rises early (by 6 a.m.). Warm sesame oil can be applied to the feet, the top of the head or forehead, or to the whole body, followed by a warm shower. Yoga asanas should be done, but no aerobic exercises. A calming meditation before sleep consciously releasing all the worries and tensions of the day can work wonders. Surrendering the mind to the Divine, giving complete faith to the Divine will to take care of oneself and the world is a good part of this. The bed and the sleeping room should be a place of peace, comfortable, clean, and well kept. The mind should be concentrated on the breath or centered in the heart.

Ayurvedic Drugs on Insomnia-

Brahmi, Jatamansi, Valerian and Amla are pro-sedative, meaning that they help a person to relax into sleep, The powder of these drugs are either taken separately or together in a dose of one teaspoonful, three times a day, followed by a cup of milk. Sesame oil boiled with these powders should be used for massaging the head and body before bathing. Now, let us look about the properties of these herbs:

1. Valerian root:Indian valerian, also known as tagar in Hindi, works on the nerve channels by clearing out toxins from the blood, joints, tissues, colon and nerves. Its basic role is to rejuvenate. However, valerian should not be taken on its own. For, it can have a somewhat dulling effect. It is best used as part of some herbal preparation.

2. Jatamansi:It is called jatamansi because it resembles jata or the tangled hair of the tapasvi or ascetic. It has been found to increase levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin. It is a sedative, anti-depressant, and anti-epileptic cardio-tonic and is regarded as one of the most effective remedies for neurosis. Though it normally has a sedative effect on the central nervous system and is used to tranquillize an anxious or over-stressed person, it has been observed that it can also stimulate someone who is suffering from fatigue. This is because it balances the organs and systems of the body. It can be taken as a powder, about quarter teaspoonful at a time. Or, soak it in warm water for 4-5 hours, strain and drink preferably at bedtime.

3. Aswagandha: This is an overall tonic for greater vitality and longevity. It enhances coordination between the mind and senses which, according to Ayurveda, is essential for good sleep. The recommended dose is half to one teaspoonful of powder taken twice a day followed preferably by warm milk.

4. Brahmi:It is a powerful brain food, which supports and improves all aspects of mental functioning. It is a calming and tranquillizing herb. A cup of brahmi tea or powder or any other preparation with brahmi, taken at bedtime, will induce a peaceful sleep and its regular use will help to cure insomnia.

5. Siro-Dhara- The Famous ayurvedic treatment, it is useful for all psychosomatic disorders, it is useful for psyocho somatic disorders, it acts by soothing the master gland- pituitary gland, pons portion also sleep centres, it has specific function on limbic system of brain.e.g. Taila dhara, Takra dhara, Taila dhara, Dugdha dhara.

6. Siro-basti- Another excellent therapy to bring down the aggravated doshas of psyocho somatic disorders. In this treatment, medicated oil is kept on the crown of the head for a given period, E.g. Jatamnansi oil, Maka- coconut oil, Haridra siddha coconut oil.


More by :  Dr. Bhushan Mhaiskar

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