These days, sleep is on a lot of our minds. That's thanks, in part, to Arianna Huffington and the release of her new book, The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time. In it, she explores the importance of sleep for all dimensions of your life: the physical, mental, psychological, professional, social, and even sexual aspects of your existence.
Arianna’s inspiration comes from hard-earned personal experience when she collapsed from sleep deprivation, exhaustion, and burnout about 10 years ago.
While I did not have a dramatic episode of collapsing, my long struggle with insomnia developed out of my previously unbalanced lifestyle. It led me on a long journey to find lasting health solutions. I felt there had to be another way to live than the crash-and-burn lifestyle I had been living in New York City.
My quest brought me to the ancient science of Ayurveda, the world's oldest healing system. Originating in India, Ayurveda (literally meaning "the science of life") teaches you how to live a fully healthy life.
I fell in love with Ayurveda, got trained in it by Acharya Shunya (who comes from a Vedic lineage extending back to ancient India), and now, nothing gives me more satisfaction than teaching it to people from all walks of life.
In Ayurveda, sleep is one of three critical legs of a tripod of health. (The other two legs are proper diet and balanced sexuality.) Sleep is so central to health in Ayurveda that the word for "natural sleep" at night is Bhutadhatri, a Sanskrit word deriving from the root words Bhuta (your physical body) and Dhatri (mother). Sleep nourishes your body like a mother nurtures her baby.
One of the main Ayurvedic texts, Charaka Samhita, which is named after a Vedic sage named Charaka, explains how sleep gives you everything: strength, fertility, knowledge, contentment, happiness, and life itself. Healthy physiological, psychological, and neurological functioning all depend on you getting enough quality sleep.
After I started learning Ayurveda and following simple insomnia solutions, I was able to transform my sleep quality. Now I also help my students do the same.
Here are three easy ways you can join the sleep revolution, too:
1. Drink spiced milk.
There's something so nourishing about this delicious Ayurvedic recipe I learned from my Ayurveda teacher’s husband, Chef Sanjai, a master Ayurveda chef. I now love making this drink for my students.
Milk is the first thing we humans consume after birth, and drinking spiced milk is like nurturing yourself with maternal care before bed.
To make spiced milk, simply warm up whole milk (you can dilute it with water or use goat milk if you can’t digest cow’s milk) on the stove. You can add sugar and spices like turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, and saffron. Adding nutmeg will also make a world of difference in helping you sleep soundly.
Once you add the spices, allow the milk to come to a boil once or twice, and then remove it from the stove. Enjoy it once it has cooled down.
2. Chant "om" just before bed.
There is a special yogic pranayama (breathing exercise) that helps you sleep at night. It’s very simple: Start by focusing on your heart. Really connect with your heart.
Then simply inhale and chant "om" as you exhale. Hold the o sound for three times as long as the m sound. Repeat it as many times as you wish.
In addition to helping with sleep, this breathing exercise also has a nourishing effect on your physical and emotional heart.
3. Go to sleep by 10 p.m.
As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” Ayurveda agrees.
Yogis and followers of Ayurveda aim to get to sleep by 10 p.m. in order to rise between 4 and 6 a.m., as doing so gives you a boost of natural optimism and clarity, a quality called sattva in Sanskrit.
Sattva is the essence of balance, peacefulness, and harmony in yoga and Ayurveda psychology. It's the feeling of happiness that you get for no apparent reason—that amazing satisfaction of simply being alive, like the natural and spontaneous joy that children so often embody.
In addition to all the mental health benefits of waking up early in Ayurveda, doing so also strengthens your ability to fall asleep earlier at night—and improves your sleep quality, too.