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9 Ayurvedic Bedtime Rituals for Reducing Anxiety and Promoting Good Sleep

Updated: Jan 10

Are you experiencing anxiety that is keeping you awake?

Or are you experiencing anxiety that is waking you up between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m.?


Ayurveda, an ancient, traditional science that comes to us from India, has many bedtime rituals for anxiety that will help you get a good night's sleep.


According to the NIH, sleep deprivation is positively correlated with anxiety. Therefore, the better your sleep, the more anxiety may be reduced.


Jump ahead to the 9 Ayurvedic Bedtime Rituals for Reducing Anxiety and Promoting Good Sleep or continue reading to learn more about the Ayurvedic view of anxiety and how the doshas may affect your sleep.


woman sleeping

Anxiety According to Ayurveda


Ayurveda tells us that when vata dosha (learn more about the doshas) is out of balance, you may experience anxiety, worry, fear, loneliness, and insecurity. The other doshas may also get involved in anxiety but bringing vata dosha back into balance is the best way to reduce anxiety. in fact, calming vata dosha will often bring the other doshas back to balance as well.


The qualities of vata dosha are dry, light, rough, cold, subtle, mobile, and clear. The general rule of Ayurveda is that "like increases like and opposites decrease".


That means that dry, light, rough, cold, subtle, mobile, and clear foods, lifestyle practices, environment, and interactions in our relationships will increase vata and ultimately may lead to anxiety.


Using the above rule of "like increases like and opposites decrease", you can apply the opposite qualities to your life to help calm vata dosha and calm anxiety. Here are some examples of how you can calm vata dosha.

  • You can do this by eating foods that are warm, moist, and full of good oils while avoiding foods that are dry, light, rough, cold, and clear.

  • You can incorporate lifestyle practices that bring more oily, heavy, smooth, warm/hot, and static qualities into your life while avoiding activities that create a lot of movement and cold, rough, and light qualities. Abhyanga, self-massage with warm oil, is a great activity to calm anxiety while increasing the oily, heavy, smooth, and warm/hot qualities. You can read more about abhyanga here. Be sure to use warm oil for your abhyanga to help settle vata and anxiety.

  • While it's not always easy to change your environment, it is possible to add extra layers of clothing to provide warmth when you are cold, which will help reduce vata dosha. However, at some point, you may even decide that living in a new environment that is warmer and less dry may be just the thing to reduce anxiety and settle vata dosha.

  • Additionally, you can surround yourself with relationships that are warm, soft, grounded, and stable to help calm anxiety and reduce vata dosha, while avoiding relationships that are cold, rough, hard, and unstable.


woman sleeping


How the Doshas May Affect Sleep

Ayurveda tells us that different times of day have a predominance of one dosha over the other two. To learn more, check out the chart below.


Ayurvedic clock

Vata is predominant from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. and from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Kapha is predominant from 6 a.m. (or sunrise) to 10 a.m. and from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Pitta is dominant from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.


This view of the different times of day can explain why you may be experiencing anxiety and sleep issues.


If you wake up between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m., it's quite possibly because you have a vata imbalance. When vata is imbalanced, it can lead to feelings of anxiety, worry, fear, insecurity, and loneliness. Most people who wake between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. often report having anxiety and worry.


Waking between 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., or having difficulty falling asleep would indicate a pitta imbalance. There may be feelings of anger, frustration, self-criticism, or even violent dreams. In fact, people with a lot of pitta in their constitution are known to get a second wind if they stay up beyond 10 p.m., and then they may feel the need to thoroughly fix their lives, and maybe the world, before they finally fall asleep around 2 a.m.


Kapha individuals or people with a Kapha imbalance tend to have very different sleep issues. They tend to oversleep, getting 9 or more hours of sleep per night. Ayurveda recommends waking at 6 a.m. (or sunrise) and having some physical activity during this kapha time of morning (6 a.m. to 10 a.m.). Exercising during this time is especially beneficial to bring kapha back into balance.


woman in bed


While Ayurveda recommends that we wake with the sun and sleep with the sun, there are exceptions. It may be beneficial for you to sleep in a little bit later than sunrise if you have a vata imbalance. Because kapha dosha is dominant from 6 a.m. (or sunrise) to 10 a.m., you can absorb more of the water and earth qualities present in the environment by sleeping at this time, which helps to balance out the excessive air and ether present during a vata imbalance. However, this would not be a good way to balance vata dosha if your kapha dosha is also out of balance.


It is beneficial for everyone to make use of the kapha time of night, which starts from 6 p.m. and goes to 10 p.m. During this time, it is recommended to gradually wind down, switch off electronic devices, and follow a sleep routine to prepare yourself for a good night's rest. This way, you can aim to be in bed and asleep by 10 p.m. Ayurveda says this kapha time of night also has more heaviness due to the predominance of water and earth elements, which helps us to prepare to fall asleep.


Another reason this 10 p.m. bedtime is so important is that Ayurveda says that the body does a natural detox during the pitta time of night from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. If we are awake during this pitta time of night or are still digesting dinner or evening snacks, then the body doesn't have an opportunity to do this natural detox.


Even Western doctors are beginning to discuss the importance of an early bedtime. This article from Healthline recommends falling asleep between 10 and 11 p.m. for heart health and to make the most of the circadian rhythms. The NIH describes circadian rhythms as "physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour cycle. These natural processes respond primarily to light and dark and affect most living things, including animals, plants, and microbes." Ayurveda has been saying for thousands of years that it is important to wake up when the sun rises and go to sleep when the sun sets. Of course, in India, which is closer to the equator, the sunrise and sunset do not fluctuate as much as in areas further from the equator, so we instead say to wake before 6 a.m. and go to sleep by 10 p.m.


woman sleeping

9 Ayurvedic Bedtime Rituals for Reducing Anxiety and Promoting Good Sleep


1. Finish dinner by 6 or 7 p.m.

Going to sleep with undigested food in the gut does not lead to sound sleep and prevents the body from doing its normal evening cleanup routine because it is still working to digest the evening meal. Remember that getting a good night's sleep will help to reduce anxiety.


woman on a computer and phone

2. Turn off screens by 8 p.m.

Western research shows that the light from screens can affect circadian rhythms and therefore increase sleep issues. Turning off your devices by 8 p.m. helps the body to begin to wind down for the evening and prepare for sleep.


red mug with warm spiced milk

Having warm, spiced milk 2 hours after the evening meal and one hour before bed can help promote good sleep. It will not only help you to fall asleep but will also provide a sound, deep sleep. Milk naturally contains tryptophan, melatonin, and serotonin.

Adding a pinch of nutmeg, which contains natural narcotic properties, also helps facilitate good sleep. According to Ayurveda, whole milk is the best choice for stimulating sleep because it has more fat and is more grounding for vata dosha

chamomile tea being steeped

4. Chamomile tea

If you are not a milk drinker or want to skip the milk on some occasions chamomile tea is a nice herbal tea to help calm the mind and promote good sleep. Traditional Medicinals offers a nice Chamomile with Lavender Tea.


woman doing yoga nidra

5. Yoga nidra or meditation

Yoga nidra

Yoga nidra, translated as yogic sleep, is a practice of guided meditation that leads to deep relaxation. Researchers have shown that this practice can be helpful for people with chronic insomnia when practiced regularly. You can do yoga nidra anytime of day, and some are specifically designed to be used before bed to help you get to sleep.


A friend of mine, Mona Warner, has some lovely MP3 recordings of Yoga Nidra Practices:


Insight Timer is a free app that has many yoga nidra practices.


Meditation

Meditation is a practice of self-regulation and transformation that employs awareness and concentration. Practicing meditation either before bed or at other times during the day can help reduce insomnia and promote falling asleep and staying asleep.


The free app, Insight Timer, also offers guided meditations.


If you're feeling too anxious to sit in meditation, you could try a walking meditation.


Here are a couple of walking meditations to try:


woman doing nadi shodhana


6. Breathing Practices

Pranayama, yogic breathing practices, can help to settle the mind before sleep. Nadi Shodhana--alternate nostril breathing and Brahmari--the bumble bee breath are two that help to balance the mind and slow the thoughts, leading to a more restful slumber.


Here are some free downloadable pdf's of Alternate Nostril Breathing and the Bumble Bee Breath:

Bumble_Bee_Breath
.pdf
Download PDF • 2.41MB

Alternate_nostril_breathing
.pdf
Download PDF • 4.34MB



woman massaging her hands

7. Abhyanga--Self-Massage with Warm Oil

Abhyanga, self-massage with warm oil, is normally recommended as a morning routine. When performed daily, this can help calm the nervous system so that sleep becomes sound. For some people, abhyanga before bed can also be helpful. This loving, self-care routine can help you to settle the body down before sleep and promote deep sleep. It can be especially soothing for those who have experienced nighttime trauma and struggle with settling down at night.



This practice of abhyanga is absolutely transforming. I highly recommend starting a daily abhyanga practice especially when there is anxiety.


Kottakkal is a great company that sells oils that are prepared in India and distributed from Upstate New York.


a bottle of dhanwantharam oil

Dhanwantharam Oil is especially nourishing. It's excellent for anyone who feels depleted or has a vata imbalance. If you have a vata constitution or a vata imbalance, this is a great oil for you! And it is excellent for postpartum mothers to help rebuild strength.






a bottle of balashwagandhadi oil

Balashwagandhadi Oil is another oil that I use with my clients. It helps to soothe vata and pitta doshas. It has Ashwagandha and Bala, two popular Ayurvedic herbs cooked into it in a special process that allows the body to absorb the herbs during self-massage.









bottle of balaguluchyadi oil

Balaguluchyadi oil is excellent for burning sensations in the body and inflamed, swollen joints. It is composed of bala and guduchi It helps to pacify both vata and pitta dosha. It's a slightly thinner oil, which is especially nice for pitta dosha.








bottle of kshirabala oil

8. Oil crown of the head, soles of feet, and ears

Let's suppose you don't have time to do an evening Abhyanga, then just oil the crown of the head, the soles of the feet, and the ears before bed. Oiling the top of the head calms thoughts. Oiling the soles of the feet calms the nervous system and drains excess heat from the body. The ears are a site of vata where air and ether may accumulate. Oiling, rubbing, and tugging on the ears is incredibly relaxing and often helps to reduce vata emotions like anxiety, worry, and fear.


Be sure to protect your linens by wearing socks and covering your pillow with a dry towel.

Kshirabala Oil is a nervine oil, meaning that it has sedative effects and helps to calm the nervous system. Use this oil on your ears, head, and the soles of your feet before bed. I use this oil on my clients during treatments to help settle vata dosha and anxiety.




woman sleeping

9. Be asleep by 10 pm

Ayurveda tells us that the body does important digestive and cleanup work during the pitta time of night, from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. If we are not asleep during this time, then the body is unable to perform this cleanup and rejuvenation process. While Ayurveda has always recommended waking when the sun rises and going to sleep as the sun sets, Western science is also beginning to support this idea, indicating that going to sleep early has definite health benefits.



To Reduce Anxiety, Start Using These 9 Ayurvedic Bedtime Rituals

By using these 9 Ayurvedic bedtime rituals for anxiety and following the Ayurvedic clock, you can begin to take control of your sleep cycles. Try implementing one or two of these rituals into each day this week and see how they affect your sleep patterns. It may take several weeks to see a change, and it may take implementing several of these rituals, rather than just 1 or 2, but over time, your sleep should improve.



Let Me Know How These 9 Ayurvedic Bedtime Rituals for Anxiety Work for You!

Try these Ayurvedic bedtime rituals for anxiety and I would love to hear how they work for you. Please let me know in the comments section below.

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