How to sleep better

Using ayurveda and congnitive therapy, I can help you change your sleep patterns

  • Do you wish you could sleep better than you do right now?
  • Are your sleeping patterns having a negative impact on your life?
  • Do you find that you cannot fall asleep when you go to bed or wake in the night and cannot get back to sleep?
  • Do you feel exhausted in the mornings?
  • Do you over-sleep and throw your body clock out of sync?
  • Have you tried everything suggested from mainstream resources but have found that nothing works?

I spent most of my young adult life with sleep issues, varying from not being able to fall asleep to restless sleep, waking up from restless legs, sciatica or bad dreams.  I had inconsistent bedtimes for fear of not being able to sleep. I thought that if I went to bed later than midnight, I might sleep better.  If I got one good night’s sleep in 20, then I was so pleased with myself. This was all in vain as I just woke up exhausted and grumpy and craved caffeine or sugar to keep me awake and drank wine in the evening to help me relax. Can you relate to this? Would you like to change it?

I must add that I now sleep soundly and go to bed feeling naturally tired.  Most of the time I get a restful, comfortable sleep and feel refreshed, energised and excited to start my day in the morning.  What a wonderful change to how things used to be. But I know all too well how frustrating it is when you want more from life but physically and mentally cannot function fully because you have not slept well.

Sleep plays a direct role on your overall health

I would urge anyone to address this before you tackle any other health concern as this can affect what you choose to eat, when you eat, your food cravings, mood, motivation and cognitive function throughout the day and long-term.

Having a balanced sleep cycle plays a very important role in your overall health on a number of levels. Some of the benefits of sleep are fairly obvious but did you know that your brain cleans itself when you sleep at night?

  • Sleep helps to restore our level of alertness. Research has shown that your brain cleans itself when you sleep, which may reduce the risk of Alzheimers.  The flow of cerebrospinal fluid increases and washes away waste proteins that have built up when you are awake. The lymphatic systems of the body and brain play a larger role than doctors have yet to realise.
  • Lack of sleep can affect learning and retaining information – Have you ever noticed how your memory reduces when you know you have not had enough sleep?
  • Sleep plays a role in the repair and rejuvenation of the tissues of the body, including muscle growth, tissue repair and healing wounds.
  • Sleep helps to remove toxic waste and directly supports the immune system.
  • Studies have linked sleep deprivation with increased levels of cancer growth and a decrease in immunity, so the body loses ability to control the growth of cancer cells.
  • The quality of your sleep is as important as the amount of sleep you get.
  • Circadian rythms play a huge part of the sleep-wake cycle.  They are changes that follow a natural cycle and when these rythms are out of sink, they can affect your health (more on this in a later post).
  • Intermittent fasting can help build a stronger circadian rythm, which in turn can help you sleep better.  Different body types need different types of fasting, so contact me if you are interested in trying this.
Change your rhythms and change your sleep

Lack of sleep causes mental anxiety

Doctors had believed for years that mental illness triggers abnormal sleep but new research has shown that it is lack of sleep that can cause and aggravate mental anxiety.  

There is a strong link between lack of sleep and mood, depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. There is also increasing evidence in the field of psychology that sleep plays a critical role in supporting the emotional side of the brain. 

What type of sleep disorder do you have?

I see sleep problems as classified into different characteristics for different people and one solution does not fit all. If you have tried everything that has been suggested by other sources but with no real success, then it might help you to know what type of sleep issue you have. You may then be able to tune into your own mental state and start addressing the relevant long-term solution for you.

Sleep issues can often be so linked to how you manage your lifestyle, past experiences and your current circumstances.  I have listed the variations below. Work out which one you can more closely relate to, although you may be a combination, depending on the weather, other health issues and your current environment.

You have light sleep with irregular patterns. When you are often exhausted during the day but your sleep has become so bad that exhaustion can be the norm for you, but your sleep is mostly inconsistent. You grind your teeth, talk in your sleep, maybe sleep walk.  You wake up at the smallest of noises and a snoring partner can greatly affect how you sleep at night. You have bad dreams or issues remembering your dreams. You tend to be doing things late at night when others are winding down or in bed. Depending on what time you go to bed, you tend to wake around 2am to 3am and feel restless so cannot get back to sleep.  You are a ‘worrier’ and you may be worrying about a person or some things that you didn’t do and need to.  You will have ‘mental clutter’ from emotions and actions that you have not processed, cleared or ‘sorted’.  You might wake in the night because of an ache in your back or legs. In colder weather, you wake up in the night feeling cold. You sleep for 4 to 7 hours on average.

You prefer a softer mattress but do not care about going to bed because you are anxious about not sleeping.  If you are really out of balance you only prefer your ‘own bed’ and find it difficult to sleep in new places such as hotels for the first few days on holiday.  You get exhausted from travel and your emotional state is often that of anxiety, fear, worry, insecurity and indecisiveness.  In a balanced state, a good 7 hours of quality sleep is perfect for you. Ideally, you should be waking around 6pm or with sunrise but that would mean a bedtime of around 10pm, which is difficult for you. In Ayurveda, this disorder tends to fit mostly with the Vata Dosha imbalances.

Another type of sleep issue I see often is where you generally have no issue falling asleep but sleep moderately and when you wake up, it can may be because you are too hot or are thinking about work. You do not want a lot of sleep and can function on 6 hours. You could sleep for extra hours every few weeks to ‘catch-up’ on sleep missed over the previous weeks. (note: there is no such thing as “catching up” on sleep-your sleep is determined on a daily basis). If you are busy with a project or work deadline you are okay with less sleep.  You will have an active mind about work or vivid dreams and ideas about your work. You often call yourself a ‘night-owl’ and can be more productive in the late afternoon or get a ‘second-wind’ after 10pm and can then often over-stimulate your brain (often to the detriment of your sleep). You function well in the day or the week as you are focussed and goal-orientated.

You prefer a firm mattress with not too much covering as you get too hot. Related emotional imbalances can show up as unprocessed trauma, anger, irritation, frustration or  jealousy. You can be over critical to oneself and others and blame others for things not going right.   A hot-tempered nature will link with a hot body and both may be affecting your relationships. Indigestion or heartburn is a constant for you and can affect you when you lie down at night. These symptoms normally fit with the Pitta dosha types.

The third type of person is generally a heavy and deep sleeper and can sleep anywhere without much disturbance.  You love your bed and love sleeping, relaxing and daydreaming.  You snore, can easily over-sleep, you like a soft mattress and crave comfort in your bed, your life and your relationships. You feel sleepy between around 6pm and 10pm and you could happily go to bed between 7pm and 9pm. You are an early riser but will often wake up tired and it can take a while for you to ‘get going’.  You also have a tendency to over-sleep!

You are seldom hungry for breakfast and a sluggish, lethargic feeling continues throughout the day. If imbalanced, your emotional state tends towards sadness, depression, over-eating or emotional eating, attachment, dull mind and mental fogginess. You seek comfort and security and crave sweet foods.  You may be overweight and would like to lose some. In ayurveda this links with the Kapha body types and imbalances.

Prescription pills and alcohol are not the answer

Around the 1970’s benzodiazepines like Valium were invented.  Sleeping pills and sedatives can increase the risk of pneumonia….. These include diazepam, chlordiazepoxide, lorazepam and temazepam. The drugs also increase the risk of infection and blood poisoning, or sepsis.  Some non benzodiazepine hypnotics are no better than a placebo with 20% of people taking them suffering from side effects . These can also increase the chances of mental problems by 5 times, physical or motor problems by 3 times and daytime fatigue by nearly 4 times.  The amygdala, the part of the brain which registers emotions, can become heightened by 60%.  Have you noticed a pattern between feeling depressed, sad or irritated on sleeping pills?

A big impact on sleep is your internal clock and your melatonin levels

It pains me to discover that melatonin is now sold as over the counter and can have side effects like headache, stomach issues and seizures.  Melatonin is a natural by-product of your lifestyle and should not be synthesised and bottled up for popping before bed…

Sleeping pills only mask an underlying issue which you might need help to understand.  This is often not obvious to the sufferer (if it was, the solution would be easy!)

Good sleep falls within how you live outside the bedroom

The issue with mainstream recommendations for sleep disorders is a one fits all approach such as avoiding coffee, cooling your room or getting natural light.  Whilst these are not to be dismissed, there is more to it than that.  This approach does not help the variants in sleeping patterns which I mentioned before, such as whether you can fall asleep in the first place, if you sleep lightly or heavy or if you have aches or pains.

I suggest you start with diet changes and address what is going on inside your mind

As I have mentioned already, it is important to know that not everyone can follow a simple routine to change their sleeping patterns.  Many sleep issues can be linked to an underlying cause going back years.  The 3 types of sleep disorders I mentioned above also need tailored diets, routines and herbs based on the person.  Addressing your overall wellness is important too.  Have a look at an article I wrote on this and see what areas of your life you would to be more balance in.

The real answers are not always in how much coffee you drink.  However, I do get my clients with a nervous disposition to reduce caffeine and go on decaf for a while.  If you do need coffee in the morning, go for a good quality ground coffee bean (not dried and processed into jars!)-buy yourself a cafetière or a grinder.

Real coffee contains antioxidants which can be beneficial for health, so in a balanced state of mind we should be able to drink two cups of good quality coffee a day without it affecting sleep.  I love my two coffees a day but do not need one to wake me up, but there was a time I need 7 or 8 cups of tea or coffee to keep me going throughout the day! Besides your overall wellness, here are my top 20 tips for helping you to sleep better: 

  1. Do NOT eat a heavy meal at least 3 hours before bed-this can play havoc on your digestion and sugar levels and wake you up in the night.  Sadly, it is our culture to eat out late or cook dinner between 7pm and 9pm. You confuse your brain and liver if it has to try to digest food instead of sleeping and cleansing your body from toxins built up throughout the day! If you are the pitta types, you may need a light meal around 7 or 8pm to stop you feeling hungry before bed or during the night.
  2. Everyone should aim to have their main meal between 11.30am and at least 4 or 5pm.  This is when digestion is at it’s best and you digest, absorb and assimilate the nutrients from your foods at this time.  If you regularly eat late at night, you are causing toxins to build up in your tissues and this can affect your sleep, among many other things.
  3. What do you eat during the day?  The foods you eat can have a direct impact on your gut, your brain and your energy levels.  Eating the right food at the right times can make all the difference to how you sleep and varies depending on the sleep issue you have.
  4. Eat your oats or stewed apple for breakfast. Oats are a natural source of tryptophan. Tryptophan helps regulate our body’s natural circadian rhythms and melatonin is produced from tryptophan.  It is  the melatonin that influences you to feel sleepy. Do you notice how good you feel after eating porridge in the morning? Stewed apple can help digestion and is a gentle cleanse for the system.
  5. Other foods with tryptophan are pumpkin and seame seeds, milk, bananas, some dark chocolate, eggs, cheese (but not late at night), beans, lentils, tofu, some meats and chicken. The key is that you should be firstly able to digest them and not make you bloated!
  6. Get up early or at the same time each day – waking between 5am and 7am is good for your health.  Lymph moves better and you are keying into natures cycle.  In winter this may vary.  If you suffer from ME or chronic fatigue, this is not as straightforward as we think.  You will need a tailored approach to your lifestyle to help you. Otherwise, just try to at least get up at the same time, even if that means sitting on the sofa. You may need to slowly train your brain to do this over a month or two until you start to wake up naturally.  Move your alarm by 15 minutes each week over the month. It took me a while to reset my own bodyclock but I now wake up naturally without an alarm.
  7. Once your body gets used to getting up with the sun, you will naturally start to feel tired earlier in the evenings. Just tune into it.
  8. Create a morning routine-having a routine of sorts in the morning can be beneficial for motivation and adds structure to the start of your day.  Keep it simple to start with until you get used to it.  Write it down with a copy in the bedroom and a copy in the kitchen, if necessary. This can help you feel more organised and less over-whelmed and can help set you up for a calmer evening (more on routines later)
  9. Start your day calmly and then with movement. Gentle yoga is great for getting circulation moving and stimulating digestion.  Try these simple sun salutations, which anybody can do, even if you have not exercised before.
  10. Create a calm evening routine – if you are wired to dislike going to bed or worry you will not sleep, start creating a routine which you know will wind you down.  Turn your TV volume down OR off an hour before bed and when you are watching it in the evening. Reduce the brightness and contrast. Set a time where you put your phone/laptop onto airplane or silent mode or better still to turn it off.  This can be difficult if you use it as an alarm clock.  Put it on airplane mode no later than 9pm and stay off social media after that time.  Make sure your room is dark or dimly lit for going to bed. Have your room at a temperature to suit you before you go into it.  If it is too cold, take the chill out 1/2 hour before bed.
  11. Reflect on your day-how did your day go?  Can you record this in a journal or notepad?  Focus on what went well and if something was not right, just record and note it.  Your subconscious brain may process it whilst you sleep.  What would you like to achieve tomorrow?
  12. Clear your lists and actions by 7pm which gives you time to have a light snack and begin to wind down
  13. Keep your room only for sleeping.  Many people have turned their bedrooms into offices.  Train your brain to associate your room for relaxing sleeping and sexual activities.  Do not eat, watch TV (electricity in your room at night can cause havoc on your cells) or use your tablet before in bed at night or before your morning shower.  Read at night using a low lit lamp.
  14. Have warm, soothing drinks not cold.  Warm milk with the herbs mentioned below can help.
  15. If you are hot before you go to bed, dip your feet in cool water or massage yourself with aloe vera or coconut oil. Sleep in cotton which is a natural fibre.
  16. Use a sleep meditation/relaxation app-remember if you use this, your phone will be turned on so bear in mind what I said about checking emails or social media.  Turn your phone to ‘Do Not Disturb’.  Some apps allow you to download sessions to listen to later – do your research.
  17. Relaxing spa or classical music – if you are not too sensitive to noise late in the evening some gentle spa music or meditation could help to calm the hyperactive brainwaves that keep us awake.  This form of mindfulness may assist to focus the breathing and mind to induce a calmer state for sleep and help decrease your heart rate and anxiety.
  18. Learn to Breath!  Yes, as obvious as it sounds most people walk around in a state of shallow short breathing and mindlessness.  Learning to breath slowly and deeply releases endorphines (the happy pills for the body), brings more oxygen to the lower part of the lungs and calms the heart. Deep breathing also acts as mini massage for the organs under them. Meditation and Yoga can help to tune you into your breath.
  19. Breath in and out through your nose – deep nasal breathing increases oxite nitrate acid, which relaxes blood vessels and helps you feel calmer afterwards.  Try 10 to 20 breaths with your eyes closed before going to bed.
  20. Give yourself the gift of exercise – if you love exercise, try doing it between 6am and 10am or early afternoon. This helps to move the lymph of the large lymph vessels and increase circulation.  Yoga and pilates are exercise and can be done up to 9pm.  If evening exercise wakes you up and raises your energy too much, I would suggest you change the times.  If evening exercise calms you down, then do it.  Whatever, works for you.  

Consider what is missing from your life to motivate you in the mornings and work out what the best time for you to get up is now.  Then aim to stick to that time, no matter what. You will need to get to the underlying cause of this too as a healthy, happy person will naturally wake between the 5am and 7am times.  I always ask my clients the question “what is your reason for getting up in the morning”?  If they cannot answer that, we work on finding one.  This can have the greatest impact on empowering change in you.

Herbs and Oils which may help

Herbs can be used temporarily to help, whilst balancing your life in the meantime.  It is worth trying natural remedies before opting for toxic pills or prescriptions.

  1. Ashwagandha is an indian herb which I use in my ayurvedic medicine.  It can lower emotional stress and anxiety and help improve sleep. It has been known to regulate central nervous system issues and adopts to the body. In some cases, it can help increase libido to
  2. Brahmi is another herb I use as it helps to support sleep.  It calms emotions, helps concentration and is great for digestive issues.
  3. Tulsi (holy basil) is the 3rd herb I might use to help someone with stress.  It calms the mind and helps restore sleep.
  4. Valarian – most of you will have seen this in mainstream health stores.  It has been used by the greeks for insomnia for over 2,000 years and can help you to nod off if you have problems falling asleep.  Take about 30 minutes before bedtime but it only works for some people.  I have seen better results using other herbs.
  5. Valerian-this herb has been used by the greeks for insomnia for over 2,000 years and can help you to nod off if you have difficulty falling asleep, taken about 30 minutes before bedtime.  This only works for some people.
  6. Low serotonin levels can impact on sleep so taking 5HTP is another suggestion.  Remember low serotonin which can often be caused by mental anxiety, low mood, too many processed sweet stuff (especially before bedtime), feeling irritable and of course sleep disorders-so the cycle continues all over again.
  7. Aromatherapy essential oils can help to calm the central nervous system before bedtime. Using these in a blend to do self-massage (or abhyanga in ayurveda) can calm the nervous system, improve circulation, ease dry skin and help the microbes on the skin. As a qualified aromatherapist I see Lavender being overused. Do not use every day and when you use it, blend it with Marjoram, Geranium and Chamomile to get a balance for your body and mind (avoid during pregnancy).  The smell of these oils can also have a positive effect on the limbic brain, ie the part that controls emotions.
  8. Mahanarayan Oil is used in ayurveda medicine for marma therapies and massage.  It is nourishing and conditioning.  A good quality oil can contain up to 15 herbs, roots, seeds or flowers.  Self massage is a caring action for yourself and can help release tension, anxiety and restlessness.  It can help sleep if done in a calm environment last thing. 

I can also provide quality massage therapies based on your ayurveda dosha/body type and ailment.  Take a look here.  

Please ensure you source your oils from a reputable supplier and are not tested on animals, as many sellers on-line offer poor quality, chemically produced oils which may do more harm than good.  

Teas to drink in the evening

Some of my personal favourite calming teas to drink in the evening are from the Pukka range.  Many herbal tea manufacturers use bleached teabags.  Pukka teabags are made of a special blend of natural abaca (a type of banana) and plant cellulose fibres.  They are also staple-free, the bags are stitched together with organic cotton. The tea bag strings are made from 100% organic, non-GMO, un-bleached cotton.  You pay a bit more but you will notice the taste and they are cheaper than a bottle of wine!

My personal four favourites are:

  • Pukka Night Time – contains chamomile, lavender, licorice, oat straw flowering tops and tulsi (tulsi is an Ayurvedic herb I use to help promote sleep)
  • Three Chamomile-organic Egyptian, Croatian & Hungarian chamomile
  • Chamomile, vanilla and manuka
  • Pukka Love-Organic Rose-Chamomile flower (25%), limeflower, elderflower, marigold flower, licorice root, rose flower (5%) lavender flower (5%)


  • Work out what your main sleep concern and aim is
  • Try one or two changes a month from the suggestions to see if it makes a difference
  • Plan less in the evenings but keep your mind stimulated during the day with things you like
  • Stop trying to please everyone and look after yourself
  • Pay attention to your daily eating habits, good sleeping patterns and anxieties during the day
  • Block time in your diary for an evening wind-down ritual and herbal tea in your favourite mug
  • Talk to your doctor about reducing your sleeping pills by 2mg a month to get off them
  • Be aware of much you rely on alcohol to wind down or relax – face up to what is causing your stress?
  • No caffeine 6 hours before bedtime if you are the restless types and eventually get yourself off caffeine to wake you
  • Do not accept a sleep disorder as permanent – it is not your genetic make-up and can be changed!

If you would professional help to sleep better and have more energy throughout the day, call me for a FREE 30 MINUTE TELEPHONE CONSULTATION 07903 215524

Costs are £50.00 for a 90 minute face to face meeting and £40 for hourly coaching and mentoring thereafter




Clock photo by congerdesign / Pixabay
Frustration photo by typographyimages / Pixabay
Sleeping pills/wine glass photo by Bru-nO / Pixabay
3 Alarm clocks by Alexas_Fotos / Pixabay
Teabags by Skitterphoto / Pixabay

Christine Southwell
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