There’s a good reason we spend up to a third of our lives in bed: a direct link between sleep and health.
Not getting enough Zs, studies show, can lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and diabetes. And when we’re sleep-deprived, we run a higher risk of cognitive dysfunction, accidents and depression. Restorative slumber repairs not only our brain cells, but also our skin cells – hence the term “beauty sleep.”
Long before science confirmed the health benefits of sleep, cultural traditions around the world recognized the healing properties of rest. For instance, Ayurvedic medicine, a centuries-old practice rooted in India, links overall happiness with your quality and quantity of sleep, says Dr Michael Breus, a Los Angeles–based clinical psychologist and fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
If standard sleep hygiene practices like limiting screen time, caffeine and alcohol before bed aren’t working for you, ensure your space is optimized for sleep – our signature collection has been refined over decades in partnership with experts – and try embracing some of these rituals from cultures around the globe.
The practice of Ayurveda embraces the idea that each person has a unique constitution made up of three doshas (energies): vata, pitta and kapha. It would follow that each of us has different sleep habits, Breus says. In Ayurvedic medicine, sleep problems often arise from an imbalance of energies in the body. Insomnia is caused by excess vata and pitta energies. Excess kapha is associated with oversleeping. And when pitta is out of balance it can lead to intense dreaming. Learning your dominant dosha by working with an Ayurvedic practitioner can provide insight into your sleep habits.
You can incorporate Ayurvedic rituals into your sleep hygiene. Performing alternate nostril breathing is a way to lower excess vata and help with sleeplessness. Ayurvedic practitioners are also proponents of a pre-bedtime self-massage to help release heat from the body, lower blood pressure, open up blood vessels and calm the mind. “Rose and jasmine are specifically sleep-promoting essential oils,” Breus says. “And the temples and feet are key areas to massage.”
Ancient Egyptians used to soak their blankets in water before bed to keep cool at night. “Lowering the body temperature at night helps you fall asleep and stay asleep,” Breus says. “Rising temperature signals the body to move into a state of alertness in the morning.” If you’re going to take a hot shower, do it two to three hours before bed so your body has time to cool. To follow up, he suggests a cooling mattress pad and quality sheets and blankets: “Natural fibres are best and most comfortable.”
As for those wet blankets, though it may be hard to imagine finding them comforting, Breus says the weight of a soaked blanket could induce a sense of calm: “Studies have shown that weighted blankets help reduce anxiety and stress and can create a sense of relaxation that helps people fall asleep.”
Reflexology is an ancient form of touch therapy in which pressure is applied to points on the body, intended to affect the health of different parts of the body. “Pressure points also connect to different physiological functions, including sleep,” Breus says. Specific reflex points that correspond to sleep include the top of the toes, a point on the outer side of the big toe, the ridges of the toes and a point at the ball of the foot.
Scientific studies have shown a direct benefit for sleep from reflexology, which can elevate sleep quality, reduce fatigue and improve the symptoms of insomnia. “The deep relaxation often achieved by reflexology is at least in part attributable to changes in brain wave activity that closely mirrors the activity of light sleep,” he says.
The pretty flowers used in Balinese bathing rituals and flower baths aren’t just for show. Each kind is selected for its botanical properties. Lavender gives off a stress-melting scent; rose petals nourish dry skin; some orchids are anti-inflammatory. And the warm soak, more relaxing than a shower, is almost guaranteed to lull you into a dream state. It creates a drop in the body’s core temperature, which is ideal as you prepare for bed. “Research indicates that a warm bath at night signals the release of melatonin, a hormone that basically tells your body that it is time to sleep,” Breus says, and baths are most effective as a sleep aid one to two hours before bedtime.
For many parts of the world, the siesta is part of daily life. Shop doors close at 2:30 pm to give everyone time to recharge. “There’s a biological reason you’re usually tempted to take naps in the afternoon,” Breus says. “Our bodies are designed to take long stretches of sleep at night, followed by a brief midday rest. The best time to take a nap is between 1:00 and 3:00 pm, when your body temperature drops and your melatonin levels rise.” Nappers, he says, reap the benefits of improved concentration, enhanced memory, improved mood and improved physical performance.