Oil Your Feet for Better Sleep

by Angelina Fox

If sleep eludes you, you have trouble falling asleep, or you feel restless in bed, massaging your feet with oil before shutting off the lights may help you sleep better.

In Ayurveda, vata dosha is made up of the elements ether and air, which make it mobile, cold, dry, rough, hard, light, clear, and subtle. You may notice that some of these words describe your sleep pattern and/or your feet. Massaging the feet before bed mitigates these qualities, allowing you to fall asleep sooner, stay asleep, and get better quality sleep—providing a whole range of mental and physical benefits.

The Art of Padabhyanga

In Sanskrit, pada means “foot” and abhyanga means “massaging the limbs” (abhi meaning “into, towards, to” and anga meaning “limb”). Therefore, padabhyanga means massaging the foot. The Sanskrit word for oil is sneha, which is also the same word for love. It’s time to show your feet some love for all they allow you to do in life!

Oiling and massaging the feet each night before bed doesn’t have to be a major operation—it can take as few as three to five minutes. But, if you have the time, it’s nice to give each foot a solid 10- to 20-minute massage.

In addition to showing the feet some love, you will also be loving up all your internal organs. Reflexology uses pressure points in the feet to stimulate certain parts of the body. When you give each foot a good massage, you’re also massaging the organs associated with each of the pressure points.

Here’s your “reflexology lite” lesson: The pressure points in your feet are energetically connected to your organs through energy channels in the body called nadis. When proper pressure is applied to a specific area of the foot, the energy travels up that channel to the correlating organ to help clear energy blocks. If this sounds awesome, read up on reflexology or get a treatment.

Benefits of Foot Massage

Reducing the qualities of vata, while also massaging the organs, has the following beneficial effects:

  • Reduction in stress and anxiety
  • Release of muscle tension
  • Deeper sleep
  • Improved blood circulation
  • Better digestion
  • Softer feet
  • Less foot pain.

What You'll Need

  • Massage oil
  • Socks you don’t mind getting oily
  • Oil warmer (optional)

What Oil to Use

You don’t have to spend a ton of money on fancy massage oil, although you can, if that’s your thing. You can get a simple oil like coconut, sesame, castor, ghee, or sunflower from your local grocery store. Your skin is your largest organ and anything you put on your skin is digested into your bloodstream, like food, so organic is ideal. Be sure to avoid using an oil that irritates your skin or that has a source product to which you’re allergic or sensitive.

If you tend to run hot at night (or in general), coconut is a good choice. If you tend to have cold feet, sunflower or sesame work well. If you’re not sure which oil to use, sesame or castor oil generally work for most people; experiment to see what works for you. If you don’t love the smell, you can mix in a few drops of your favorite essential oil.

If you’re using an oil warmer, add one tablespoon of oil and let it warm up for five to 10 minutes while you’re doing your other bedtime rituals. If you don’t have an oil warmer, you can put your bottle of oil in a bath of hot water. In either case, make sure the oil is cool enough temperature to put on your skin comfortably.

The Technique

Here are two options for your foot massage. Follow the steps with both feet simultaneously or one at a time.

Option 1: I have three to 15 minutes for this

  • Wash your feet with a washcloth or in the tub or shower.
  • Rub on a small amount of oil, coating ankles and feet.
  • Using a little more oil, begin to massage your ankles in circular motions all the way around each ankle. Massage the joints in a circular motion and the long bones in a linear motion.
  • Dip back in for more oil and begin to massage the top of the feet, moving back and forth  from the toes to the ankle.
  • Pinch and massage each toe.
  • Massage the sole of the foot and the heel.
  • Interlace your fingers between the toes and roll the ankle in both directions. It’s easiest to do with the opposite hand and foot.
  • Make sure to put on socks before moving about so you don’t slip.

Option 2: I’m making a relaxing evening out of this

  • Fill a small tub with warm water, 1/8 teaspoon crushed ginger, and ¼ teaspoon Epsom salts or sea salt. Stir until dissolved.
  • Soak your feet in the tub and relax for 20 to 30 minutes.
  • Remove feet from tub and pat dry.
  • Follow the steps above, massaging each foot individually.

Find out more about Ayurvedic self-care.

Angelina Fox, ERYT200, RYT500, YACEP, is a Kripalu-trained Ayurvedic Health Counselor and yoga teacher in the Northern Virginia and Washington DC area. More about the author: yogawithangelina.com