Ayurveda and Sleep
We all understand that sleep is an important factor for normal biological function. Ayurveda considers the quality and quantity of our sleep to be as essential to our health and well-being as our dietary habits.
The right amount of restful sleep affords our bodies and minds not only an opportunity to be restored, but time to absorb and assimilate the day’s intake. There are processes that occur during sleep that can’t be reproduced while we are awake. The ancient science of Ayurveda explains that we are under the constant influence of the essential forces of nature called doshas. Each dosha consists of specific elemental qualities that affect us according to personal, daily and seasonal rhythms. Ayurveda teaches that there is a certain period of the day that is optimal for sleeping and that the amount of sleep we need varies individually and even seasonally.
Sleeplessness, called nidranasha in Sanskrit, may include an inadequate amount of sleep and/or poor quality of sleep. Occasional lack of sleep may leave us tired the next day, but chronic sleep deprivation can lead to a decline in our physical and mental health. Lack of adequate sleep interferes with the ability of our bodily systems to repair and rejuvenate. Without sufficient rest our digestion, metabolism, cell regeneration, emotional balance, creativity, mental clarity and motor skills are impaired. There are a number of factors that can inhibit sound sleep including lifestyle, environmental stimuli, travel, health disorders, and our emotional and mental state. In our modern ‘24-hour world’ we can work and play whenever we choose, but we are still intrinsically regulated by the cycles of nature. Ayurveda proposes that the more we align ourselves with nature’s rhythms, in accordance with our individual nature, the more we will experience a life in balance.
“Ayurveda teaches that there is a certain period of the day that is optimal for sleeping and that the amount of sleep we need varies individually and even seasonally.”
Here are a few Ayurvedic recommendations that promote sound sleep:
- Follow a regular routine of going to bed in the kapha time of the evening between 8 -10 pm and wake up in the vata time of the morning before sunrise
- Create a pre-bedtime routine including – abhyanga (oiling your body) followed by soaking in a warm bath with Himalayan salt and essential oils or a taking warm shower – calming yoga asanas, pranayama, visualization and meditation – drinking a cup of warm milk or calming herbal tea – listening to calming music or sounds of nature – aromatherapy that is calming
- At bed side – apply sesame oil to feet, wear socks or remove excess oil with cloth – apply brahmi and sandalwood infused sesame oil on the top of the head and/or forehead – spray lavender on bed pillow – sit and connect with your breath, then consciously release the details of your day, surrendering to this time of restoration
- Create a bedroom that is clean, uncluttered, comfortable and peaceful – use soothing colors and soft textures – avoid watching TV, using a computer, talking on the telephone or eating in this room
- Difficulty falling asleep or waking up during sleep – For vata mental activity (fluctuating, fantasy, worry): use color visualization to ‘entertain’ the mind into a calm and steady place / for pitta mental activity (planning, analyzing, fixing): allow the mind to be purposeful on the ‘pressing point’ for a few moments, see ‘it’ in its perfect and highest state, then after a job well done, give the mind another purpose of following mantra or counting the breath with exhalations twice as long as the inhalations
- Vata types should sleep on their back (balancing lunar and solar energy), pitta types on their right side (breathing in lunar energy) and kapha types on their left side (breathing in solar energy)
- Have regularly scheduled meals – make your last meal of the day easily digestible, light, and nourishing – allow 2 -3 hours after eating and before going to bed, go to sleep on your left side if you feel like you are still digesting your food
- Maintain a regular daily self-care routine, including garshana (dry brushing), abhyanga, nasya (nasal oiling), asana, pranayama, vyayama (activity/exercise),meditation, time in nature – aspire to have a sattvic lifestyle
Avoid naps late in the afternoon, such as after 3 p.m. Exercise regularly. Don’t exercise, however, too late in the day—as activity close to bedtime may make it difficult to fall asleep.
- Warm milk recipe and ritual: 1 cup organic milk (dairy, nut, seed or legume), 1 teas. ghee, pure maple syrup or dates (to taste), choice of turmeric, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom (to taste) – warm ingredients in a small pot, pour into your favorite cup, follow your breath as you sip slowly, enjoy the sweet aroma and taste, imagine yourself drifting into a deep and peaceful sleep
Ayurveda generally identifies insomnia as being caused by excess vata or excess pitta (or a combination of the two). Vata’s light and mobile qualities make it difficult for the mind to rest. Often a vata person will not be able to fall asleep because of the mind’s tendency to replay thoughts and emotions from the day. When a vata individual does fall asleep, many times the sleep is light and restless, never quite reaching a deep sound sleep. There is a tendency to wake in the early morning hours, 2-4am, and be unable to get back to sleep. Pitta individuals tend to lose sleep between 10pm-2am, the time of night ruled by pitta dosha. If pitta individuals can not fall asleep before 10pm, pitta’s intense sharpness of intellect combined with the quality of light from pitta’s fire make this a tempting time to “burn the midnight oil.” They are also most prone to indulge in midnight snacks, which can further impair their quality of sleep and digestion. Pittas can also have a difficult time letting go of stress from the day and relaxing before bed. Sleep disorders due to an imbalance in kapha dosha generally relate to excessive sleep and lethargy. Although the person may sleep long and deep, they do not wake up feeling well rested. Obesity and sluggishness can result. Ayurveda’s dietary and lifestyle guidelines, herbal remedies, yoga and meditation help to ensure a healing and restful night’s sleep. Firstly, it is important to make sure that you are setting aside enough time for sleep. Some people do not need as much sleep as others, but generally six to seven hours of uninterrupted sleep is sufficient for most. People with a predominately vata constitution may benefit from more hours of sleep, while kaphas benefit from less. If you are not getting enough sleep, go to bed earlier. Early to bed, early to rise is a good recommendation for all doshas. Generally, it is not recommended to sleep during the day because this increases kapha. According to Ayurveda, there is always an important vata component in nidranasha, but vata and pitta type of insomnia is recognized. Ayurveda explains that nidranasha is due to atipravrutti sroto dushti (excess flow) of vata or pitta dosha in majja vaha srotas. Vata type insomnia is characterized by difficulty falling asleep with the mind very active and many different thoughts; combined with light or restless sleep and waking in the vata time of morning, between two and four o’clock, then having difficulty falling back asleep. Pitta type insomnia is described as difficulty falling asleep with the mind intense and purposeful; this usually occurs in the pitta time of the night; once asleep, the individual usually stays asleep. Many physical, psychological and environmental factors contribute to insomnia. When that need for sleep is not met, vata is disturbed and any of the three doshas may respond in an excessive manner. Samprapti theory explains that chronic insomnia leads to an accumulation of the excess dosha/s, which can create further disorders and eventually disease.
- Melatonin* rich foods such as, almonds, sunflower seeds, cherries, flax seeds, oats
- Tryptophan** rich foods such as, bananas, beans, soy products, potatoes, hazelnuts, sunflower, pumpkin and sesame seeds, rice, kelp, dairy products, eggs, tuna, turkey
- Complex carbohydrates – serotonin production
Melatonin is a hormone that regulates the body’s circadian rhythm cycle, the sleep-wake cycle **The brain turns the amino acid tryptophan into serotonin, a neurotransmitter that controls feelings and moods, as well as, hunger, thirst, sleep – at night, the pineal gland converts serotonin into melatonin Disclaimer: This article was written for educational purposes only and is based on the tradition of Ayurveda. It is not intended to treat, diagnose, prescribe or heal any health condition or to replace standard medical treatment or advice.