The topic of sleep has surely been on the rise during the last few years and for a good reason–an average person spends a total of 25 years of her life sleeping. And yet, a lot of us tend to take sleep for granted, mostly until we don’t get enough of it.
We decided to write this blog post about sleep in general and connect it with Ayurvedic wisdom. After all, the 3000 old healing art should have something to tell us on such a fundamental human need!
Myths & truths about sleep
Sleep has the basic function of rest and relaxation but unfortunately, too much of it is associated with laziness and low productivity in many industrialised cultures. Working late into the night and waking up early is seen as a sign of hard work and commitment. Many of us share these values subconsciously.
However studies have shown that sleep has many more functions than to just relax your body and mind. While we are sleeping peacefully in our beds, in the background–a lot is happening. Millions of connections are being built between the neurons in our brains, a process that carries out a few important missions. Apart from aiding our cognitive development, it helps us process the day’s events at an emotional level while at the same time, strengthening our immune systems too. Now this is both fascinating but also quite important, don’t you agree?
The consequences of poor sleep
What happens when we neglect our sleep? We have all heard about sleep deprived parents and their daily struggles, but it is also common amongst the rest of us. In fact, 7 of the 15 leading causes of death in the U.S are linked to reduced sleep duration. The reason for this is that a sleep deprived person cannot cognitively and emotionally function well. This can cause big problems both immediately and long term. Continuous sleep deprivation can lead to cardiovascular disease, diabetes and hypertension.
What is the Ayurvedic perspective on sleep?
According to Ayurveda, the three pillars–constituents of Tri-Upastambha, of a healthy life are:
Aaahara - diet
Nidra - sleep
Brahmacharya - a balanced control of the senses
This means that in order to stay in balance, stay healthy and live long, we all need a balanced diet, adequate and deep sleep as well as balanced sensory pleasures which includes taste, touch, smell, sound and sight. These pillars not only keep our body and mind alert, but also interact and affect each other. Meaning, if one is out of balance, it surely will affect the other too. Perhaps, you already noticed, once you are stressed, the diet takes a toll instantly, and then you don’t get enough sleep and then the next day, you turn to ‘comfort food’ (well, it definitely happened to us!).
How our habits affect us
Indeed, overindulgence of fatty and sugary food can quickly throw the diet out of balance which harms our sleep and less sleep can cause imbalanced diet thus forming–a vicious circle.
But let’s turn to the solutions! When we start forming good eating habits, a diet that does not cause inflammation, that does not raise our sugar levels and that is not too heavy–our sleep improves. Not only do we fall asleep faster, we sleep deeper too. Naturally, a person who had a good night sleep, does not seek comfort food or overdose in digital media consumption, which too can compromise our sleep.
As you see, the three elements and pillars can both strengthen each other positively as well as negatively.
DOSHAS & SLEEP
What we have learned so far is that our habits and our health, including sleep, is all connected. Ayurveda always talks about balance, and when we start to understand that what we do, eat, think, talk and sleep–all affects both us, our lives and our planet, we can choose to start working together with this perspective and improve our health and relationships with ourselves as well as with the wider world.
In fact, when we experience a deep and sufficient sleep we receive wonderful gifts such as Sukha (Pleasure), Pushti (Nourishment), Bala (Strength and immunity), Vrishataa (Potency), Gnaanam (Knowledge) and Jeevitam (longevity of life).
How dosha dominance affect our sleep
If you are not already familiar with the concept of doshas, read our blog post to learn more about each of them here.
What happens when we stay awake at night or sleep poorly, is that we produce dryness in our bodies. In addition, vata and pitta doshas are vitiated and kapha dosha is decreased. A vata dosha that is vitiated can cause dizziness, stiffness all over the body, restlessness, lack of concentration, headache and more. A vitiated pitta dosha mainly causes digestion-related problems. All meaning that it is highly important that especially those with Vata and Kapha Doshas stick to their sleep routines and get enough sleep.
To get a good sleep, according to Ayurveda, we need to look into these following two interdependent factors:
timing - when you get to bed and
prelude - how you spend the last hours before going to sleep.
Let’s first look into timing.
Did you know that doshas also apply to a specific time of the day? Indeed! Each four hour time period of the 24 hours is dominated by one dosha, and thus influenced by the qualities of that dosha. In other words, there’s a vata, pitta and kapha time of day and a vata, pitta and kapha time of night. In each of these time periods, the respective Dosha is dominant and determines the nature of our energy level.
You can think of it as ebb and flow within the natural world, including within your own body and mind.
Have a look at the times of the day when each dosha is dominant:
Since our focus now is sleep, let us look at Vata, Pita and Kapha times of the night.
Kapha dominates the times between 6:00 pm to 10:00 pm. Kapha dosha consists of earth and water and naturally induces heaviness. Getting to bed in this phase would help you get a natural sleep better and faster.
Now, let’s look into what happens after 10.00, when the Pitta time starts.
Pitta, the element of fire, takes the form of digestive action. Meaning, that if you are still awake, then the urge to snack or to engage in a mentally stimulating activity like social media usage or streaming kicks in. This disrupts the melatonin production, the sleep hormone, which can compromise the quality of your sleep as you miss out on vital deep sleep that happens in the beginning of our sleep cycle.
What can you do in order to avoid falling into the traps?
In order to secure a natural and easy way of falling asleep, it is highly important to look into the last 90 minutes (8.30-10.00 PM) of the Kapha phase that strongly affects your sleep quality.
A quick and easy tip to help you get into the right state of mind for sleep is not to aggravate Kapha with heavy and oily food. Keep it in balance with a light and early dinner and let your Kapha Dosha lead you to a natural and deep sleep.
Vata & Pitta - special recommendations
If you know that your dominant dosha is Vata or Pitta, it is by nature, more challenging for you to fall asleep compared to the ones with Kapha as dominant dosha.
Why is that?
The Vata Dosha induces non-stop thinking and continuous flow of thoughts about possible future scenarios which makes it difficult for a Vata type of person to fall asleep.
Those with the Pitta Dosha also have an active mind that tries to solve problems all the time and have difficulty falling asleep albeit to a lesser extent.
Calming these two Doshas can help you sleep better.
How to calm your Vata & Pitta doshas:
✧ Drink a light herbal tea at least 90 minutes before going to bed and avoid fluid intake after that. Our RELAX is a suitable choice.
✧Have a warm bath but avoid getting your hair wet.
✧Listening to relaxing music that can calm your Vata or Pitta Dosha.
✧ Avoid watching television, working on the laptop or using your smartphone after 8.30 PM as they aggravate both Vata and Pitta Doshas by giving the mind more impulses to digest.
✧ Avoid intense discussions with friends, family or colleagues that can trigger a chain of thoughts.
Connecting your mind with your body
Remember the 3 health pillars we mentioned earlier? It is equally important to connect your body with your mind and help it come to rest.
We recommend to practice these 5 steps for your mind that can help you close your day.
Firstly, lie down in a comfortable position and make sure that your back and your neck are not strained in any way. Close your eyes and take 3 deep breaths.
Mathew Walker. Why we sleep.
Telles, Shirley, et al. "Ayurvedic doshas as predictors of sleep quality." Medical science monitor: international medical journal of experimental and clinical research 21 (2015): 1421.
Agnivesha, Charak Samhita, with Charak Chandrika Hindi commentary, by Dr Tripathi Brahmanand and Dr Pandey Ganga Sahay, Sutra Sthana Chapter 21, Verse No. 36, Chaukhamba Surbharti Prakashan; 2007. p. 406