Ayurveda’s take on the increasing nature of sleep disordersDr. Surya Bhagwati
One of the three pillars of Ayurveda, sleep is considered a sacred act that is essential for optimal health and well-being. According to the Charaka Samhita, sleep is so important that every other aspect of life depends on it. Quality sleep is associated with the Kapha dosha, which is characterized by slowness, stagnation and rest. On the other hand, sleep disorders are associated with aggravated Vata dosha, characterized by movement, anxiety, restlessness, and nervousness. Unfortunately, our fast-paced modern lives, consisting of high stress, fast food and lack of routine, create the perfect breeding grounds for Vata aggravation and imbalance. It is no surprise therefore that disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnea are dangerously on the rise. In order to alleviate these disorders, doshic balance must be restored in the body with a focus on increasing Kapha and reducing Vata. Inevitably, this will lead to good quality, restful sleep resulting in balance and harmony in every aspect of our health and lives.
According to Ayurveda, there are three main causes of sleep disorders: stress, stimulation before bedtime, and inconsistent sleep schedules. It is almost a given that most people in today’s day make these three lifestyle errors. Stress and anxiety are at an all-time high, smartphones, and televisions are now addictions, and for the most part, our sleep-wake cycles are extremely irregular. These habits must be altered if we desire better sleep and optimal health, and Ayurveda prescribes simple lifestyle changes to combat them.
One of the primary changes we can make to reduce stress and anxiety is to follow a dinacharya, or daily routine. Starting the day off with sattvic activities such as yoga, meditation, abhyanga, pranayama and so on ensures that we are surrounded by calming sattvic energy throughout the day. Further, in order to avoid Vata aggravation which causes anxiety, we must abide by Vata pacifying practices in diet, exercise, and lifestyle. This includes consciously slowing down throughout the day, eating warm and grounding foods, cutting down stimulants, and avoiding over-exertion. Consumption of warm, spiced milk before bedtime calms the body down, offering the perfect antidote to insomnia and other sleep disorders. In addition, sleep-inducing foods can be eaten before bedtime and throughout the day. These are foods that increase Kapha, resulting in calmness, while reducing Vata and Pitta in the body. Therefore, moist and fatty foods are preferred while dry and spicy foods must be avoided.
Stimulation before bedtime:
Due to hectic schedules, it is not uncommon for people to exercise in the evening, use their smartphones or watch television right before bed, or even consume stimulants too close to bedtime. These activities interfere with the body’s ability to fall asleep, causing major sleep disturbances in the long-term. Vata-increasing stimulants must be strictly avoided at least an hour before bed. Further, it is important to enhance Kapha energy at bedtime through calming practices such as oiling the feet and scalp. Ensuring that the bedroom is comforting and conducive to sleep is an essential practice as well. The arrangement of the bedroom must be focused on restfulness, calmness, and comfort. These seemingly minor steps can go a long way in transforming the quality of one’s sleep.
Inconsistent sleep schedules:
Due to the nature of our fast-paced lives, it is very common to have an irregular sleep cycle. Not only are the number of hours inconsistent from day to day, but there is also no routine as to our sleep-wake timings. Fixing the sleep-wake cycle is necessary to ensure long-term sleep health and overall wellness. The most efficient way to do so is by ensuring that you wake up at the same time every morning, no matter what. This must be at or before 6 AM at Vata time, in order to ensure that the body is in alignment with the energy of the environment. To achieve the ideal of 8 hours of sleep, one must sleep before 10 PM. It is advised to attempt to go to bed by 9:30 to avoid the ‘second wind’ of energy that sets in after 10 PM due to the Pitta energy in the environment. Our inner clock does not understand the concept of making up for lost sleep, so sleeping in should be avoided even if you slept late the night prior. Once the sleep cycle is regulated, the likelihood of developing a sleeping disorder greatly diminishes.
Sleep is more essential to overall health and wellness than we realize, because of which lifestyle changes to ensure optimal sleep are necessary for today’s day and age. The increasing nature of sleep disorders is worrying, for it indicates a decline in overall health. Simple, intuitive practices as taught by Ayurveda can go a long way in ensuring good quality sleep, leading to harmony in our overall energy levels and health.
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