Sleep, the wondrous state of being that encompasses a significant portion of our lives, holds immense power over our well-being. Ayurveda has stated sleep as one of the most important pillars of health associated with happiness and good health.
Sleep is an important biological process and requirement for the body just like food, water, and air.
During sleep, our body recovers from the wear and tear which occurs during the day. Not just this, there are many more advantages to having a good night’s sleep. During sleep, our body enters an anabolic state (the anabolic state is the constructive mechanism of our body) that restores the body’s critical functions like immunity.
Along with the nervous system, the skeletal system, and the muscular system also recover when you sleep. Therefore, sleeping is necessary for survival. We also feel more alert, restful, calm, and happy after sound sleep.
In a world that never seems to rest, it's ironic that so many struggle to sleep peacefully. In fact, a staggering number of individuals battle sleeplessness night after night, yearning for a restful sleep. If you find yourself among those who lay awake at night, fear not!
In this blog, we will address the widespread issue of insomnia, exploring the reasons why so many people struggle to sleep and providing a range of effective remedies to help you reclaim your nights of tranquil rest.
How does Ayurveda explain sleep?1
The Ayurvedic scholar Charaka explains when the mind and the soul become exhausted or inactive, the sensory and motor organs become inactive too. This leads an individual to a state of sleep.
Importance of sleep: Ayurvedic view
Sleep is important to keep consistency of the bodily functions.
Sleep helps increase strength.
A good night’s sleep retains and increases the power of your brain & mind.
On the other hand, lack of proper sleep might lead to several health issues. Some lifestyle concers like madhumeha (diabetes mellitus), sthoulya (obesity) etc., can occur due to improper sleep.2
The role of sleep
Sleep plays a critical role in brain function, systemic physiology, in maintaining metabolism, regulation of appetite and the functioning of the immune, hormonal, and cardiovascular systems.3
Normal healthy sleep is characterized by various factors that include sufficient duration, good quality, appropriate timing and regularity, and the absence of sleep disturbances and disorders.3
While sleeping, your alertness and consciousness are altered, and the muscular and sensory activity reduces drastically. There is also a modest decrease in the body’s metabolism during sleep.
While we don’t usually respond to our surrounding environment while sleeping, the state of sleep is very different from being totally unconscious (like when under anesthesia or in a coma).
Sleep deprivation disrupts the normal motor and cognitive functions of the body.4
Our body’s natural circadian rhythm or biological clock plays an important role in regulating sleep.
Sleeping at night makes for the balance of the body constituents, and helps with attentiveness, good vision, good complexion, and good digestive power. Infact, Ayurveda suggests that those who indulge in proper sleep at the proper time will not suffer from any type of disease5; their mind will stay calm & cool, and their body will be good-looking!
From the above explanation we can infer that it is not normal to feel sleepy when the body is supposed to be awake. Such problems with sleep can be attributed to poor lifestyle habits or certain underlying medical conditions.
Ayurveda claims violating your sleep schedule and indulging in day time sleep would lead you to an array of health issues such as jaundices, frequent headaches, constant feeling of heaviness of body, malaise, loss of digestive power, nausea, rhinitis, urticaria, drowsiness, coughing, or diseases of the throat, impairment of the memory and intelligence, obstruction of the circulating channels of the body, fever, and a persistent weakness of sensory and motor organs of the body.3
Such issues may also indicate the presence of disorders like insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea, narcolepsy, and others.
The hormone melatonin is responsible for maintaining and regulating normal sleep patterns. This hormone is released by the pineal gland. Interestingly, melatonin is also known as the 'hormone of darkness'.
Problems in sleep patterns may lead to the development of other issues like lack of concentration, difficulty in learning, memory lapses, fatigue, lethargy, and unstable emotional and mental states.
In general, aging is the only factor that can lead to a change in sleep patterns if there are no other underlying health conditions.
The ideal duration of sleep varies according to age and also from one person to another. However, in adults, approximately eight hours of sound sleep at night is deemed necessary.
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Sleep and types of sleep in Ayurveda
In Ayurveda too, sleep is given great importance. Nidra (sleep) is considered one of the three upastambha (three pillars or triad of life) in Ayurveda.
The context related to sleep has been explained very deeply in the classical Ayurvedic text CharakSamhita.
6 types of sleep6
Tamobhava: This kind of sleep occurs due to tamas guna(tamas gunais one among three manas guna or mental qualities. Tamasis considered to be dull, lethargic, dark, and chaotic).
Shleshma samudbhava: This type of sleep occurs due to increase in Kapha dosha.
Mana sharir shrama sambhava: Such types of sleep occur due to mental and physical exhaustion and exertion.
Agantuki: This occurs due to external causes such as medicines, odors, or the topical local application of herbal pastes.
Vyadhyanuvartini: This type of sleep occurs as a result of complications in various disorders.
Ratri svabhavaprabha: This type of sleep occurs due to the nature of the night. This is termed as physiological sleep.
Problems with untimely sleep schedules3
Let’s see what happens when you don’t sleep properly.
Improper sleep can lead to emaciation, weakness.
It can also make learning and concentration difficult.
Lack of sleep can also affect longevity which ultimately leads to untimely death.
If someone is on an irregular sleep schedule, it may hamper the health and wellbeing of a person.5
If someone wakes up for a long time at night on a regular basis, then it may lead to aggravation of Vata dosha in the body. This further leads to dryness in the body.7
If someone sleeps regularly in the daytime, then it may lead to aggravation of Kapha dosha in the body. This leads to an increase in snigdhain the body.8
Let’s take a look at some Ayurvedic suggestions for better sleep.
Sleep according to doshas9
Vata prakriti:Sleep experienced is light, irregular, and short with a minimum duration of 6-7 hours. However, a Vata individual would benefit more from rest. There might be symptoms of teeth grinding, sleepwalking, and sleep talking during sleep. Their dreams may be related to the air such as dreams of flying or falling. They usually are light sleepers. Once woken up, it’s hard for them to go back to sleep.
Pitta prakriti:These individuals tend to experience a sound sleep throughout but can easily be woken up with even the lightest sound. Their dreams are often wild and vivid. Pitta dominant individuals often need 7-8 hours of sleep to feel refreshed.
Kapha prakriti: Kapha individuals tend to have a deep and sound sleep. Infact, a sleep so deep and heavy that they cannot be easily woken up by slight sounds or disturbance. Sometimes, they might even tend to oversleep. Their usual requirement for sleep is generally between 8-9 hours.
How to get better sleep?1,7,9
Use of ubtan or body scrubs followed by a gentle massage.
Say no to smoking and avoid drinking tea or coffee or alcohol before going to sleep.
Avoid working or reading late at night.
Try to keep your mind free and calm instead of overthinking, before going to bed.
Tune in to your favorite soothing songs to calm your mind.
Practicing 5-10 minutes of meditation helps a lot to induce sleep.
It's always a good idea to take a hot shower or a relaxing bath.
Drinking soup made from the meat of marshy and aquatic animals is also deemed useful.
Have boiled rice with yogurt for dinner.
Use your favorite scents and perfumes to freshen up your atmosphere.
Perform samvahana, which is amassaging technique for your body where organs are massaged very gently.
You may also try using soothing ointments on the eyes.
Apart from this, the application of cool pastes over the head and face might be useful.
Having a comfortable, clean, and pleasing sleeping area. Comfortable, cozy beds and regular sleep schedules both contribute to inducing better sleep.
Meditation: Each dosha can benefit from meditation, which helps to soothe and relax the mind, body, and spirit alike. Meditation is a state of balance between the body and mind. The simplest technique to meditate is breath awareness. Just concentrate on your breath and inhale and exhale without allowing your thoughts to enter the mind.
Yoga: Yoga is a science that promotes greater physical, mental, moral, intellectual, and spiritual well-being. Practicing yoga daily is going to do wonders for your health. Yoga as a regular exercise routine will benefit both your physical and mental wellbeing. Include mild and easy-to-do yoga poses such as surya namaskarathat will encourage relaxation and calm your mind, body, and soul.
Problems with daytime sleeping
People who sleep at odd times in the day (due to various habits or poor lifestyles) may suffer from a host of health problems.
Headache, heaviness in the body, body aches, loss of digestive strength, heaviness in the cardiothoracic region, edema, lack of interest in food, rhinitis, nausea, and hemicrania can be some of the problems that one may suffer from because of daytime sleeping.
It can also cause hives, pustules, bodily eruptions, itching, drowsiness, cough, throat infections, memory impairment, fever, weakness of sensory and motor organs, and obstructions in the body’s minute channels (srotas).
When daytime sleep is appropriate?9
According to the Charakasamhita, daytime sleep is okay for summers. This is because nights are shorter during summers and the Vata dosha (air) increases in those with a predominance of Vata dosha.11
Singers, students, alcoholics, or people who are exhausted can sleep during the day. Such as those who engage in sexual intercourse during the day or excessive physical activities.
Those who are underweight and/or emaciated can also sleep in the daytime.
Those suffering from indigestion.
Someone suffering from any injury can also sleep during the daytime.
For the above-mentioned circumstances, daytime sleep nourishes the body’s tissues, supports strength, and maintains longevity.
Please consult a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner before following the types of sleep and guidelines for better sleep as mentioned in this article.