Have you ever met a real "morning person?" You know them, the people who got more done before showing up to work than most people get done in a day. These people are somehow bursting with energy and are in a good mood without coffee (and you may or may not secretly be jealous or resent them for this). Chances are that they go to bed early and wake up early without being annoyed at their alarms, and they are on to something. Back before we had electricity, our ancestors synced their lives to the sunrise and sunset and allowed themselves to rest once the sun set, because they had no choice. While I enjoy progress and technology, I also know that staying up with our screens and devices well past sunset isn't helping our sleep cycles or our health.
According to Ayurveda, people should be asleep before 10 pm, because this is when Pitta time kicks in. The Pitta times of day are from 10 am to 2 pm and 10 pm to 2 am. Since Pitta is the principle of heat and transformation, it's perfect when it comes to digesting lunch, but less desirable when you know you should be asleep and then suddenly feel compelled to clean the whole house or do your taxes because you're not sleepy. As a recovering night owl and insomniac, I used to get a second wind around 10:30 pm and then be up until 1 or 2 in the morning, even if I had an early workday the next day. When I learned about this principle, it blew my mind because I knew it to be true from my own experiences, but I never knew why until I studied Ayurveda.
The doshic times make sense when we think of our body's functions. Between 2 am and 6 am people often wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, which is a function of Apāna Vāyu (one of the subcategories of Vata dosha). People with very good elimination habits often feel "the call of number two" upon waking, my teacher's name for the urge to empty the bowels. And during the four-hour window between 2 pm and 6 pm people feel the light and mobile qualities of Vata as they are often very productive this time of day while working, running errands, driving home from work, or making dinner. People with high or imbalanced Vata should get the most sleep--about 8 hours a night so their minds and bodies will feel more grounded.
Pitta time, as mentioned above, kicks in first at 10 am in the morning and lasts until 2 pm. This is when our agni, or digestive fire, is the strongest and we often feel "hangry" if we don't eat lunch. This is when we should eat our largest or heaviest meal of the day because our bodies are at full metabolic strength at this time rather than at dinner, when our bodies are slowing down and preparing for sleep. Because Pitta governs all of the biochemical processes in our bodies, it's important for us to get sound sleep and allow the following processes to occur during the second Pitta time of 10 pm to 2 am: muscle repair, protein synthesis, tissue growth, and hormone release. Pitta types, or people with imbalanced Pitta should get a moderate amount of sleep--from 6 1/2 to 7 1/2 hours.
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The windows of 6-10 am and pm are Kapha time, in which we often feel a little heavy and sluggish. We are either waking up or winding down for the evening, and those of us with a little more Kapha or an imbalance in this dosha may have a harder time waking up in the morning. If someone has high Kapha, they should get the least amount of sleep of the three doshic types and avoid taking naps, which goes back to the principle of like increasing like. Kapha is already slow and heavy, so sleeping more than 6 hours a night will increase these qualities as well as slowing down the metabolism. On that same note, these individuals should wake up early during Vata time, as early as 4:30 am, and take advantage of this dosha's principle of movement. Taking a walk or doing some other form of exercise early in the morning is very beneficial for Kapha. Additionally, those with very high Kapha are the only ones who can stay up later--as late as midnight--just because they shouldn't be getting as much sleep.
All three doshic types, or those trying to balance their doshas, should be awake by 6 am or before sunrise. The sages knew that being in harmony with nature and having a daily routine were beneficial for health and longevity. When our sleep cycles are off, our entire days, weeks, years and lives can eventually be thrown off. Not having a regular schedule affects meal times, digestion and absorption of nutrients, which then affects elimination and can lead to other health concerns. The stress from health problems disrupts sleep, and the cycle continues.
In modern society, we are always moving and focused on productivity. This constant motion aggravates Vata dosha as does driving and traveling (ever notice sudden constipation after flying? That's disrupted Vata.) People with vitiated Vata usually have a hard time establishing a routine, but often need it the most. When I was first studying Ayurveda, I was taught that the constant movement in our bodies and thoughts resulted in the Vata type of insomnia, which is difficulty falling asleep. I also learned that the inability to stay asleep is the Pitta type of insomnia, and many people have one or both. As difficult as it may seem to create a set schedule and a daily routine, it is a must for creating stability in our lives and our health, and good health starts with proper sleep.
I know first-hand how hard it is to reprogram ourselves if we aren't naturally early risers (and it is a practice, like anything else that doesn't come easily). I would love to say that the shift happened overnight, but these are a few tips I can offer that help me go to bed earlier and wake up earlier:
READ MORE: Top 5 Night Time Routines By Ayurvedic Experts
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