Ayurveda has long emphasized the importance of sleep or Nidra. A basic instinct of life, sleep is essential for all human beings and is needed to rejuvenate the mind, body, and soul. Such is the importance of sleep that Ayurveda considers Nidra to be one of the three foundational pillars (upasthambha) of good health, with the other two being food (ahara), and control over sexual desires (brahmacharya).
In today’s day and age, our fast-paced, stressful lives, and concepts such as night shifts have made sound sleep only a wishful dream for so many. People suffer from insomnia and sleep deprivation, which can negatively affect their health. However, an ayurvedic lifestyle offers a simplistic and refreshing approach to help reset our body clocks and find balance.
Scientifically, sleep is defined as a restful, repetitive state of mind wherein the nervous system becomes inactive, postural muscles relax, and consciousness flows into a dormant state. Acharya Sushruta further emphasizes that swabhava (nature) causes sleep. It occurs when Tama (darkness) envelops the heart to bring about the feeling of sleep while sattva (goodness) brings about awakening.
Modern physiology further emphasizes Ayurveda’s claims of the restorative powers of sleep. These include:
The recovery of the nervous system and body occurs during restful sleep;
Good sleep is the precursor to sukha (happiness);
A good amount of sleep at the right time has positive effects on mental and physical health along with safety and quality of life;
Overall growth, pushti (nourishment), equilibrium of body tissues, and strength depend on proper sleep schedules;
Proper sleep enhances jeevita (longevity) and bala (strength);
The balance and secretion of hormones controlling metabolism, appetite, and energy are governed by sleep;
Sleep encourages neural plasticity, which helps retain newly acquired information and gyaan (knowledge).
How many times have we, as individuals, chosen to watch that extra episode of a television show late into the night and let go of precious sleep? Or how many times have we worked late into the night, sacrificing hours of rest? In addition to lifestyle choices, Ayurveda highlights that health disorders, external environmental stimuli, and even our emotional and mental states affect our sleep quality.
Nidranasha, or sleeplessness, includes lack of sleep and poor quality sleep. While the occasional lack of sleep may leave us feeling lethargic the following day, chronic sleep deprivation and not sleeping at the right time can lead to a decline in both physical and mental well-being.
Typically, lack of sleep is associated with reduced cognitive function, emotional balance, mental clarity, and decreased motor skills. Sleep deprivation is associated with accidents, cognitive dysfunction, depression, and obesity. It is connected to slower thinking than usual, lethargy, lower energy levels, and increased irritability, stress, and anxiety. Consequently, this affects our interpersonal relationships and even our performance at work, among other things. Lack of sleep also increases the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and stroke, among other ailments.
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However, Ayurveda emphasizes that understanding insomnia and aligning our bodies and minds with our natural rhythms helps overcome sleeplessness and lack of sleep.
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Statistics report that insomnia affects a minimum of 25% of the world’s population between the ages of 21 to 60. According to Ayurveda, nidranasha or anidra (insomnia) is caused primarily by an imbalance in the three bodily doshas - Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Typically, an excess of Vata and Pitta energies is the cause of insomnia.
A person with excess Vata has a mobile mind and tends to replay thoughts and emotions of the day. Sleep, too, is often light and restless, with a tendency to be awoken easily and difficulty falling back to sleep.
Pitta imbalances tend to make individuals lose sleep between 10:00 pm to 2:00 am when the mind is most active and ambitious, making them ‘night owls.’ Such individuals also crave midnight snacks which in turn impairs both digestion and the sleep cycle. On the other hand, individuals with Kapha imbalance tend to sleep excessively and have feelings of sluggishness, lethargy, and difficulty waking up.
While each dosha uniquely affects sleeping patterns, changing routines, food, exercise, and lifestyle habits can help treat imbalances and induce better sleep. To understand this better, consider taking the free dosha test through the Ayurveda experience.
As a general rule in Ayurveda, it is recommended that adults have about 7-8 hours of restful, balanced sleep. These values are naturally more for infants and children and decrease as a person ages.
The amount of sleep one needs also depends on the weather. For instance, Ayurveda recommends slightly lesser sleep during long summer hours and a little more rest during long, dark winter nights.
Regarding imbalanced Kapha, ancient Ayurvedic science suggests less sleep for those with Kapha imbalances and more for those with Vata and Pitta imbalances.
Ayurveda recommends practicing sleep cycles as well. An ideal sleep cycle would mean sleeping at around 10:00 pm and waking up at sunrise to make the most of the sun’s positive energy. A two-hour gap is also recommended between dinner and bedtime. It is also recommended to avoid day sleeping as this can further cause imbalances within the body.
Ayurveda recommends teaching a healthy lifestyle to combat sleeplessness, insomnia, and other sleep-related ailments. Some tips that could be followed are:
Consider winding up an hour before your actual bedtime. Turn off electronic devices such as television and mobile phones. These devices emit blue rays that delay sleep.
Set up a routine
Program your body by maintaining a fixed schedule for waking up and going to bed.
Stay away from alcohol and caffeine
Alcohol hampers undisturbed sleep, while caffeinated beverages activate the brain and hamper deep sleep. It is therefore advised to steer clear of caffeine at least 6-8 hours before bedtime.
Mind your meals
Avoid late-night snacks as they trigger gastric activity, thereby hampering uninterrupted sleep. Moreover, dinner should be light, wholesome, nutritious, and consumed at least two hours before sleeping. A glass of warm milk is said to help aid in falling asleep as tryptophan present in milk is known to reduce mental stress and alleviate depression and anxiety.
Light exercises such as yoga and walking encourage relaxation and reduce stress levels. However, it is recommended to avoid exercising at night or a few hours before bed as the hormones secreted during exercise activate the body’s energy and hamper sleep.
Abhyanga (oil massage)
Ayurveda recommends the application of oils such as bhringraj and sesame on the head in round circular strokes to boost circulation and soothe the mind to combat sleeplessness.
Samvahana (body massage)
A harmonizing body massage incorporating materials such as soft feathers, silks, and fluffy brushes along with essential oils such as jasmine, sandalwood, almond, lavender, and rose, followed by a steam bath, is hypnotic, thereby improving sleep quality.
Breathe right (Pranayam)
Ayurveda encourages the practice of nadi shodhana pranayam, or breathing in through the left nostril and letting the air out of the right one, then repeating the same on the other side. This method of breathing pacifies Vata, and helps promote better sleep.
The use of a weighted blanket helps soothe the lightness in the legs that comes along with Vata imbalances, thereby encouraging deep sleep.
READ MORE: Nidra: 6 Types Of Sleep + Remedies For Better Sleep
Ayurveda recommends the consumption of certain herbs encourage better sleep (Medhya Rasayana). These include:
Guduchi (Tinospora Cardifolia): This herb actively removes the build-up toxins from the body and helps enhance immunity as well as nourish the mind, thereby aiding the treatment of sleep deprivation.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera): It contains a compound known as trimethylene glycolto that helps the body combat stress and imparts better quality sleep.
READ MORE: Will Ashwagandha Help You Sleep?
Tagara (Indian valerian): It helps decrease the time taken to fall asleep while simultaneously improving deep sleep owing to its sedative and anxiolytic properties.
Atimanjula (Cabbage rose): The cabbage rose contains anticonvulsive and sedative properites that cool the nervous system and help in uninterrupted sleep.
Brahmi (Bacopa Monnieri): This herb contains antioxidant properites than help regulate emotional distress, and improve memory and brain function, thereby encouraging restful sleep.
Jatamansi (Spikenard): It helps calm the brain and prevents cell damage due to its high antioxidant properties, thereby managing anxiety and insomnia.
Shankhpushpi (Convolvulus pluricaulis): It contains glycosides, alkaloids, and flavonoids that calm the nerves and reduce stress.
In addition to these herbs, certain foods are known to encourage better sleep:
Ikshu (Sugarcane): Sugarcane is rich in tryptophan that helps lower cortisol levels and regulates the mood while promoting uninterrupted sleep.
Draksha (Grapes): Grapes contain antioxidants and a powerful compound known as melatonin which help relieve insomnia and eliminate harmful free radicals from the body, thereby fostering a deep sleep cycle.
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The Dalai Lama rightly said that “sleep is the best meditation.” After all, it helps nourish the mind, body, and soul. Deep, restful sleep is at the root of good health, and while we hope this article helps you make the most of your snooze time, we encourage you to harness the power of blissful sleep with our educational video course.
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