Why sleep is so important
Sleep plays a very important role in our health along with eating healthy and exercising regularly. It influences very much how emotionally stable, mentally clear and physical fit we are. A good night’s sleep gives our body the possibility to begin its night-shift work. During sleep our body can heal damaged cells, strengthen our immune system and recharge our heart, cardiovascular and nervous system for the next day. Deep and sufficient sleep is one of the keys to long-term health and the basis for a functioning immune system.
Ayurveda and sleep
Ayurveda or Ayurvedic medicine, contains a lot of wisdom for a life in balance, including restful sleep.
Ayurveda is about harmony and balance, especially the balance between the three doshas Vata, Pitta and Kapha. They also play an important role in our sleep. At what time we go to bed, what we do before and after bedtime, and of course what and when we eat. This all influences our bioenergies, and thus contributes to a healthy sleep.
The role of the Doshas in your sleep rhythm
From an Ayurvedic point of view, sleep is the most important regeneration phase of the day. Between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. our Pitta energy wants to clean the body, picking up the dirt from the furthest corners. Then between 2 and 6 a.m. our Vata energy is very active, transporting the dirt and toxins to the excreting organs. The most important prerequisite for this cleansing process is that the digestion of the last meal is finished before 10pm.
That’s why it is important to have an early light dinner, at least three hours before you to bed. If this is not the case, the body sets the priorities differently and focuses on digestion. As a result, our whole system powers up instead of shutting it down for sleep and cleansing. Consequently, we don’t get tired so quickly, we fall asleep more difficult and may wake up at night and get up in the morning exhausted.
Apart from the last meal, our general lifestyle also has an impact on our sleep. Every sleep problem arises from the fact that there is too much movement, too much Vata, in our internal system. Consequently the body does not find its way deep enough into the relaxation mode. An overactive sympathetic nervous system means too much movement or Vata that is caused by stress, lack of time and an unsteady lifestyle. If we snack between dishes, do everything differently today than yesterday, don’t get enough sleep, travel a lot and eat foods that elevate Vata, we may not fall asleep and, above all, not sleep through the night.
When we take a look at the different Doshas, we see a Vata imbalance tending to sleep irregular and light. They often wake up between 2 – 6am, but when very exhausted can profoundly sleep. Whereas Pittas sleep can be disturbed by vivid and active dreams or nightmares and difficulties to fall asleep as their mind is too busy. When Pittas wake up, they normally go back to sleep easily. However, Kapha types are generally good sleepers but when out of balance, they sleep too long which makes them sluggish and heavy.
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How can the Ayurvedic way of life be beneficial for our sleep?
The most important keys points are a steady rhythm, diet and stress reduction. The optimal rhythm from an Ayurvedic point of view is three meals at similar times on most days, with the main meal at lunch and a light, early dinner. Of course, it is incredibly valuable to adjust the diet so that we can find a balance based on our constitution. It is also recommended that you go to bed and get up at similar times each day.
But we should also adjust our daily work and stress levels. Stress, regardless of what caused it, lets our nervous system run in a mode that is actually only intended to protect us in dangerous situations. But if we often feel tense, agitated and rushed, we prevent the part of our nervous system that is responsible for regeneration, metabolism and sleep from doing its job.
As a result, we may have permanent elevated cortisol levels, our stress hormone, that can lead to anxiety, hormonal imbalances, increased appetite, obesity and other issues. That is why in Ayurveda we not only focus on nutrition and lifestyle, but also on meditation, yoga and other methods of stress reduction. Therefore the Ayurveda approach is holistic and matched with ones unique constitution.
How diet affects your sleep
The most important tip is to move the main meal to noon and eat it lightly and early in the evening. From an Ayurvedic point of view, early and light means before 7 p.m. and with little fat and protein and not too complex in the composition. Raw vegetables should also be eaten at lunchtime. This is very contrary to some modern-day opinions, but it works. Soups, stews or vegetables, perhaps with a little grain, are ideal for the evening. Especially one-pot meals are easy for our metabolism.
In order to have an early and light evening meal, of course we need to have a good lunch, otherwise we are too hungry. Since the body has the strongest digestive fire at lunchtime – also from a conventional medical point of view – we can digest it well at that time. From an Ayurvedic point of view, our lunch should not consist of a small salad or a sandwich on hand, but of a healthy and rich meal in which we satisfy our fat and protein needs. Interestingly, after such a meal, we are hardly hungry in the evening and can easily get through the night with a small supper until breakfast in the morning. And the body thanks us with a deep and restful sleep.
What helps if we have difficulty falling asleep?
The easiest way for the body to fall asleep is when it is relaxed and not struggling with a heavy meal. Ayurveda recommends establishing an evening routine that automates this process. Everything that prevents falling asleep needs to be reduced: Screen time or very exciting books, an extremely high pace during the day, in the worst case until late in the evening, keep us awake. The thoughts are circling in our head and our energy is moving too much. After an early light dinner it is ideal to enjoy the time with loved ones, to go for a walk or to take a bath. But any other non-digital hobby like writing a diary, drawing, perform handicraft works, is great too.
An important factor is the time we go to bed. Kapha energy is dominant until 10 p.m. The energy of Kapha helps us to wind down and to notice the first signs of end-of-the-day fatigue. Its energy is heavy, steady and calm and perfect for preparing ourselves for better quality rest and a peaceful min. From 10 p.m. the Pitta energy takes over the lead. This energy rises and makes us active and mental busy. Ayurveda therefore recommends going to sleep during the Kapha time, this means before 10 p.m. It makes a big difference for our quality and quantity of sleep.
In addition, the following tools are extremely valuable to help us to come to rest: Gentle yoga exercises that ground and bring our energy down such as Yin Yoga, slow pranayamas such as alternate nostril breathing or meditation. Otherwise, it is recommended to massage the feet with warm sesame oil and an essential oil like Lavender. This also help to descend the energy in our body. And finally, the golden milk or turmeric milk (also made with plant milk) should be mentioned, which make it easier for us to fall asleep.
Are there specific sleeping tips for the individual Doshas?
In addition to the tips for Vata and Pitta that are already mentioned, the duration of sleep is also crucial. Vata needs the most sleep of all. They are not doing well without the mandatory eight hours. With a lot of stress, maybe even more. The eight hours are perfect for pitta, even if they usually don’t like it because they have so much to do.
Less sleep is recommended for Kapha only. Kapha usually has no problems falling asleep and sleeps well through the night. However, they find it difficult to get up. So it is important for them to get up before 6 a.m. As mentioned, the Vata movement principle is dominant between 2 and 6 o’clock in the morning. This movement gets us up more easily. But from 6 a.m. Kapha takes over again. And this energy makes it very difficult for us to get out of bed. With Kapha there is also the fact that a maximum of 7 to 7.5 hours of sleep is better and more relaxing than a longer sleep. This makes them too heavy and sluggish.
Do you want to learn more about your unique constitution, your Dosha? Take the quiz here.