It has long been established that a good night's sleep is essential to our health. So say scientists and scores of studies, which confirm that sleep is our body and mind's natural time to rest and rejuvenate. Similarly, sleep is one of the foundations of Ayurveda, considered as important a pillar for maintaining health and balance as diet and nutrition. It is during sleep that the body repairs itself and it is through sleep that emotions and the mind come into balance.
Whether you have trouble falling asleep, suffer from irregular sleep, wake up in the middle of the night, sleep too much, or cannot sleep at all, sleep cycle imbalances can be debilitating. Fortunately, the timeless Science of Living, Ayurveda, offers clear guidelines on how to restore balance, reverse insomnia, and get a good night's sleep.
Sleep Disturbances by Dosha
Sleep disturbances are categorized in Ayurveda by dosha or body type. Your basic constitution - Vata, Pitta, or Kapha - has a distinct influence on your sleep patterns and preferences. In response, Ayurvedic experts have come up with a set of recommended self-help treatments, tailored to meet your system's needs and to put you in the driver's seat of your own health.
Insomnia as a Vata Condition
Many sleep imbalances, and especially insomnia, have characteristics of Vata. Vata dosha tends to be light, dry, cold, unstable, anxious, and constantly moving. Associated in nature with the wind, the most common Vata-type sleep imbalance is waking up during night and being unable to go back to sleep. This phenomenon often takes place during the Vata hours of 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. (You may want to learn more about the Ayurvedic clock, how to tell time by the doshas, and which doshas are dominant during the course of the 24-hour day).
As per Ayurvedic protocol, imbalances are corrected by inviting in the opposite qualities. So in the case of Vata-type sleep problems brought on by stress and anxiety, over-thinking, an over-active mind or imagination, and/or a restless spirit, you can experience the opposite qualities by introducing foods and activities that are warm, grounding, heavy, stable, and still.
Kapha Sleep Disturbances
If your dominant dosha is Kapha, you tend to crave a lot of sleep, sleep very soundly, and have calming dreams. When balanced, this serves you well as deep sleep enables you to function during the day in an alert and effective manner. However, if Kapha energies are elevated, especially during the Kapha hours of 6 a.m. to 10 a.m., imbalances set in and you are likely to experience difficulty waking up, difficulty getting up, a pattern of excessive sleep, and an overall sense of feeling heavy and sluggish.
Pitta Sleep Disturbances
In the case of Pitta dosha, difficulty falling asleep is the most likely sleep disturbance you experience. This is due to an elevation of Pitta in the mind which stimulates drive and ambition but which can override your desire to sleep. In fact, many Pitta types describe themselves as night owls who get their best work done in the middle of the night. However, when Pitta dosha is excessive, imbalances occur, culminating in too little sleep, overheating, disturbing dreams, and being agitated during waking hours. On the Ayurvedic clock, Pitta hours occur between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.
Ayurveda Sleep Recommendations
Ayurveda physicians advise that all body types establish a regular bedtime and a regular nighttime ritual. 10 p.m. is considered ideal for turning in and turning off the lights, while the preceding hours should be spent winding down, engaging in mind- and body calming activities, meditation, spending quality time with family, going for a walk, or listening to soothing music. The ideal time to wake up is between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m., starting your day with either meditation or a dosha-friendly exercise routine that stimulates the mind, body, and spirit.
Ayurveda Tips for Preventing Sleep Disturbances
To prevent sleep imbalances from occurring, here are some of the actions you can take during the day and before going to bed:
- Rise before 6:00 a.m.; Go to bed by 10:00 p.m.
- Keep your bedroom temperature cool for sleeping
- Wear comfortable pajamas (i.e. made from organic cotton)
- Sleep on comfortable cotton sheets
- Dim the lights or sleep in the dark
- Avoid stimulation, overheating, and overexcitement 2-3 hours before bedtime
- Turn off your computer, laptop, electronic devices, and T.V. two hours before turning in
- Relax your mind before bed by learning techniques for releasing mental stress and anxiety (i.e. meditation, journaling, lighting a candle/aromatherapy, and more)
- Relax your body before bed by practicing tension-releasing exercises (i.e. Yoga)
- Learn about essential oils and massages that pacify the doshas
- Drink herbal or organic teas before bed that calm the mind and emotions (i.e. chamomile tea)
- Decrease coffee consumption during the day
- Eat dosha-friendly foods and follow a dosha-balancing diet
- Eat your last meal a few hours before going to sleep, allowing time for digestion
- Learn the art of deep breathing
Summary: Balancing Sleep Cycles
Given how essential sleep is to our physical, mental, and emotional well-being, it's comforting and empowering to have such simple and practical tools available as those provided by the Ayurvedic approach to balancing sleep cycles.
Good Night and Sweet Dreams!
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