CHAPTER 16: AYURVEDA & SLEEP
The classical Ayurvedic text, Ashtanga Hridayam, claims that: ‘Happiness and unhappiness, nourishment (proper physique) and abnormality, strength and debility, sexual prowess and impotence, knowledge and ignorance, life and death – all depend on sleep. Ayurveda teaches us how Nidra (sleep) is one of the three pillars of health, alongside ahara (food) and brahmacharya (energy management).
16.1 Understanding your Sleep
Sleep is considered to be one of the most important pillars of life. Sleep is essential to ensure good health and well-being. Good quality sleep rejuvenates the mind and body, while enabling effective functioning. It is also regarded as one of the most powerful tools to combat minor diseases and imbalances.
An important function of sleep is enhancement of ojas or energy – the master coordinator between mind, body and soul. Ojas, being the fine product of digestion and life-supporting element, helps to insulate the mind from daily stress and exertion.
According to Ayurveda, the correct quality and quantity of sleep is necessary in disconnecting a tired mind from the senses. Partial disconnection of the mind can hamper sleep quality. Pervasive sleep deprivation is a well-known cause of bodily dysfunctions, such as obesity, high blood pressure, and frequent infections. Although people have enough knowledge about the importance of good diet and exercise, however, they tend to ignore the importance of sleep, which can have drastic consequences on health.
Your mind, body, and physical environment are the three cornerstones that ensure sufficient, good quality sleep.
16.2 Perfecting the Body
Sleeping immediately after a long and hectic day can lead to undetected snoring. As per Ayurveda, it is not healthy to snore daily. Regular snoring indicates that you are not getting enough oxygen and your body is uncomfortable or listless.
Get your breathing right
Ayurveda suggests sleeping on your left side so that you breathe properly and the body functions well. Mastering breathing patterns is essential for quality sleep.
Get your Posture right
An ideal position and posture is crucial to sleep. According to Ayurveda, sleeping on your left side is very beneficial as it improves blood circulation, and promotes cardiac and digestive functioning.
16.3 Perfecting the Mind
Set up an Evening Routine
Your evening routine highly impacts the quality of your sleep. Following a good healthy routine and sleeping early ensures that you have adequate sleep and relaxes your mind. Habits that can make up a good evening routine are light exercise, light food, early dinners, listening to soothing music, and undertaking a digital detox.
A restless mind affects the quality of sleep. Wandering thoughts and anxiety greatly impede sleep quality. Some basic yoga and breathing exercises are recommended to relax and rejuvenate the mind.
Mind Relaxing Techniques
If your mind is way too restless and causing anxiety, you can follow some mind relaxing techniques like chanting mantras and pranayama.
16.4 Perfecting your Physical Environment
- Create a restful environment before sleeping to calm the mind and body
- Keep away from electronic devices at least 2-3 hours before you actually sleep. These gadgets drastically impact your mind and nervous system and can disturb your sleep pattern. They should be switched off while you sleep because they emit radiations which are harmful for the nervous system.
- Keep your surroundings cool and clean to invoke freshness
- Maintain a dark and quiet environment before sleeping
When one or more of these three elements are misaligned, you may have often faced an uncomfortable or disturbed sleep cycle. For this reason, Ayurveda addresses certain sleep disorders and how they can be countered.
16.5 Sleeping disorders and Ayurveda
Sleeping disorders are ever-present in today’s world, despite being present in various forms. Issues such as insomnia (sleeplessness or disturbed sleep), or tiredness despite quality sleep are most widely known. These can be often explained through doshas. They can be solved using Ayurvedic remedies and a healthy lifestyle. Insomnia is one of the most commonly cited disorders.
16.5.1 Dealing with Insomnia
INSOMNIA, COMMONLY KNOWN AS ANIDRA IN AYURVEDA, RELATES TO A SITUATION WHERE A PERSON IS UNABLE TO SLEEP OR GETS DISTRUBED SLEEP. IT GENERALLY HAPPENS DUE TO VATA DOSHA IMBALANCE IN THE BODY.
Insomnia is a very profound sleeping disorder, generally followed by day time sleepiness, low energy, lethargy, fatigue, irritability. It can also hamper your mental focus and daily tasks, and even develop into depression later onwards. The cases of insomnia are ever growing. Factors like stress, lifestyle habits and dietary choices have a severe impact on sleep and gradually develop into insomnia.
Fortunately, certain Ayurvedic herbs do wonders in inducing better sleep,
16.5.2 Ayurvedic herbs for better sleep
Some common Ayurvedic herbs for improved sleep quality include:
Deep sleep is often accompanied by dreams and visions. Have you wondered what your dreams mean, and what they signify for your wellness?
16.6 Ayurveda and Dreams
Ayurvedic thought says that dreams are further evidence of the strong connection between the body, spirit and mind. A little known fact is that dreams in Ayurveda are categorized in the same way as disease diagnosis i.e. using the Doshas.
Vata dreams or those with excess vata are categorized by activity and movement, such as falling, flying, feeling frozen with fear and being attacked, chased or locked up.
Pitta dreams or those with excess pitta are categorized by intensity and focus, such as intellectual activity, problem solving, studying or teaching. These also include strong emotions such as shame, anger and aggression.
Kapha dreams or those with excess kapha are characterized by emotions such as love, lust, satisfaction of desires, material and emotional attachment. The tendency is to not remember dreams at all.
While dream analysis has been one of the hardest to scientifically prove, maintaining a dream journal can be crucial in helping one introspect into their mind, body and soul. At Mekosha, we encourage our guests and patients to pick up a pen, start with the date and write your dreams first thing in the morning so they are fresh in your mind. We have found that our dreams help us in taking a step closer to ourselves.
The past sixteen chapters have shown us the timeless utility Ayurveda provides. Right from sages and their disciples who used these tips in their lives centuries ago, the school of thought remains relevant in today’s ever growing, modernising world. Unsurprisingly, these practices can also be put to use when new challenges arise – such as the new strain of virus, COVID-19, which has gained the status of a pandemic over the globe. Chapter 17 over here takes a closer look at this challenge.
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