Millions of people of all ages are affected by sleep problems, many with severe, chronic sleep deprivation. A round-the-clock activity-driven society has meant that many individuals habitually defer sleep to get other things done. "I'll catch up later," is, however, easier said than done.
Recent research indicates that pervasive sleep deprivation can lead to more serious health problems than just a dull clouded feeling the next morning - including obesity, high blood pressure and diminished resistance to infections. While there is substantial awareness about the need for proper nutrition and exercise, many people tend to shrug off lack of sleep as not being of much consequence, and, as a result, go through life with both mind and body always performing at less than optimal levels.
The Ayurvedic Perspective
According to Ayurveda, sleep is one of the supporting pillars of life. Along with diet and lifestyle, sleep is critical to good health and well-being. Quality sleep acts as a rejuvenator of mind and body, enabling us to function at peak levels during our waking hours. Even powerful medicine is of little use if the fundamental pillars of life are not strong and solid.
Sleep is important because it enhances Ojas - considered in Ayurveda to be the master coordinator between mind, body and the inner self. Ojas is the finest product of digestion, the main life-supporting force within the body. It acts like a shock absorber, helping to insulate the mind from day-to-day stress and enhancing the body's innate immune systems.
Maharishi Ayurveda considers the state of perfect sleep, in terms of quality, to have been achieved when a tired mind is totally disconnected from the senses. When only partial disconnect occurs, the quality of sleep is adversely impacted. If during the day our diet, daily routine and behavioral patterns create a Vata, Pitta or Kapha imbalance, a corresponding sleep imbalance develops.
Vata, Pitta and Kapha are the three Ayurvedic operators that govern all the different activities of the mind and body. Accordingly, Maharishi Ayurveda defines three kinds of sleep imbalances - sleep onset imbalance or problem falling asleep, sleep maintenance imbalance or problem sleeping without interruption through the night and "the morning-after heavy feeling" or waking up tired with an aching body and lethargic mind.
Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations
For a Vata sleep imbalance, indicated by difficulty in falling asleep, I recommend a Vata pacifying diet. Favor foods that are warm, heavy and oily, and minimize foods that are cold, dry and light. Emphasize the sweet, salty and sour tastes, and cut down on spicy, bitter and astringent foods. Include poppy seeds in your diet; they are a natural sleep aid. Drinking a cup of herbal tea before bed can also be soothing. Apply a little massage oil to your hands and feet before you go to bed. In bed, practice deep, easy breathing to help you unwind.
Follow a Pitta pacifying diet if you tend to wake up during the night, which generally indicates a Pitta sleep imbalance. Incorporate foods that are cool and liquid, and reduce hot, spicy foods. Sweet, bitter, astringent foods are good; reduce foods that are spicy, salty or sour. Try Date Milk Shake (pitted chopped dates, milk and sugar blended together), a delicious cooling drink, and include poppy seeds in your diet. Apply a cooling oil such as coconut or olive to hands and feet before bed. Practice deep, easy breathing in bed.
If you wake up feeling dull and lethargic, a Kapha sleep imbalance, favor foods that are light, dry and warm, and minimize or avoid foods that are heavy, oily and cold. Focus on spicy, bitter and astringent tastes, and reduce sweet, salty and sour tasting foods. Massaging hands and feet, especially the nail-beds, with a massage oil will help.
A blend of aroma oils, properly chosen, can help create a relaxing, calming environment in your bedroom and help balance your mind and body even after you fall asleep.
Ten Easy Ways to get your Zzzz's.
Here are ten Ayurvedic tips for blissful sleep:
- Eat three meals during the day - breakfast, lunch around noon and an early dinner.
- Do regular balanced exercise - modern research also confirms that moderate exercise can help improve sleep.
- Try to go to bed by 10 p.m., during the drowsy Kapha time of night, so that your mind can settle down faster.
- Eliminate or restrict severely the intake of stimulants such as caffeine or alcohol.
- Wear comfortable clothing to bed - cotton is highly recommended.
- Avoid hot, spicy foods at dinner.
- Do not bring work-related material into the bedroom.
- Keep your bedroom dark or very dimly lit.
- A gentle massage of hands, feet and neck before bed can aid relaxation.
- In bed, take long, deep, easy breaths, letting your mind and body relax.
A good night's sleep can not only help you stay alert, bright and focused the next day; it can also keep you healthy in the long run.
Information provided in this article is for the sole purpose of imparting education on Ayurveda and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you have a medical condition, please consult your physician.