Having trouble slipping into sleep? Or are you waking up in the middle of the night, unable to go back to sleep? Maybe you’re one of those who find themselves in a heavy slumber when the alarm goes off in the morning, struggling to wake up. Even if restful sleep seems like a dream, Ayurveda can help.
If any of these sound all too familiar, you’re in good company. More than 85 million Americans suffer from sleep problems. Sleep irregularities – too much or too little, cause major short and long term health problems.
Changing sleep patterns in midlife could be costing men as much as 75 percent of their growth hormone, which is known to prevent aging. A shortage of this essential hormone, which is secreted during deep sleep, is associated with increased obesity, loss of muscle mass, and reduced exercise capacity. Although total sleep time stayed the same as men move into midlife, the proportion of time spent in deep sleep diminishes from 20 percent for men under 25 to less than 5 percent for those over 35.
Sleeping too little and sleeping too much both have detrimental effects. Sleep loss causes increases in stress hormone levels, blood pressure to increase, glucose intolerance, and variations in heart rate. Women who average five hours or less of sleep a night are 39 percent more likely to develop heart disease than women who sleep eight hours. Those sleeping six hours a night have an 18 percent higher risk of developing blocked arteries than those who sleep eight hours.
And one in three Americans gets less than six and one-half hours of sleep a night, placing them at risk for serious disease. Ayurveda identifies three key areas that are, taken together, considered to be the base foundation of Ayurvedic lifestyle and therapeutics – balanced diet, balanced sexual life, and balanced sleep. Sleep is the time when the body is able to repair and heal itself.
Deep sleep is what we need to rejuvenate, and most of that restorative deep sleep is experienced in the first 3 hours. After four-and-one-half hours in the sack, we alternately wake up and dream. Yogis say that all you need is one to three hours of sleep if you are, in fact, getting the restorative deep sleep. Most of us can learn to function well with six to seven-and-a-half hours of sleep, if we train ourselves to get deep rest.
Start with a few basics: go to bed and wake up at the same time each day (even on the weekends) and get regular exercise during the course of the day. Create an inviting sleep atmosphere (using your bedroom only for sleep and sex); keep your room at a comfortable temperature (not too hot or too cold); and to do something relaxing, play soothing music, or meditate, before bed.
The primary cause of insomnia is excessive thinking and sensory stimulation, which ultimately disrupts our inner clock. People who live out-of-doors find their rhythms closely entrained by the rising and setting of the sun. But most of us live cut off from the natural world. Sunrise and sunset mean nothing to us. Inside our offices and homes, we are surrounded by artificial stimulation in the form of, etc. In fact, we are bombarded with sensory stimulation- lights, TVs, computers- all day long.
To recover your slumber, start with basics. Get your life regulated. Establish times to wake up, go to sleep, eat, exercise, and enjoy quiet relaxation. Exercise, along with light, initiates the active cycle of the day, so it’s pretty important. But no strenuous exercise after dinner. Most people do well with the conventional breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but be finished dinner by 8 o’clock, or even better, earlier. Having a light, early dinner at least two hours before bedtime to reduce insomnia caused by digestive problems. Eat your main protein of the day at lunch, and avoid caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, sugar, fried foods, and strong spices.
For many people, the best plan is to begin winding down the day by 8:00 p.m. That means turning down the lights, the TV, and the computer.
For people with excess pitta, one of the most important ingredients in a good sleep is to fall asleep before 10:00 p.m., when the pitta phase of night begins. If you stay awake past 10:00, your sleep will have the active, restless qualities of pitta, and it will be tough to rest deeply. Pitta conditions, such as heartburn, tend to increase between 10:00 and 2:00, so it’s better to snooze through them.
If increased vata is your dilemma, get to bed when you are tired, but certainly before 2:00. Creative vata types tend to get a second wind as the night rolls on, get immersed in the latest project, and then prowl the halls, “too tired to sleep”. Going to bed during the slow kapha time, between 6:00 and 10:00, will help. To balance Vata, a regular routine is important.
Oil decreases vata. Have a warm foot bath, followed by oiling and massaging the feet with sesame or almond oil before bed.
The kapha man has a large body build, a problem with weight control, and an easy-going personality. Like a slumbering bear, he sleeps all too well- nine or ten hours every night. But come the morning, he feels tired and stiff. He has to drink three cups of coffee just to wake up. A lethargic, dull feeling often continues throughout the day.
For the kapha bear, the key is to sleep little, and to rise early. If he gets going before 6:00 a.m., during the vata time of the morning, he’ll feel infused with the light, alert, energetic qualities of vata dosha, and will feel more alert and energetic throughout the day. Sleeping past dawn, into the kapha time of the morning (6:00-10:00 a.m.) causes toxins to accumulate and creates a dull, tired feeling.
Vigorous exercise is essential for balancing Kapha. The best time to exercise is during the Kapha time of the morning (6:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.), when it will help wash away some of the dullness of the night and make you feel more energetic all day.
The Sleep Herb
A phenomenal Ayurvedic herb, Ashwaganda, aids sleep. Ayurvedic herbalists use the herb to reestablish long-term sleep rhythms. Rather than making you sleepy when you take the herb, this remedy seems to regulate sleep cycles over time, facilitating more refreshing sleep. A typical dose of Ashwaganda is about a gram per day, taken over long periods, up to many years, as a rejuvenator, but, since Ashwaganda is very safe, larger quantities are often used in Ayurveda short term. In India, it is often given with pungent, heating herbs (ginger, pepper, etc.) to increase its effects.