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A Good Night’s Rest: 5 Ayurvedic Tips for Better Sleep
In Ayurveda, a good night’s sleep, along with proper diet and energy management, is considered one of the three supporting pillars of life—essential to our health, happiness, and wellbeing.
Sleep is the body and brain’s only opportunity to fully rest and restore, as it helps repair the damage caused by stress and strain during waking hours. When we don’t get enough sleep, various systems start to break down. Long-term lack of sleep has been associated with serious health effects, including the risk of diabetes and heart disease, weight gain, high blood pressure, fertility issues, weakened immune system and chronic pain, as well as memory loss and an inability to concentrate.
Science is discovering what Ayurvedic medicine has long known—that our overall happiness is inextricably linked to our sleep habits. Researchers have determined that sleep deprivation raises the risk of depression while reducing our emotional capacity to handle stress. Without proper, quality sleep, our bodies never receive the nourishment, and our brains never get the rest they need to help us thrive in all areas of our lives.
Ayurveda, Sleep Science and the Doshas
In fact, sleep is where Western science and Ayurvedic medicine, one of the world’s oldest mind/body healing modalities, align nicely. In Ayurveda, our bodies and minds, as well as each day, have natural rhythms influenced by the fluctuation of the three doshas (Vata, Kapha, and Pitta). Each of the three doshas, or energies, exert their dominance in four-hour cycles every 12 hours. In other words, there are times of day in which either Vata, Kapha, and Pitta is the predominant energy, thus influencing the way we feel throughout the day as well as assisting in specific bodily functions.
Vata dominance 2:00 to 6:00 am, and pm governs movement in the body and mind, including blood circulation, breath flow, blinking, muscle contractions, and organ stimulation, as well as thoughts and communication.
Kapha dominance 6:00 to 10:00 am, and pm governs stability and lubrication in the body and mind, including hydrating the cells, lubricating the joints, moisturizing the skin, and maintaining the immune system, as well as regulating emotions.
Pitta dominance 10:00 to 2:00 am, and pm governs digestion and transformation in the body and mind, including absorption, metabolism, nutrition and body temperature, as well as intelligence and understanding.
Therefore, if we’re following the natural rhythms of our body and nature, we’d capitalize on the heavy, nurturing Kapha energy and begin winding down, letting go and preparing for sleep preferably by or before 10:00 pm. We’d also wake up by 6:00 am before Kapha energy makes us so sluggish that we want to stay in bed. According to Ayurveda, it’s important to be asleep from 10:00 pm to 2:00 am when pitta is the predominant energy, to help process and digest not only food but also thoughts, emotions, and experiences from the day. When we’re up past 10:00 pm, pitta energy may stir up a “second wind,” making it difficult to wind down before midnight.
At 2:00 am Vata dominance picks back up, kicking up mental activity and thus disrupting sleep. Therefore, the most beneficial sleep takes place before 2:00 am, and modern science agrees. Sleep experts have determined that the quality of our sleep changes as the night wears on with non-REM sleep dominating our sleep cycle in the earlier hours of the night, and then shifting into more REM sleep the closer it gets to daybreak. Research suggests that the most restorative, regenerative sleep takes place during the non-REM hours of slumber from 8:00 pm to midnight before lighter, dream-filled REM sleep kicks in between 2:00 and 3:00 am.
So it would seem that according to the ancient wisdom of Ayurvedic medicine and modern sleep science that the old adage, “early to bed and early to rise makes a person healthy, wealthy, and wise” isn’t far from the truth.
5 Ayurvedic Tips for A Better Sleep
Aside from hitting the sheets by 10:00 pm, Ayurveda has several natural remedies and tips for getting a better night’s sleep, beginning with a consistent evening routine that includes unplugging from screens (which delay the onset of melatonin) 30-60 minutes before bed and preparing your body and mind for deep rest.
Get outside and receive some natural sunlight at some point during the day.
Turn down the lights, signaling to the pineal gland that it’s time to start secreting melatonin.
Eat a light dinner two to three hours before bed. According to Ayurveda, our most substantial meal should be consumed at lunchtime when pitta can assist with absorption and digestion.
Massage your feet with oil, helping ground excess energy, soothing the nervous system, and promoting relaxation.
Drink a small glass of milk with a pinch of nutmeg to help coax you to sleep.
Also, an article from writer and yoga teacher Allison Schleck and YogaUOnline-Ease Into Sleep With These 5 Yoga Poses.
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Meagan McCrary is an experienced yoga teacher (E-RYT 500) and writer with a passion for helping people find more comfort, clarity, compassion, and joy on the mat and in their lives. She is the author of Pick Your Yoga Practice: Exploring and Understanding Different Styles of Yoga a comprehensive encyclopedia of prominent yoga styles, including each system’s teaching methodology, elements of practice, philosophical and spiritual underpinnings, class structure, physical exertion, and personal attention. Currently living in Los Angeles, Meagan teaches at the various Equinox Sports Clubs, works privately with clients and leads retreats internationally. You can find her blog, teaching schedule, and latest offerings at www.MeaganMcCrary.com.