Sleep well to wake up refreshed

According to the Ayurveda Samhitas, Ahar (Diet), Nidra (Sleep) and Brahmacharya (Appropriate sensory indulgence) are necessary to maintain a healthy life. Nidhi Pandya focuses on why sleep should be given the importance it deserves and how good sleep is an opportunity for the body to heal at the cellular level.

Today we have a generation that is at one level harried by the fast pace of life and, at another, obsessed with their diet and exercise. However, sleep is often not given the importance it deserves. Essentially, sleep happens when the body is at rest and it is an opportunity that the body gets to heal itself.

Insomnia or sleeplessness can, therefore, be destructive if left unaddressed. It not only has the power to damage your health, but will also seriously compromise the quality of your day. When the mana(mind), indriya(senses) and sharira (body) are not rested well, they all perform at below optimum level.

Therefore, we need to understand the mechanism of sleep and reset it so that we get a good night’s sleep.

 Sleep mechanism

As diurnal mammals, our sleep is dictated by the circadian rhythms of the universe, i.e., the cycle of the sun. When the sun goes down and our eyes sense darkness, the brain releases certain hormones like melatonin and it goes into a subtle frequency, slowing down our body and finally putting it to sleep.

The second determinant to sleep is our body’s own rhythm or internal clock. This trains the body to sleep at a specific time. So, even if we travel to a different time zone and if the sun is up and bright, the brain will prepare to sleep because it has created its own rhythm. Gradually, the circadian rhythm will take over your body’s rhythm and automatically adjust to the jet lag.

Insomnia (Nidranash)

When our brain does not release the required amount of melatonin due to any reason, insomnia occurs. This can be due to anything ranging from lack of physical work, overworking or even too much time spent on the screen. Let’s understand this better.

Types of Insomnia

  1. You can’t go to sleep – If falling asleep is a problem, it is usually the Rajoguna (the quality in the mind that keeps you engaged with the world) that is at play. At this stage, the brain is confused about whether it wants to release melatonin to put you to bed or serotonin to keep you going. This happens when we find it difficult to disconnect ourselves and are overly wired.

Intense thoughts, loud sounds, cell-phone light, bright lights, lack of physical strain can all fool our system that it’s still daytime and we need to keep going. Additionally, according to Ayurveda, the ideal time to go to bed is the evening     Kaphatime of night (from 6PM – 10PM). If we still are awake after 10 PM, we naturally enter the Pitta time of the day and our nervous system gets wired again.

  1. You can’t stay asleep – In this type of insomnia, falling asleep is not a problem, but staying asleep is. This happens when a person has a heavy belly or is physically exhausted but the mind is still very active. After one or two sleep cycles, the body receives the bare minimum rest it needs and the mind goes into wakefulness again. This type of insomnia becomes harder to treat as time progresses.

A person may also wake up after a few sleep cycles if there is sickness or pain involved. It is important to know that when a person wakes up between 2AM and 6AM, it is the Vata time of night. Vata is responsible for keeping the mind active and so falling back asleep may automatically become more challenging.

 What can be done?

To treat insomnia means to regulate Vata successfully. Vata can be tackled through lifestyle changes, changing food habits and external therapies.

Let’s have a look at each.

 Lifestyle

  • Hitting the bed before the Pitta time of the day, i.e., before 10pm, can help with a good quality sleep. This is also the time when there is a surge in melatonin and the mind becomes calmer leading one to sleep fast.
  • It is good to have a definite time to sleep and wake up everyday. This can help to set the internal clock and allow your brain to release melatonin more easily, providing you better sleep cycles.
  • Keep the room dark and devoid of any sunlight or electronic light. This can help the brain to receive good sleep signals.
  • Avoiding all activities for at least 2-3 hours before bedtime is essential. This can calm the brain leading you to sleep easily.
  • Wearing socks before going to bed can help to regulate the body temperature as well as the nervous system. This is especially good for those who wake up with sudden anxiety.
  • Keep the temperature of the room cool, but use a heavy blanket to cover yourself before sleeping. A heavy blanket can keep the Vata regulated and the nervous system and brain quiet, thus providing better sleep.
  • Pray or meditate right before bedtime as this activates the body’s parasympathetic mode, thus putting the body in rest and digest mode. This makes it easy to fall asleep and stay asleep for a long time.
  • A warm shower early in the evenings, especially during summer days, can relax the mind and make sleeping easier.
  • Sleeping on the right side is good as it promotes better sleep. Sleeping on the right side activates the ida nadi or the more cooler, calmer energies of the body.
  • Overall stress management is an important factor in determining the quality of sleep. Meditation, cultivating faith, vow of silence for a few hours a day, limiting social commitments etc., are all useful in managing stress and promoting good sleep.

Food

  • Consume only warm food after 4pm as this keeps the Vata Avoid fruits, yoghurt and anything raw.
  • A warm glass of milk right before bedtime can also serve as a good tranquilizer.
  • Extremely spicy foods and fried foods can lead to discomfort in the body and can thus keep the mind and body active and hot.

 External Therapies

  • Shiro Abhyanga or a good warm oil massage on the head can help to significantly quieten the mind and help the body to unwind and fall asleep fast.
  • Shiro Pichu or a treatment where a cotton swab dipped in oil is placed on top of the head also helps to regulate Vata in the head region, thereby providing a significant positive impact on sleep.
  • Karana Purana or putting a few drops of warm sesame oil in the ears before bedtime is very soothing and effective in shutting down the indriyas or the senses.
  • Putting lavender essential oil on the pillow with the help of a diffuser is extremely powerful in inducing sleep, yet it is seldom used.
  • Using white colour or water sounds in your room is especially helpful for those who wake up due to stress.

Still awake?

The most important thing to do is to remember not to worry if you find yourself awake in the middle of the night. Keep your phone away, your eyes closed and focus on your natural breath. Focusing on your breath will once again quieten the mind and induce sleep.

Once awake, turn on the lights or even keep your eyelids open. This will confuse the brain about the time of day and subsequently the melatonin production will be affected. You may also use lavender essential oil at this point.

But if you do wake up after 4.30 am, you can use this time to meditate or study. This time is Brahma Muhurta or that Vatatime when your brain is dominant in the element of ether. This means that your mind will be open and ready to receive. It is also a time when the spiritual energies in the universe are at their highest. So take advantage of it!

Nidhi Pandya

Ayurvedic Health and Lifestyle Consultant

Ayurveda Writer and Educator

T – 917-671-6875

Instagram – my_ayurvedic_life

www.nidhipandya.com

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