The Healing Power of Sleep
Millions of Americans 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 The Council of Maharishi Ayurveda Physicians, sleep is one of the supporting pillars of life. Along with diet, 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 unrefreshed and tired with an aching body and lethargic mind.
Managing Sleep Imbalances
The Council suggests ways to manage each of these imbalances, with targeted herbal supplements and diet and lifestyle recommendations. "The new Blissful Sleep herbal tablets are a gentle, non-habit-forming, natural sleep aid. They are recommended for all the three types of sleep imbalances." The Blissful Sleep formula includes as primary herbs Indian Valerian and Muskroot (Jatamansi), both well-known in ayurveda for centuries as herbal sleep aids; Winter Cherry (Ashwagandha), which enhances resistance to stress; and Tinospora Cordifolia (Indian Tinospora), which nourishes the mind and helps enhance immunity (immunity tends to diminish with prolonged sleep deprivation). Eat a light dinner, at least two hours before retiring to bed; these tablets should not be taken on an empty stomach.
Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations
For a Vata sleep imbalance, indicated by difficulty in falling asleep, The Council of Maharishi Ayurveda Physicians recommends 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. (For specific food suggestions, please call 800-255-8332 for a referral to an ayurvedic practitioner in your area.) Also include poppy seeds in your diet — here's a delicious recipe for Poppy Seed Chutney. Drinking a cup of Slumber Time Tea before bed can also be soothing. Apply a little Youthful Skin Massage Oil to your hands and feet before you go to bed. In bed, breathe deeply and easily 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 the Date Milk Shake, a delicious cooling drink, and include Poppy Seed Chutney in your diet. Combine the Youthful Skin Massage Oil (50%) with a cooling oil such as coconut or olive (50%) and apply to hands and feet before bed. Breathe deeply and easily 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 Youthful Skin Massage Oil will help.
The Slumber Time Aroma 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 Zzzs
Here are ten tips from The Council of Maharishi Ayurveda Physicians 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 10:00 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 — organic 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.
The sole purpose of these articles is to provide information about the tradition of ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have any serious acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the medical advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or e-mail us for the number of a physician in your area. Check with your doctor before taking herbs or using essential oils when pregnant or nursing.