Sleep and Adult Health
By John Peterson, M.D.
The ancient Ayurvedic texts describe sleep as one of the cornerstones of good health. From the ayurvedic point of view, six to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep is considered to be healthy. Poor sleep can usually be traced to a Vata imbalance. The causes for insomnia include irregular routine, mental and emotional stress, pain, poor digestion, increased frequency of urination, excessive mental and physical activities (especially in the evening), daytime sleeping and — alas! — old age.
If you aren't sleeping well, then look first to your daily routine. Ben Franklin had it right when he said, "Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise." A good night's sleep begins with getting up early so you can watch the sun rise and enjoy the clarity of mind and energy that comes with the Vata time of early morning. If you wait until Kapha time of morning, which begins at 6:00, you will feel sluggish and might need coffee to get your day off the ground.
A good daily routine includes Yoga Asanas, Pranayama and the Transcendental Meditation® program, which bring peace to the mind and purify the nervous system. These are ideally practiced during the Vata time of day — both in the early morning and late afternoon. Another anchor of a good daily routine is that your activity be fulfilling and according to your dharma.
Lunch should be the biggest meal of the day. When the sun is overhead, the Pitta digestive enzymes are activated and most efficient. At night the digestive fires are lower, so it's best to avoid heavier meals. Supper should be light and easily digested, preferably warm and soupy, and prepared from fresh, organic, non-GMO food. The vaidyas say that grated, peeled almonds (that have been soaked and peeled) are especially calming for the mind at night.
Activity after dinner should be light. Avoid TV, focused work, intense conversations and excessively stimulating entertainment. It's better to read uplifting literature instead of watching the evening news. An early evening walk with a companion is good. Spending time with the moon and the stars calms the mind and expands the heart.
If you go to bed during Kapha time of evening — which means before 10:00 in the winter and 11:00 when your time zone is on Daylight Savings Time — you will find it much easier to get to sleep. If you are asleep before Pitta time, then the body can use that midnight surge to metabolize impurities rather than digesting pizza. As we age, that nighttime self-cleaning cycle becomes increasingly important.
If you do find yourself getting hungry before bedtime, a small cup of warm organic milk is a nice way to end the day. Add two pinches of nutmeg, two strings of saffron plus a little ghee, cardamom and natural sugar to make it especially soothing.
Your bedroom should be dark, well ventilated and not too warm. Pajamas and bedding should be comfortable and woven of natural fibers, ideally organic. Sleep with the head of the bed to the east or south, never towards the north. Gandharva Veda music brings balance to nature when it's played softly in the background. Choose an evening raga that will finish before your 10:00 bedtime. Flute is especially soothing at night. (You might like to order the "Rain Raga" — see the link above.)
If you still have trouble getting to sleep after you have adjusted your daily routine, consider some ayurvedic remedies for better sleep. Vata is dry, rough, cold, irregular, and moving. Warm oil has the opposite qualities and therefore soothes Vata. Try a warm-oil head massage before supper. Leave the oil on the head for 30 minutes, then wash it off with warm water. You can also apply ghee (clarified butter) or Moisturizing Herbal Massage Oil to the arches of the feet at bedtime, rubbing the oil in well and then wearing comfortable old socks to protect the bedding. Have a cup of Slumber Time or Worry Free Tea half an hour before bedtime. You can also diffuse Slumber Time or Vata Aroma in your bedroom. Consult the MAPI website for specific herbal remedies for different sleep disorders.
Spend time with family and friends and go to sleep with a smile. A good night's sleep is the reward for a day well spent.
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.