“Happiness, misery, nourishment, emaciation, strength, weakness, virility, sterility, knowledge, ignorance, life and death – all these occur depending on proper or improper sleep.”

– Charaka, Sutra, Classic Ayurvedic Text

 

 

The importance of sleep

Sleep is a time when our body repairs, renews and rejuvenates. This helps enable us to be physically and mentally in balance during waking hours. Good sleep enhances immune function, supports digestion, strengthens body tissues and even extends our life span!

 

Ayurveda considers restful sleep as important as a wholesome diet. It is an essential pillar for good health, yet millions of people around the world are not getting enough of it. Insomnia is simply defined as the inability to obtain sufficient sleep. It can present in various ways including difficulty falling asleep, repeated wakening throughout the night, early morning awakenings and a sense of not having enough sleep. This often results in persistent sleepiness during the day, even when it seems as if one was asleep for an adequate duration.

 

Insomnia is a widespread problem that interferes with our physical, mental and emotional health. It is linked to a variety of negative outcomes including impaired concentration and memory, an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, industrial and motor vehicle accidents, anxiety, depression, irritability and the general loss of vitality or zest for life.

 

Causes of poor sleep

There are many different factors that are likely to cause and contribute to insomnia, some predispose a person to it, some precipitate the condition and others perpetuate it. In most patients, several of these factors play a role. They include stress, financial or relationship issues, overwork, fear, anxiety, grief, anger, an uncomfortable bed, old age, significant changes in life circumstances and substance abuse. Basically, any mental or emotional imbalance that is causing us to be too much in our heads and not enough in our bodies can give rise to insomnia. In Ayurveda, the main root cause underlying these issues is seen to be an imbalance in the Vata (air/ether) dosha.

 

Vata’s light and mobile qualities make it difficult for the mind to rest. Often a Vata person will not be able to fall asleep because of the mind’s tendency to replay thoughts and emotions from the day. When an individual does fall asleep, the sleep is usually light and restless, never quite reaching the deep sound sleep needed for rejuvenation. There is a tendency to wake in the early morning hours between 2-4 am and be unable to get back to sleep, as this time of night is naturally governed by Vata.

 

How do we overcome insomnia and promote sound sleep?

Successful Ayurvedic healing always begins with removal of the cause. Though there are sometimes physiological and external factors that inhibit sound sleep, most causes of insomnia are psychological. The first step is to assess your life and try and remove the major stressors and any obvious causes (this may be more difficult than it sounds as we may not ‘see’ the obvious).

 

It is also important to note that insomnia can occur as a symptom of more serious disorders such as severe depression, acid reflux, or sleep apnea. In these cases, the primary condition or imbalance must be dealt with effectively.

 

The next step is to implement simple, effective measures to pacify Vata and calm any over-activity in the mind and nervous system.

 

Here are some general tips to create healthy sleep habits and promote sound sleep:

  • Slow down and have a regular routine, try and go to bed before 10pm.
  • Make the bedroom an oasis for peace and relaxation only. Don’t bring work to bed, watch t.v or surf the net before sleeping. Keep all electronics out of the bedroom.
  • Indulge in peaceful and pleasurable activities in the evening that promote relaxation. Read a nice book, spend time with loved ones, take a warm bath or listen to soothing music. Start unwinding as soon as you get home from work and leave the stress of the day at the door. Promote a peaceful state of mind by limiting exposure to negative stimuli such as the news or violent movies.
  • Do yoga, meditation, pranayama, tai chi or any activity you find beneficial to help get you out of your head and into your body. Try and find time throughout the day for relaxation – even just ten minutes a day can make the body and mind’s transition to sleep easier when it’s time for bed.
  • Regular mediation – 20 minutes, twice a day. Making sure you make time for the afternoon meditation is essential.
  • Avoid raw foods and ice cold drinks throughout the day.
  • Massage your scalp and the soles of your feet with sesame or almond oil – an amazing remedy for pacifying vata and calming the mind.
  • Drink herbal teas such as Chamomile, Valerian, Skullcap or Withania – these herbs help calm the mind, soothe nerves and support sound, restful sleep.

 

Please note, if you suffer from chronic insomnia, please consider seeing an Ayurvedic Practitioner to get more specific advice and treatments.

 

Implementing these simple steps, we can experience more relaxation in the body and mind, helping us to ease into deep, restful sleep and wake with energy and vitality to meet the day.