– Charaka, Sutra, Classic Ayurvedic Text
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.
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.
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.
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.