Ayurveda and the Importance of Sleep

Sleep, Aaaah…beautiful sleep. Do you get enough? If not, this could spell trouble for you!

Ayurveda considers sleep to be one of the “Three Pillars of Life,” along with proper digestion and appropriate sexual activity. What this means is that proper and sufficient sleep is essential for optimal health and without it, body and mind can suffer. 

Sleep disorders are primarily vata disorders.  Vata sleep disturbances include restlessness and light, easily disturbed sleep that may be precipitated by worry and anxiety. There may be tossing and turning and/or frequent kicking of the legs. Disturbed pitta can be a factor also, in the form of excess focus on problem solving/planning and attempting to sleep in hot weather.

In Ayurveda, healthy lifestyle is paramount. Ayurveda provides lots of suggestions for healthy routines to begin each day, which supports optimal health and peace of mind. And, by creating healthy routines at bedtime, you are helping ensure a nice, peaceful night’s sleep. Following are suggestions for creating healthy bedtime routines and optimizing sleep.

First of all, consider that about one hour before actually going to bed is when to start winding down to prepare for sleep. If your mind and body are active all the way until your head hits the pillow, it often will take awhile to calm down and settle into a state that will allow you to sleep. Instead, begin this process about an hour before you climb into the sheets. Avoid stimulating activities during this time, such as heated discussions, violent television shows, unsettling news, computer work, resolving financial issues, etc.

As you prepare for slumber, engage in soothing rituals such as:

  • Warm, oily bath 
  • Soothing music 
  • Meditation and deep relaxation exercises 
  • Warm oil massage
  • Light or spiritual reading
  • Turn down lights and use candles instead 

One of the most important ways to ensure a good night’s sleep is simply to maintain a regular bed and wake time schedule, including weekends. According to Ayurveda, the best sleep schedule to maintain is to go to bed by 10:00 pm and rise at about 6:00 am. This is the time that is most conducive to sleep. If you are used to going to bed later and getting up later, this may be difficult at first. But your body will soon adjust, and over time you will likely find this schedule allows for a more restful night’s sleep.

Other suggestions include: regular mealtimes (and do not eat anything heavy after 7:00 pm); a cup of warm milk before bed, perhaps with a little fresh nutmeg grated into it; a gentle yoga practice; foot or scalp massage before bed; aromatherapy, such as lavender and/or jatamansi.  Also, outdoor work in the garden or spending time in nature can be beneficial, as this brings the influence of the earth element and its heavy, slow qualities into the body and mind.

May you each night experience blissful slumber supreme! For as the Dalai Lama says: “Sleep is the best meditation.”

By Dr. Marisa Jackson-Kinman, C.A.S., P.K.S., A.Y.T., Faculty at the California College of Ayurveda