When it comes to the subject of sleep, I don't even need to ask if you're getting enough...because studies indicate that you're probably not.
Sleep deprivation is now being called a global epidemic and research has linked it to a laundry list of illnesses including anxiety, depression, heart attack, rheumatoid arthritis, and osteoporosis, just to name a few.
So what's going on? What is it about sleep that has us throwing it under the proverbial bus in pursuit of the “hard, fast, and sexy” 24/7 life (does that even exist)? It's a question worth asking ourselves because getting enough sleep (no matter how challenging) is...in a word...VITAL.
So vital, in fact, that the ancient system of health and healing Ayurveda classifies it as one of the three pillars of life.
According to Ayurveda, sleep is one of the three key factors contributing to our ability to both survive and thrive (modern research is proving this), so there's a load of Ayurvedic wisdom detailing the who, what, when, and how of getting a better night's sleep (or getting to sleep at all!).
Know YOUR Unique Sleep Energy
You know the old idea that everyone should be getting between 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night?
Current research pretty much backs this up, but the question of how likely we are to actually make this happen comes down to the qualities and preferences of the individual, because as any couple knows, no two sleepers are alike.
How much sleep YOU need when you're most likely to sleep, and how well you'll actually sleep when you do get to bed are factors that are unique to each one of us—factors that according to Ayurveda are related to our true nature (that's your dosha!).
And so, understanding your dosha can provide valuable insights into getting the quality and quantity of sleep you need in order to shine!
Vata: Vata sleep is often light and highly variable owing to the movement and changeability of vata energy in the mind (racing thoughts) and body (heightened sensitivity). As a result, vatas tend to average between 4 to 7 hours of sleep per night.
Vata Sleep Challenges: Falling asleep, insomnia, sleepwalking, and staying asleep once they get there.
Pitta: Pitta sleep is moderate, meaning most pittas sleep pretty well. If they wake up during the night, they'll most often have no problems getting back to sleep. Your average pitta gets somewhere between 5 to 8 hours of sleep per night.
Pitta Sleep Challenges: Insomnia (usually thinking about ideas and how to get things done), intense sleep-disturbing dreams, sometimes falling asleep too (especially when there's work to be done!).
Kapha: Kapha is the king of sleep. They will sleep deeply, undisturbed, and for longer periods than the other two doshas. Most kaphas are likely to do over 8 hours of sleep each night if you let ‘em!
Kapha Sleep Challenges: The only real sleep concern for a kapha is waking up (it can be a challenge) and getting too much (a possible sign of depression).
Count Your ZZzzzs to the Rhythm of Nature
There's a rhythm to the natural world that plays a significant part in how we feel, act, and sleep. Anyone who's ever experienced jet lag knows this.
Ayurveda suggests that the energy of the day rises and falls in intervals dominated by the qualities of each of the doshas (vata, pitta, and kapha). Seeing things this way gives us insights into the best times of day to do all the important things like eating, sleeping, and even having sex.
The Sleep Zone
Kapha time is best for falling (and being) asleep, owing to the dense, slow, and heavy energy of kapha.
It occurs at two different intervals during the day, from 6 A.M. to 10 A.M., and from 6 P.M. to 10 P.M. Getting to bed by 10 P.M., something that Ayurveda suggests, allows you to make the best use of the heavy and slow energy of kapha to get to sleep.
A Pitfall for Night Owls
Most folks, however, end up getting to bed sometime during pitta time (10 P.M.–2 A.M.), and can either find falling asleep challenging, or opt to give up on sleep all together in order to take advantage of the “second wind” burst of energy and focus (hello, pitta) that may also show up around this time.
The Answer to the 4 A.M. “Mystery”
And if you do suffer from insomnia, you may find yourself wide awake (even for no apparent reason) right around the kickoff of vata time (2 A.M.–6 A.M.) when vata energy begins rising again, with more movement in the mind and body.
Sleep Do's and Don'ts
Ayurveda has a few simple suggestions for making sleeping a little easier, without having to count a single sheep...
- Wake up and go to bed around the same times every day. This helps settle the mind.
- Create a nighttime routine—take time to wind down and relax for an hour or so before bed. Avoid active and stimulating activities (TV, computers, smartphones, work) and opt for quiet and relaxing activities (meditation, gentle breathing exercises, etc.).
- Avoid drinking alcohol or caffeine before bed.
- Massage the feet and temples with warm sesame oil before going to bed.
- Take time before bed to do some gentle yoga postures…Here’s some I prepared earlier!
Putting Yourself on Your Path
No matter who you are or what your situation, getting the right quality and amount of sleep requires making the powerful choice to embrace sleep as vital fuel for your mind, body, and life.
It means choosing yourself again and again, believing that doing so is vital to fulfilling your life's path, and knowing that you're worth it!
Pose Image Credit / Yogini: Chara Caruthers