The three pillars of health according to Ayurveda are: diet, sleep and sex.
Why did the practitioners of Ayurveda decide that these three aspects of a person’s life were the most important?
It’s because, overindulgence in either of these three fields leads to physical, emotional and psychological imbalance.
In an earlier post, we explored what Ayurveda and Yoga have to say about sex. And their recommendations for a healthy and satisfying sex life in general and according to each Ayurvedic constitution. Check out my article on Sex, Ayurveda’s Third Pillar of Health
Let’s talk about sleep
We’ve become blind to the importance of sleep. It’s seen as a weakness or something that gets in the way of life rather than as the foundation of a healthy and full life.
Too many things to do, too little time!
It makes me wonder, are we human beings or human doings? When was it decided that what we did and how much we did was the measure of a good life or even success?
A few sobering facts about sleep
54% of American adults are affected by insomnia.
Chronic or intermittent sleep-related problems cost $15 billion in health care and $50 billion in lost productivity.
Approximately 5-10% of people use prescribed sleeping pills. Another 5-10% of people use over-the-counter prescriptions.
An unknown number of people use alcohol and other substances at night to try to help them sleep.
A major factor in chronic illness
Research shows that chronic sleep deficiency and the resulting burnout and depletion of energy is a major factor in a number of chronic illnesses, especially in heart and blood vessel disease.
They discovered that short sleepers (6 hours or less) had a 15% higher risk of cardiovascular disease and a 23% higher risk of heart disease compared with people with normal sleep duration (seven to eight hours).
They also discovered that it was the combination of poor quality AND short duration that caused the problem.
When should we go to sleep?
Studies show that we get the maximum sound and restful sleep between 10 pm and 2 am, therefore, we need to be asleep by 10 pm.
Sleeping from midnight to 8 am is NOT the equivalent to sleeping from 10 pm to 6 am.
When we sleep from midnight until 8, there’s “a delayed circadian rhythm” which means you will feel groggier and more fatigued than if you sleep from 10 to 6 which is more of a natural sleep.
Staying up late and weight issues
Between the hours of 10 pm and 2 am, what Ayurveda calls the Pitta time of the night, we’ll likely have a hunger feeling. This is because our cellular metabolic function is active. For example, the liver works at metabolizing the byproduct of food as well as toxins we ingest from the food we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink, as well as the medications we take.
If we’re awake, it’s more likely that we’ll give in to this sensation of hunger.
Since our liver does its work of cleansing our bodies of accumulated toxins between 10 pm and 2 am, if we’re up or if we have a full stomach, it cannot do that optimally. As a result waste and impurities accumulate and buildup.
This buildup of impurities called Ama is the precursor to symptoms of imbalance and ultimately disease.
Furthermore, A 2017 study from the University of Pennsylvania confirmed Ayurvedic wisdom, late night eating increases weight gain and hunger and slows fat metabolism.
Sleep and success in life
In her talk at Tedwomen, Arianna Huffington shares that if we want to succeed, we need to value sleep. Listen to the 4:04 minutes talk here.
Not convinced, continue to read
Lack of rest and untreated sleep disorders reduce quality of life, lower productivity in school and the workplace, increase the chance of ill health and death from heart disease, diabetes, depression and obesity, and increase the risk of accidents associated with excessive sleepiness.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, approximately 61% of menopausal women have sleep problems associated with hot flashes.
Our hormonal system is intimately connected to our biorhythms, when one goes out of balance, so does the other.
This is even more important when we enter peri-menopause and menopause, a time during which our hormonal system is changing.
One example is estrogen dominance which is intensified with poor or lack of sleep. The result is the occurrence of fat around the belly.
Ayurveda’s healthy sleep routine
- Commit to a 10-10:30 pm bedtime.
- Eat a light dinner, ideally by 6 pm.
- Turn of all screens one hour before bedtime
- Dim the lights in your bedroom.
- Whip up a natural nightcap, about 45 minutes before bedtime. In a small pot mix 2 pinches of ground nutmeg, a dash of ground cardamom and ground cinnamon in 8 oz. of whole organic dairy milk (Vata/Pitta) or nut almond milk (Kapha). Bring to a boil, remove from heat. Let it cool and drink it slowly.
- 30 minutes before going to bed, take a shower, brush your teeth, and scrape your tongue.
- Massage your feet. Blend 1-2 drops of Jatamamsi essential oil in half a tsp of almond, sesame or jojoba oil in the palm of your hand and massage your feet or have a loved one massage your feet 😉
- Practice being aware of your natural breath for a few minutes.
- Lay down in your bed. Let the thoughts flow in and out. Do not try to distract yourself from your own thoughts but rather become the observer your thoughts rather than the thinker. If after 30 minutes or so you’re still having trouble sleeping or if you wake up in the middle of the night, lay on your back and practice Yoga Nidra. Here's the link to my Yoga Nidra recording.
By the way, you can also do Yoga Nidra if you wake up tired in the morning. One of my mentors Dr. Swami Shankardev says, “If you wake feeling tired or exhausted in the morning the best thing you can do is to rest deeply with Yoga Nidra before the day begins. This will give you the extra sleep credits your body needs to maintain itself and keep you healthy and relaxed.”
Have yourself a restful sleep!
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