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April 11, 2017
Sleep is critical for good health and well-being. However, due to our busy lifestyles, millions of us do not get enough sleep—a problem that can lead to lack of attention, irritability, digestive issues, poor judgement, and drowsiness during the day.
Sleep deficiency has also been linked to more serious physical health issues, including diabetes, high blood pressure, immune deficiencies, increased risk of heart disease, depression, suicide, and risk-taking behaviours. Therefore, getting good, restful sleep can improve both physical and mental health, enhance our quality of life, help us learn more efficiently, and enable us to lead safe and responsible lives.
Ayurveda, the system of mind-body healing that originated in India some 5,000 years ago, is based, in part, on mind-body constitutions called doshas. Each dosha is composed of two of the five elements. Air and space are the underpinnings of the Vata dosha; earth and water comprise the Kapha dosha; and fire and water create the Pitta dosha. While each human is a combination of all three doshas, one or more of the doshas tends to be more predominant in each individual.
The Ayurvedic concept of doshas extends also to the circadian rhythms of life. For example, 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., when the sun is highest in the sky, is considered Pitta time—a time of high energy and metabolism. From 10:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. is also Pitta time, a time when the brain metabolizes thoughts, forms new neural pathways, and integrates information.
Consequently, sleep during 10:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. is especially vital to good mental health and cognitive function. During Pitta time, sleep also enables the body to heal, grow, and repair. Our hormones stay in balance, and our immune function improves.
There are simple yet important steps you can take to improve your sleep habits.
1. Make time for sleep. Very often, sleep is the first thing busy people compromise, so simply making time to sleep will help protect our health and well-being. To achieve this, you can create and commit to a schedule. The best time to go to bed is before 10:00 p.m., so that you can allow your body to experience that critical rebuilding Pitta time. It is also ideal to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, whether it is a weeknight or a weekend night. This can regulate your body’s clock, and help you fall asleep and stay asleep during the night.
2. Watch when and what you eat. What you eat and how late you eat can also affect how you sleep. According to Ayurveda, it is best to eat a light dinner and/or avoid a large meal within a couple of hours of bedtime. You should also limit your intake of fluid before bed in order to prevent waking up for trips to the bathroom.
3. Avoid substances such as nicotine, caffeine, or alcohol, which can interfere with sleep. Both nicotine and caffeine are stimulants; alcohol initially causes drowsiness, but ultimately can disrupt sleep, leaving you feeling tired the following day.
4. Take a walk after your evening meal or practice light, restorative yoga. Moving your body can promote better sleep, helping you fall asleep faster and enjoy deeper rest. However, it is best not to exercise too close to bedtime, otherwise you might feel too energized to fall asleep.
5. Establish a ritual that signals to the body that it is time to unwind. You can create a quiet time before bed—one that does not include television, computers, or social media—as some research suggests that the bright lights of television, smart phones, and tablets before bedtime can interfere with sleep. During this quiet time, performing a light oil self-massage, taking a relaxing shower or bath, reading an inspirational book, listening to soothing music, or drinking herbal tea can all help your body relax.
6. Create a comfortable sleeping environment. Keeping the bedroom attractive, quiet, and cool is conducive to relaxation and restful sleep.
7. Once in bed, perform a relaxing body scan, inviting each part of the body to release any tension you may be holding from the day. You can also practice a bedtime sleep-inducing meditation to quiet the mind. This meditation includes repeating the mantra, “Om Agasthi Shaheena,” (Ōm Ah-gah´-stee Shah-ee´-nah) until you fall asleep. This can be said out loud a few times and then repeated.
8. Avoid daytime naps. Although you may feel tired during the day when you have not had a good night’s rest the evening before, it’s important that you avoid daytime naps, particularly those in the afternoon. By adjusting your sleep habits, you will be able to sleep better throughout the night.
As you commit to better health, you also must allow yourself the rest you need. Excessive daily stress can create anxiety and be very disruptive to sleep. To help manage stress, stay committed to a daily meditation practice, get better organized, set priorities, share tasks, laugh, and have fun. By integrating these rituals into your life, you will not only rest better, but will also enjoy greater health and well-being in your daily life.
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