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The Power of Sleep



A good night’s sleep is important to rejuvenate your body, mind, and spirit.  In Ayurveda, sleep is one of the three pillars of good health.  Benefits of healthy sleep include a strong immune system, maintaining a healthy weight, a lower risk for developing a serious health problem, reduced stress, an improved mood, improved cognition and decision-making, and avoidance of injuries (tired drivers are the cause of thousands of car accidents every year).


However, we all experience restless sleep or insomnia occasionally, which can be caused by a number of reasons.  Insufficient sleep can impair judgment and cognitive ability, increase the risk of injuries, decrease libido, accelerate aging in the skin, make it difficult to lose weight, and increase the incidence of feeling depressed.  As long as sleep impairment doesn’t become chronic, you can try these tips for a good night’s sleep:   


Have a Daily Routine

Having a daily routine settles the nervous system and makes you feel stable and grounded.  After waking, go for a walk, take a shower, practice a few minutes of meditation, or practice yoga.  Eat meals around the same time each day.  Having a daily routine keeps your biological rhythms running smoothly.


Have a Bedtime Routine

Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, and get eight consecutive hours of sleep. Ideally go to sleep by 10 p.m. and wake up at 6 a.m.  Just as our bodies have a natural rhythm, so do the hours of the day.  In Ayurveda, there are three four-hour cycles within a day: 

  • Vata is from 2-6 am & 2-6 pm;

  • Kapha is from 6-10 am & 6-10 pm; and

  • Pitta is from 10-2 am & 10-2 pm. 


So go to bed before Pitta time (10 pm) because it’s the element of Fire, and the 10pm – 2am time period is ideal for metabolic processes.  Wake up before Kapha time (6 am), because Kapha is sluggish, heavy, and lethargic, and you want to be awake and move around before Kapha energy settles in. 


Massage

Incorporate self-massage as part of your bedtime routine, particularly the feet. Massaging the feet is very grounding; and in Ayurveda, as well as other Eastern traditions, it is considered a therapeutic treatment for all organs of the body, as well as the muscles and bones. I like massaging my feet with sesame oil and then putting on warm socks.


Avoid Eating Heavy Meals at Night

Your digestive fire (agni) peaks when the sun is highest in the sky (around noon), so eat your biggest meal at noon.  Have something lighter in the evening  that’s easy to digest; and finish your evening meal three hours before bedtime.


Calm the Nervous System 

Before bed, take a bath or try an herbal extract such as lavender, chamomile, valerian, or skullcap.  Herbal teas are great but when drunk before bedtime, they can cause you to wake up during the night to urinate.  Keep a tincture of one of these herbs on your nightstand and take as needed. 


Make the Bedroom a Sacred Place to Sleep

Temperature, lighting, noise level, and humidity can disrupt or support sleep.  Vata types tend to like warmer temps, softer beds, lots of covers, and adequate humidity.  Pitta types usually like cooler temps, fewer covers, a firmer bed, total darkness, and less humidity.  Kapha people – well, they have no problems sleeping; in fact, they can suffer from excess sleep.  Anyway, make your bedroom just right for you. 


Eliminate Stimulants

Caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol can interfere with a good night’s sleep, so eliminate these at night if you’re having a hard time sleeping.  Also, computers, TV, and cell phones are stimulating, so try not to use these devices after 8 pm to give your eyes and mind time to relax.    


Begin incorporating a few of these tips and see if you wake up feeling more refreshed.


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