There is nothing more frustrating than lying in bed staring at the ceiling, tired but unable to sleep.
Insufficient sleep dulls thinking, slows our reaction time, weakens digestion and causes pain and achiness in the body. A healthy, full night’s sleep is one of the essential supports of a healthy full life. When we get enough sleep, we have the opportunity to enter the next day with a sort of clean slate and renewed energy.
Ayurveda and Sleep
From the perspective of Ayurveda, sleep increases our connection to Kapha dosha and earth and water elements. That means it has the qualities of moist, cool, heavy and slow. It is a time for the body processes to slow down and for healing to occur.
Insufficient sleep dulls thinking, slows our reaction time, weakens digestion and causes pain and achiness in the body.
Vata Dosha and Sleep
Insomnia is usually caused by excess Vata dosha or wind element influencing our experience with its light, mobile or irregular qualities.
Causes of an increase in Vata
– Excess travel
– Over-eating dry or raw foods
– Over-use of electronics and artificial light, particularly after sunset
– Trauma (emotional or physical)
– Strong wind (autumn)
The qualities of excess Vata make it difficult for the mind to relax and detach from the thoughts and emotions from the day. Our mind can easily run away with planning, anxiety, fear or grief.
In some ways, most of our ill-health is caused, or at least made worse, by our desire for things to be different then they are. Much of the time, we are functioning based on ideas that are not actually in alignment with nature. This is what is happening when we lie there at bedtime, unable to fall asleep, thinking about how things could be different from how they are. Along with these mind symptoms, there may be digestive discomfort or pain in the body. Sleep may come eventually, but it is likely to be light and fitful.
Pitta Dosha and Sleep
Sometimes the intensity and heat of Pitta dosha, or fire element, interfere with our ability to sleep. Too much exposure to sun, spicy foods or intense emotional situations can leave us over-heated at bedtime. If we stay up too late, this intensity becomes restlessness and may lead to late-night eating, or indulging in other damaging habits.
Anger and frustration can leave us awake and fuming. When this Pitta-stye of insomnia strikes, we may wake frequently, but usually don’t have as much trouble falling back asleep. However, the dreams may be intense and heated, leaving us feeling under-rested in the morning.
It is important to note that insomnia can also arise as a symptom of another medical condition, like sleep apnea or depression. In those cases, the below suggestions may be helpful, but might not be definitive in healing the problem.
How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep
The truth is that no health imbalance can truly be healed until the cause of the problem is removed. This means, for example, that if the source of the sleeplessness is too much Vata, caused by too much stress, normal sleep will not return until stress has been reduced and the excess Vata has been relieved.
In some ways, most of our ill-health is caused, or at least made worse, by our desire for things to be different then they are. Much of the time, we are functioning based on ideas that are not actually in alignment with nature.
Whether or not we cooperate, nature is always communicating with us. When we can enter (back) into that communication, everything that we do in our day is supported by the natural rhythms around us. Life becomes easier.
One way to start listening to nature’s cues is to create a consistent daily routine for yourself. As I have written in my post about The Importance of Rest, this regularity and predictability in the day can offer deep relaxation for your nervous system. This means that by the end of the day—as long as you haven’t over-packed your schedule—there is less clutter in the mind and less “unwinding” to do before sleep can come.
Pick one thing to do at the same time every day. Since we are talking about sleep, it might be a good idea to choose something related to that. For example, turning off all electronics by a certain point in the evening. Or you might try practicing a simple breathing exercise for 5 or 10 minutes each night before bed. Before long you will find yourself naturally settling down and becoming quieter earlier in the night.
Bucket bathing: This soothing practice helps us to shed the energy of our day and prepare for restful sleep.
A short evening stroll after dinner: Being outside during the sunset and on-set of night cools the heat of Pitta and once again reminds us of natural cycles.
Meditation: Even 5 minutes daily (at the same time) of meditation can ease the intensity of Pitta. For Vata anxiety, a simple breathing exercise like “full yogic breath” can be grounding and settling.
Yoga: A short, gentle practice before dinner or before bed can direct our energy from the mind and back into the body to help nurture relaxation and peacefulness. Pawanmuktasana from the book Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha is a great Vata-reducer.
Eating dinner before sunset: A light, early dinner (avoiding grains might be useful) allows sleep to settle in more easily. Sleep is deepest and most restful when the body is not in the initial stages of digestion.
You can align with the daily and monthly cycles of time: try making a sankalpa for a full moon-cycle of practicing this new habit.