For a good night's sleep

Are you in the habit of checking your mobile phone/laptop or watching television late into the night or munching spicy delicacies late in the evening?

 Well, you may be exposing yourself to the risk of contracting Insomnia, the inability to fall asleep or remain asleep. Left untreated, the sleep disorder is linked to increased illness or morbidity.

 Today’s generation is harried by the fast pace of life at one level and obsessed with their diet and exercise at another. However, sleep is often not given due attention. It’s a time when the body is at rest and gets to heal itself.

 Insomnia or sleeplessness can, therefore, be destructive if left unaddressed. It not only has the power to damage health, but will also seriously compromise the quality of your day. When the mana (mind), indriya (senses) and sharira (body) are not rested well, they all perform at below optimum level. Therefore, we need to understand the mechanism of sleep and reset it so that we get a good night’s sleep.

 The ideal time to catch some nap, according to Ayurveda, is the evening ‘Kapha’ time (from 6 pm to 10 pm). If we are still awake after 10 pm, we naturally enter ‘Pitta’ time of the day and our nervous system gets wired again. The Ayurveda Samhitas refer Ahar (Diet), Nidra (Sleep) and Brahmacharya (appropriate sensory indulgence) as the three vital factors in leading a healthy life.

 Sleep mechanism

As diurnal mammals, our sleep is dictated by the circadian rhythms of the universe, i.e., the cycle of the sun. When the sun goes down and our eyes sense darkness, the brain releases certain hormones like melatonin and it goes into a subtle frequency, slowing down our body and finally putting it to sleep.

The second determinant to sleep is our body’s own rhythm or internal clock. This trains the body to sleep at a specific time. So, even if we travel to a different time zone and the sun is up and bright, the brain will prepare to sleep because it has created its own rhythm. Gradually, the circadian rhythm will take over your body’s rhythm and automatically adjust to the jet lag.

Insomnia (Nidranash)

When our brain does not release the required amount of melatonin due to any reason, Insomnia occurs. This can be due to anything ranging from lack of physical work, overwork or even spending too much time on the screen. Let’s understand this better.

 

Types of Insomnia

You can’t go to sleep

If falling asleep is a problem, it is usually the Rajoguna (the quality in the mind that keeps you engaged with the world) that is at play. At this stage, the brain is confused over whether it wants to release melatonin to put you to bed or serotonin to keep you going. This happens when we find it difficult to disconnect ourselves and are overly wired.

Intense thoughts, loud sounds, cell phone light, bright lights, lack of physical strain can all fool our system that it’s still daytime and we need to keep going.

 You can’t stay asleep

In this type of Insomnia, falling asleep is not a problem, but staying asleep is. This happens when a person has a heavy belly or is physically exhausted, but the mind is still very active. After one or two sleep cycles, the body receives the bare minimum rest it needs and the mind goes into wakefulness again. This type of Insomnia becomes harder to treat as time progresses. A person may also wake up after a few sleep cycles if there is sickness or pain involved.

 It is important to know that when a person wakes up between 2AM and 6AM, it is the Vata time of night. Vata is responsible for keeping the mind active and so falling back asleep may automatically become more challenging.

What can be done?

To treat Insomnia means to regulate Vata successfully. Vata can be tackled through lifestyle changes, changing food habits and external therapies.

Let’s have a look at each.

Lifestyle

•  Hitting the bed before the Pitta time of the day, i.e., before 10pm, can help with a good quality sleep. This is also the time when there is a surge in melatonin and the mind becomes calmer, preparing to have a good nap.

•  It is good to have a specific time to sleep and wake up every day. This can help set the internal clock and allow your brain to release melatonin more easily, providing you with better sleep cycles.

•  Keep the room dark and devoid of any sunlight or electronic light. This can help the brain receive good sleep signals.

•  Avoid all activities for at least 2-3 hours before bedtime. This can calm the brain, helping you catch sleep easily.

•  Wear socks before going to bed. It can regulate body temperature as well as the nervous system. This is especially good for those who wake up with sudden anxiety.

•  Keep the temperature of the room cool, but use a heavy blanket to cover yourself before sleeping. A heavy blanket can keep the Vata regulated and the nervous system and brain quiet, thus providing better sleep.

•  Pray or meditate right before bedtime as this activates the body’s parasympathetic mechanism, thus putting the body at rest and digest mode. This makes it easy to fall and stay asleep for a long time.

•  A warm shower early in the evenings, especially during summer days, can relax the mind and make sleeping easier.

•  Sleeping on the right side is good as it promotes better sleep. Sleeping on the right side activates the ida nadi or the more cooler, calmer energies of the body.

•  Overall stress management is an important factor in determining the quality of sleep. Meditation, faith, vow of silence for a few hours a day, limiting social commitments, etc. are all useful in managing stress and promoting good sleep.

Food

•  Consume only warm food after 4 pm as this keeps the Vata regulated. Avoid fruits, yoghurt and anything raw.

•  A warm glass of milk right before bedtime can also serve as a good tranquilizer.

•  Extremely spicy and fried foods can trigger stomach discomfort and can disturb sleep.

 

External Therapies

•  Shiro Abhyanga or a good warm oil massage on the head can calm your mind and help the body to unwind,  leading you to have a sound sleep.

•  Shiro Pichu or a treatment where a cotton swab dipped in oil is placed on top of the head also helps to regulate Vata in the head region, thereby providing a significant positive impact on sleep.

•  Karana Purana or putting a few drops of warm sesame oil in the ears before bedtime is very soothing and effective in shutting down the indriyas or the senses.

•  Putting lavender essential oil on the pillow with the help of a diffuser is extremely powerful in inducing sleep, yet it is seldom used.

•  Using white colour or water sounds in your room is especially helpful for those who wake up due to stress.

Still awake?               

But if you do wake up after 4.30 am, you can use this time to meditate or study. This time is Brahma Muhurta or that Vata time when your brain is dominant in the element of ether. This means your mind is open and ready to receive. It is also a time when spiritual energy is high. So take advantage of it!

(Nidhi Pandya, the writer, is an Ayurvedic Heath and lifestyle Consultant)

1 comments

  • Vishnu

    I have a small controversy on this article. I believe ida in the left side of the body, so it would be great if sleep on left side instead of right side.

    Reply
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