Friday, January 2, 2009
Sleep: An Ayurvedic Perspective
by Shazia and Prana
“About 42 million sleeping pill prescriptions were filled last year, according to the research company IMS Health, up nearly 60 percent since 2000.” — The New York Times, February 7, 2006
There is a reason that millions of Americans are popping pills in their quest for rest. Studies have suggested that sleeping problems may be linked to obesity, depression, and diabetes—conditions which are epidemic in the United States. In a December 9, 2008 report published on www.medicalnewstoday.com, Professor Philippe Froguel of the Department of Genomic Medicine at Imperial College London pointed out, "we know that obese children tend to sleep badly and that people become more obese if they are not having enough sleep. Our new study demonstrates that abnormalities in the circadian rhythm may partly be causing diabetes and high blood sugar levels."
Clearly, sleep involves more than the bliss of closing your eyes at night. According to Ayurveda, the traditional medicine of India, getting quality sleep is one of the key ingredients of a healthy and joyful life. Sleep acts as a rejuvenator of mind and body, enabling us to have optimal functional performance during our waking hours. Even powerful medicine is of hardly any use if the fundamental ingredients of life are missing.
Sleep is important because it supports Ojas. Ojas is of the three treasures in Ayurveda (the other two being Prana (life force) and Tejas (radiant energy) that integrate body, mind, and spirit into a functioning individual. Ojas is the refined essence that is derived from the digestion and assimilation of food. It governs the growth and development processes in the body and enhances the immune system.
The state of deep sleep is achieved when our awareness is completely disconnected from our physical senses. If our awareness is only partially disconnected, then our quality of sleep may be adversely affected. Our lifestyle, eating habits and behavioral patterns create an imbalance of Vata (air), Pitta (fire) or Kapha (water) which eventually results in sleep imbalance. Vata, Pitta and Kapha are the three Ayurvedic causative-patterns that govern all the different activities of the body and mind.
We all have varying amounts of Vata, Pitta and Kapha within us. If we pay attention to our resting patterns, we can discover more about our balance of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha and make simple changes to our diet and lifestyle to enhance our experience of sleep each night.
Vata sleep imbalance is related to problems with falling asleep. A Vata pacifying diet is recommended in Ayurveda to alleviate this problem. Consider including foods that are warm, heavy and oily, and minimize foods that are cold, dry and light. Add the sweet, salty and sour tastes, and cut down on spicy, bitter and astringent foods. Develop a routine of eating meals and going to bed at the same time. Apply a little lavender oil to your hands and feet before you go to bed. Also, practice deep and slow breathing meditation to help you unwind.
Follow a Pitta pacifying diet if you tend to wake up during the night. This is generally an indication of Pitta sleep imbalance. Try incorporating foods that are cool and in liquid form. Sweet, bitter, astringent foods are good in moderation. Reduce foods that are hot, spicy, salty or sour. Apply calming oil, such as vetiver or rose, before going to bed. Practice deep and slow breathing meditation to help calm your mind.
If you wake up feeling dull and lethargic, you may be experiencing a Kapha sleep imbalance. In this case, favor foods that are light, dry and warm. Minimize or avoid foods that are heavy, oily and cold. Place an emphasis upon warm spices and tastes that are bitter and astringent. Avoid sweet and sour tasting foods. Massaging feet with warming massage oil such as rosemary or eucalyptus will help.
When appropriately chosen and practiced regularly, an Ayurvedic diet combined with a blend of essential oils and breathing meditation can create a relaxing and calming atmosphere to balance your body, mind, and spirit so that you wake up feeling rested and rejuvenated.