The Value of Quality Sleep
By Nirmala Raniga
As we approach springtime and move our clocks forward one hour, we not only lose an hour of time, but we also very often disturb our sleep for several days. This disruption can be problematic as sleep is critical for good health and wellbeing.
In general, because of 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 over 5,000 years ago, is based, in part, on mind-body constitutions called doshas. Each dosha (mind-body constitution) 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 we can take to improve our sleep habits.
1) Very often, sleep is the first thing busy people compromise, so simply making time to sleep will help protect our health and wellbeing. To achieve this, we can create and commit to a schedule. The best time to get to bed is before 10:00 p.m., so that we can allow our bodies 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 the body’s clock and help us fall asleep, and stay asleep during the night.
2) What we eat and how late we eat can also affect how we 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. We should also limit our intake of fluid before bed in order to prevent waking up for trips to the bathroom. It is best to 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 us feeling tired the following day.
3) Taking a walk after the evening meal or practicing light, restorative yoga can also promote better sleep, helping us 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.
4) Establishing a ritual that signals to the body that it is time to unwind is also helpful. We 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 the body relax.
5) Having a comfortable sleeping environment is also important. Additionally, keeping the bedroom attractive, quiet, and cool is also conducive to relaxation and restful sleep.
6) Once in bed, we can perform a relaxing body scan, inviting each part of the body to release any tension we may be holding from the day. We 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 we fall asleep. This can be said out loud a few times and then repeated.
7) Although we may feel tired during the day when we have not had a good night’s rest the evening before, we can readjust our sleep habits so we can sleep better throughout the night approaching, by avoiding daytime naps, particularly those in the afternoon.
8) And, as it can be for many things in life, excessive daily stress can create anxiety and be very disruptive to sleep. To help manage stress, we can stay committed to a daily meditation practice, get better organized, set priorities, share tasks, laugh, and have fun.
As we commit to better health, we also must allow ourselves the rest we need. By integrating these rituals into our lives, we will not only rest better, but we will also enjoy greater health and wellbeing in our daily lives.