Without adequate sleep, we are at risk for many diseases, and we falter in efficiency and productivity. Ayurveda, an ancient science of healthcare, offers sage advice in the slumber department.
Dosha Sleep Styles
First, it is important to understand the typical quality of sleep experienced by each dosha (energy type).
Vata individuals tend toward interrupted sleep. This is due to their nervous and anxious nature, and most insomnia tends to originate from a vata imbalance. This vata-type insomnia can stem from excessive thinking and worrying as well as hypersensitivity to people and surroundings.
Pitta individuals may get moderate to little sleep, but it is sound. An example would be the efficient owner of a large company who functions well on four hours of sleep and a power nap. A pitta-type insomnia, though, can result from unresolved emotions like anger, resentment, and jealousy.
Kapha individuals tend towards heavy, prolonged, and excessive sleep, which further exacerbates the sluggishness of their natural constitution. Kaphas rarely experience insomnia. They will derive health benefits from purposefully shortening their sleeping time and not napping during the day.
How much is enough?
Ayurvedic practitioners often recommend between six and eight hours of sleep a night. A kapha may need less, while a vata may need more. When aiming for longer sleep, it is important that it be had before sunrise to be in harmony with nature.
A vata-dominant person could also nap in the afternoon if overwhelmed or depleted. Most Ayurvedic lifestyle recommendations include instructions to be in bed by 10 pm, asleep by 11 pm, and up by 6 am. How do we make that happen?
Aids to Slumber
Ayurveda recommends setting aside time in the evening to quietly review the day. This practice helps to release the tensions and concerns of the day and to empty the mind of bothersome thoughts. Yoga asanas are valued, but no stimulating or aerobic poses should be done.
Oil massage of the head—especially with grounding sesame oil—followed by a warm bath promotes a sound sleep. Applied to the feet of a vata-dominant person, the sesame oil anchors and calms. Follow by a warm bath for best results.
For some vata-dominant types, heavier food for dinner helps. In Ayurveda, that means whole grains, root vegetables, dairy, and boiled rice with milk and ghee (clarified butter). The last meal of the day should sustain you until breakfast but not cause gastric distress.
Singing, chanting, listening to calm music, and placing oneself in joyful circumstances are good preparations for sleep. Pitta-aggravated insomniacs may benefit from using soft natural botanicals to calm their irritation before bed.
The bed must be conducive to sleep and free of disturbances by animals or children. The room should be cool and dry, comfortable and uncluttered, with as few electronic lights, noises, or vibrations as possible. Leave the television and computers outside the bedroom. Many people get disturbed by the evening news. Avoid this influence before bed, along with stimulating music, movies, and video games. Read something calming or inspiring, or listen to music for a few minutes.
Prayer and meditation are the preamble to sleep for many. Prayer is where you do most of the talking, meditation is where you are listening!
If, with all these lifestyle recommendations, you still need help with peaceful slumber, Ayurveda recommends drinking warm milk. If dairy intolerant, use warmed rice, coconut, almond, or other nut milks. To this, you can add a pinch of nutmeg, poppy seeds, and/or gotu kola. Nutmeg and poppy seeds are both excellent sedatives, but can lead to dullness of the mind if overused on a daily or copious basis.
Ashwagandha (one to four capsules) taken with warmed milk and a bit of raw sugar helps the body cope with stress and leads to deep, untroubled sleep. Medicated bhringaraj oil applied to the scalp or hairline calms the mind and excessive mental activity. Jatamansi and valerian herbs can also sedate and work for some, while being too heavy for others. Chamomile tea is a good standby for all three doshas. You may need to experiment to see what works best for you.