Ayurveda is the most ancient science of life. As such, it is not concerned only with the cure of diseases, but also aims to relieve the humanity from all categories of miseries – physical, mental, intellectual and spiritual. Ayurvedic classics give special emphasis on three important values which have been considered the conducive factors for the maintenance of life and health. This important triune consists of Ahara (food), Nidra (Sleep) and Brahmacharya (Good conduct). These three have been considered Upastambha – the basic fundamentals of life and health. Of the three, sleep has been given more importance and considered to be the best in Ayurveda.
Food is mainly related with physical factors. Good conduct, with mental factors while sleep has a psychosomatic approach. These three are designated as upastambha of life because they support biological humors vata, pitta and kapha of the body. Vata, pitta and kapha are altered and disturbed if the three upastambhas are unbalanced and may lead to various disorders. Sleep affects both the physical and mental factors equally. If practiced according to a prescribed régime it provides ‘sukh’ which is considered as arogya (disease Free State). Sleep has been considered as nourishing and promotes health by nourishing and increasing kapha which is responsible for the strength and immunity of the body and mind.
The Ayurvedic texts attest to the value and necessity of sleep for health, longevity and spirituality. Modern-day research links insomnia to a range of conditions including hyperacidity, heart disease, diabetes, mood disorders, depression, Anxiety and car accidents.
Insomnia is a common sleep disorder. People who have insomnia have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or both. Chronic insomnia is a widespread and common disorder affecting 10% to 15% of adults, with an additional one third of all adults experiencing transient or occasional insomnia. 40% of adults report getting so little sleep that resulting daytime drowsiness interferes with productivity several days in a month. Over half of adults surveyed said they had driven while drowsy in the last year. Almost 70% report having one or more sleep problems several times a week.
The symptoms of insomnia include trouble falling asleep, awakening in the middle of the night, waking up too early, awakening feeling unrefreshed, fatigue or sleepiness during the day, the triad of irritability, anxiety, or depression, difficulty focusing on tasks, higher incidence of accidents, headaches, digestive symptoms, and continued worries about sleep.
In Ayurveda, Insomnia is known as Anidra. According to the Ayurvedic perspective, the doshas responsible for this disease are Tarpak Kapha, Sadhak Pitta or Prana Vata.? Tarpak Kapha is a sub-dosha of Kapha . It nourishes the brain cells and facilitates a good night’s sleep. Imbalance of this dosha causes poor nourishment of brain cells, leading to Insomnia. Sadhak Pitta is a sub-dosha of Pitta and is located in the heart. It controls emotions, desires, decisiveness, and spirituality. Its imbalance makes a person demanding and workaholic, thereby leading to situations that may cause lack of sleep. Prana Vata is a sub-dosha of Vata. It is linked to insomnia, worry, anxiety, and problems like depression. Prana Vata makes the nervous system sensitive; this sensitive nervous system coupled with an aggravated Prana Vata lead to insomnia.
Although there are specific suggestions for each of the doshas, there are a few simple Ayurvedic recommendations, which everyone can apply to their daily routine, to ensure a more restful and rewarding slumber:
1. Go to bed no later than 10pm, during the drowsy Kapha time of night, so that your mind can settle down faster.The time between 10pm and 2am is governed by Pitta, so trying to get to sleep after 10pm will be most likely disturbed.
2. Eat a light and warm dinner, no later than 7pm. We must give our digestion time to assimilate our final meal of the day. Once our digestive system has done its job, our body can then focus on healing and restoring whilst we’re sleeping.
3. Avoid caffeine after 2pm. Avoid alcohol dependence to relax (another vicious cycle).
4. Wear cotton, or natural fibers, to bed. This includes your bedding also.
5. Ensure your room is well ventilated and dark. Be sure to switch off all technology.
6. Massage your sole of feet & Temple area just prior to bed, with warm sesame oil.
7. Drink a cup of milk. That’s right, just like your Grandma used to make you before bed. Boil a cup of organic milk with 1 tsp of Ghee (Clarified butter) with pinch of nutmeg, brown sugar & Green cardamom Powder.
8. Lavender essential oil. Sprinkle a few drops of this pure essential oil onto your pillow or a dab onto your temples before bed.
9. Herbal tea sip some soothing tulsi ( Holy Basil ) and coriander tea , licorice Tea , Have a cup in the evening instead of reaching for that glass of wine or stimulating tea.
10. Abhyanga. This is the Ayurvedic oil massage. Taking up this daily practice will change your life. Warm up some sesame oil and massage it into your body. Let this oil soak into the skin for 10-20 minutes before having a warm shower or bath.
11. Brahmi tea during the day and Brahmi milk at bed time will be helpful. Boil the milk on stovetop with 1 tsp of Brahmi powder, green cardamom, and 1tsp chopped dates & pinch of saffron & nutmeg powder. This will help in inducing good night sleep.
12. Take time each evening to reflect on the people and things in your life that bring you joy and bliss, so always count your blessings.
13. A restorative or gentle yoga practice combined with breathing, relaxation and meditation techniques can be practiced at night to relax the body, calm the mind and prepare you for a better night’s rest. Yoga connects our mind, body and spirit, we are able to use the practice of postures (or asanas) to relax the body by relieving physical tension and we can use pranayama, the formal practice of controlling the breath, to relax and calm the mind.
14. Once in bed, close your eyes and simply “feel your body” – this means focus on your body and wherever you notice tension, consciously relax that area. Then, simply watch your slow easy breathing until you fall asleep.
As we bring our attention inward, focusing on the breath or a mantra, we are able to calm and clear our mind from thoughts and quiet the nervous system, which helps relieve stress. Once in bed, close your eyes and simply “feel your body” – this means focus on your body and wherever you notice tension, consciously relax that area. Then, simply watch your slow easy breathing until you fall asleep.
Dr. Parveen Bansal
Joint Director Research,
Baba Farid University of Health Sciences,