Sleep… one of my favourite things to do. When it happens properly, that is. Nothing is more frustrating than lying in bed flipping and flopping thinking about how I should be falling asleep. The more I lie there thinking about how I should be sleeping, how many more hours until I have to wake up, how tired I’m going to be tomorrow, how can I possibly fit in a nap during the day; the less likely I am to ever fall asleep!
But, it’s getting better. I’ve made some big changes in my nighttime routine and I’m feeling better rested than I have in years and years (pre marriage and babies for certain).
Chakara who was one of the great sages of Ayurveda had some very profound words about the importance of sleep:
In the matter of keeping up the body, sleep is regarded to be productive of as much as happiness as the taking of food.
Happiness and misery, growth and wasting, strength and weakness, virility and sterility, knowledge and ignorance, life and death all depend on sleep.
Within us we have three doshas which makes up our constitution, or gives us certain physical and mental characteristics. These doshas are Vata (made of air and ether), Pitta (made of fire and water) and Kapha (made of earth and water). Insomnia is generally a result of either a Vata or a Pitta imbalance.
There are two major types of sleep disturbances: difficulty falling asleep (DFA) and early morning awakening (EMA).
DFA is usually anxiety related and caused by a Vata imbalance.
EMA is often Pitta related but also sometimes involves Vata. It most often occurs when we move from Pitta into Vata time (at 2 am – you know how you wake up at 2 am for no reason at all? This is why!) You wake up feeling like it must be morning, why else would you be wide awake – only to find it’s only 2am and if you fall asleep right now you’ll get 4 more hours sleep… half an hour later when you’re still lying there you count down to being able to get 3.5 hours sleep if you fall asleep right now… and so on until 5 or so when finally you fall back asleep, only to have to wake up an hour later.
Our doshas follow a 24 hour clock with Vata time between 10-2, Pitta time between 2-6 and Kapha time between 6-10. According to the ancient Ayurveda texts you want to fall asleep before 10pm (before kapha moves into vata time) and wake up before 6am (before kapha time begins). They also advised against napping during the day with a list of exceptions to this rule.
According to Charaka the following are indications for daytime sleep:
1. If one is wearied by singing, studying, drinking alcohol, sex, physical exertion, bearing burdens, or having been on long journeys.
2. Being unable to digest one’s food due to a weakness of the stomach.
3. Being injured.
4. Being very old.
5. Being very young.
6. Having great thirst, diarrhea, or pain in the chest or abdomen.
7. Being weak.
8. Having asthma or the hiccups.
9. being very emaciated.
10. Being without reason.
11. Being exhausted after riding in cars or on animals.
12. Being exhausted after staying up at night.
13. Being exhausted by indulging in wrath, grief or fear.
My instructor advises that in our (North American) culture we generally suffer from moderate to quite severe sleep deprivation and as such taking rest during the day is encouraged when possible. Also, the rule of waking by 6am can be modified as it is more important for our Vata imbalanced culture to catch up on sleep than suffer the fogginess that can occur by a post 6am wake up time. Personally I love having a cat nap in a sunbeam in the afternoon. Highly recommend it.