It is a phenomenon that involves the temporary withdrawal of the conscious mind from the external world.
This article was originally published here on TNIE on 23 July 2023
Ayurveda recognises sleep (nidra) as one of the three pillars of life, along with aahara (food) and brahmacharya (the path to realisation). It is considered essential for longevity, health and enthusiasm. All aspects of life, such as happiness, sorrow, nourishment, weakness, strength, fatigue, virility, sexual dysfunction, knowledge and ignorance, are dependent on sleep. Any compromise in quantity and quality can lead to ill health.
It is a phenomenon that involves the temporary withdrawal of the conscious mind from the external world. During this state, the senses gradually cease perceiving their usual objects. Sleep is primarily influenced by fatigue and exhaustion of the mind and senses, prompting them to naturally disengage from their daily activities. It is a physiological function that allows the body to rest, recover and rejuvenate. Slumber also plays a vital role in maintaining cardiovascular and neuroendocrine health.
Types of sleep: Charaka Samhita categorises sleep into six types: tamobhava (caused by the principle of inertia), sleshmasamudbhava (because of an increase in kapha dosha), mana sharirasramsambhava (led by strain on the body and mind), agantuka (due to external factors like environmental issues), vyadhi anuvartini (caused by various diseases), and ratriswabhav samudbhava (led by the nature of night). The last type, ratriswabhav samudbhava, is known as the ‘mother to all living beings’ as sleep is essential for the rest and repair of all that breathes, from plants to animals and humans.
When and how: The ideal routine is to go to bed early and wake up early, aligning with the movement of the sun. It is recommended to have dinner around sunset, typically between 7-7.30 pm, and sleep within two-three hours after that. Napping at the wrong time can lead to lethargy, edema, rhinitis and obstruction of metabolic pathways in the long run.
Daytime recommendations: Siesta is advisable during summer because of dryness, heat, long days and short nights. It is, however, contraindicated in other seasons as it can aggravate kapha dosha and cause disorders like fever, indigestion and chest congestion. In certain cases, daytime sleep is allowed when vata dosha is excessively aggravated due to activities like excessive walking, talking, weight-bearing, or in extreme emotional states such as anger, grief, or fright. If a person is unable to get the recommended six-eight hours of sleep, they can compensate for the deficit by taking a daytime nap that is half the duration of the hours they were up at night.
Consequences of deprivation: Not getting enough rest can lead to various health conditions like irregular cardiac rhythm, hypertension and hyperacidity. It also has a significant impact on emotional well-being, often causing anxiety, depression and frustration.
Doze off naturally: Engaging in regular exercise and being physically active indoors as well can help promote good sleep. Practices like Shiroabhyangam (head massage) before shower and bathing with lukewarm water are beneficial. Nabhipoorana (applying oil around the umbilicus) and self-massage are also favourable practices. Ayurvedic oils such as ksheerabala, balaguduchyadi and chandanadi can be used based on individual needs.
Role of kriyakrama: In severe cases, when sleep issues persist, it is advisable to seek medical intervention. Underlying diseases or imbalances need to be addressed. Various ayurvedic procedures such as takradhara, shiroksheeradhara, thalapothichil, shiro pichu, shiro taila dhara and shiro vasthy are recommended on a case-to-case basis. Snehapaanam (consuming medicated oils or ghee) followed by virechana and vasthy may also be used in cases where chronic pathologies are present after a clinical assessment.
Disclaimer: The above article is for general awareness and informational purposes only. It should not be taken as medical advice. If you have any concerns about your health, please consult with your healthcare provider for proper diagnosis and treatment.