The three aspects of life, according to Ayurveda, are body, mind, and soul. These are known as the tripod of life. There are three secondary supports, which are food, sleep, and lifestyle. It’s believed that food supports the body, sleep supports the mind, and a good lifestyle supports the soul. As you can see, sleep is quite essential for a healthy state of being in Ayurveda.
In today’s distraction-filled world, our minds are under a lot of stress. Compounded with the fact that many people sleep less than they should (more than a third of Americans don’t get enough shuteye, reports the CDC), the functionalities of our minds are certainly not always at their peak. That said, there are several completely natural ways Ayurveda suggests you can optimize your sleep.
Before we dive into those time-tested strategies, it’s important to understand what Ayurveda considers “quality” sleep. There are three stages of sleep, according to yoga and Ayurveda. The first is called jagrut, which is when you’re in bed, but your senses and mind are still awake. The second stage, called swapna, is when you’re asleep and dreaming—similar to the modern science concept of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Here, your senses are not working, but your mind is. The last stage, called sushupti, is when deep sleep occurs. You’re not dreaming, and your mind and body are both at rest. Ayurveda prefers the last stage, non-dreaming sleep, for maximum rest. The following tips can help you maximize your time spent in this mind- and body-nourishing stage.
1. Keep a regular sleep schedule.
Early to bed and early to rise is a basic concept of Ayurveda. If somebody wakes up early, about 90 minutes before sunrise, it’s considered to be very health-promotive because it’s in line with your natural circadian rhythms. Of course, you have to go to sleep early, too, usually 90 minutes after sunset, in order to achieve this and still get enough rest. It’s worth noting that this is not possible everywhere, especially the parts of the planet where daylight hours may be shortened. That’s why the most important message here is to keep your sleep schedule consistent—although it’s ideal if you can go to bed early and wake up early.
2. Know which factors influence sleep duration.
Ayurveda generally recommends a minimum of eight hours of sleep, much like modern science’s sleep guidelines. There are exceptions to this rule: The elderly, the sick, pregnant women, and children may need more hours. The amount of sleep you need and how you go about it is also dependent on your body type. Here’s how you can roughly estimate which type you are, along with the sleep recommendations for each.
Vata (Wind Types):
These are people who have active minds, active bodies, a lean body mass, prominent joints, are very talkative and emotional, have dry skin, are prone to dry eyes, and tend to be constipated. Vata types need more sleep, between eight and ten hours, ideally on a softer sleeping surface. They tend to dream a lot, which is why more hours of sleep are needed in order to achieve an optimal amount of deep sleep.
Pitta (Fire Types):
These are people who are moderately built, have oily skin, sweat a lot, have flexible joints, have a sensitive digestive system, have sensitive skin, are prone to allergies, tend to have soft or regular stools, are very organized, and have strong personalities. Pitta types should sleep moderately on a neutral moderately firm surface, right around eight hours.
Kapha (Water Types):
These are people who have more substantial build, have soft skin, have a harder time losing weight, have normal bowel movements, have a very methodical and patient personality, and are very much attached to their friends and family. Kapha types should sleep on a very firm surface and likely need between seven and eight hours of sleep only because they tend to have an easier time sleeping.
3. Cultivate healthy bedtime rituals.
The things you do before bedtime and when you wake up can play a crucial role in a peaceful slumber. For example, Ayurveda discourages going to sleep soon after eating. If your food is still digesting, your sleep will not be of a good quality. By the time your head hits the pillow, your food should be, at least, through your stomach. About an hour after a meal is the soonest you should plan to be in bed.
Taking a walk after your evening meal can also be beneficial. When we doze off, most of our blood goes to major organs in the body. The more blood that goes to the brain, the more activity there will be in that area, which can prevent deep sleep—Ayurveda’s preferred state. What researchers have figured out is that an after-dinner walk can help evenly distribute blood and lower blood sugar levels, which, in turn, can help you sleep more soundly.
4. Position your body for the best sleep.
“Sleep on the left side, wake up on the right” is a tradition often practiced in Ayurveda and yoga. Falling asleep on the left side encourages secretions of the liver. It also positions the stomach at the bottom of your body as well as leaves the right nostril open and the left nostril closed. In yoga, left is the thinking, or creative side, and right is the “accomplishing,” or completion side of the body, so breathing through the left side can encourage a person to calm down and prepare for sleep. When you wake up, turn toward the right side, which will increase the movement of your bowels from the transverse colon to the descending colon and create an urge to go to the bathroom. If you do this for 10 to 15 minutes when falling asleep and waking up, that’s enough to reap the benefits.
5. Soothe yourself naturally.
It’s common to seek the help of a sleep aid when rest doesn’t come easily, but there are some very easy-to-try natural ways you can help yourself get to bed. First, try massaging coconut oil on your feet. In Ayurveda, massaging the feet is considered to have a grounding effect on a person, so this may help you feel at ease and more prepared for turning in. Another thing to try is similar to the popular “golden milk” trend—a preparation of milk (dairy or non-dairy) with turmeric, saffron, and black pepper. Warm it up and drink it before bed. This mix of herbs is known to be soothing and can be helpful in inducing sleep.