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Sleep - A cornerstone of health and life

Ah, sleep! It's a basic function that often feels like a luxury when life gets in the way. And while you know it's important, how often do you push aside the zzzzs for 'just one more video'?

You may only need a handful of hours to function the next day. But this alone is not a measure of the right amount of sleep for you.

Many biological activities take place while you're in dreamland. And without adequate sleep, your body lacks time to complete them.

The value of sleep is a central tenet of Āyurvedic teachings. Along with food and sensory indulgence, it sustains life. Discover what the ancient (yet timeless) Āyurvedic texts say about sleep in this article

Āyurveda considers sleep (Nidrā) a sustainer of life.

According to the Caraka Samhitā (foundational text), Nidrā is the result of an exhausted mind. As your mind disassociates or disconnects itself, so do your sensory and motor organs. The resulting inactivity is sleep.

Nidrā is nourishing because adequate amounts of it:

  • promotes physical and mental health,

  • enhances your Ojas (the vitality or energy that is responsible for your immunity, mental clarity, physical strength and wellness),

  • optimises Agni (digestive fire),

  • enables the evacuation of Malas (excrement) to take place properly.

To further highlight its importance, the Caraka Samhitā also lists the following as being dependent on sleep:

  • happiness and sorrow,

  • nourishment and emaciation (malnourishment),

  • strength and weakness,

  • sexual prowess and dysfunction,

  • knowledge and ignorance,

  • life and death.

It may sound exaggerated, but the power of sleep makes sense. Like your car, computer or any well-functioning machine, your body and mind need servicing and upgrades to ensure optimal performance.

Sleep is the reset button that repairs and rebuilds you, clearing away the debris of the day and getting you ready to tackle the next.

While many physiological activities power down when you sleep (like kidney function and urine production), others continue their steady operation and may even increase. For example, the release of growth hormone, cell repair and digestion ramp up. This suggests that sleep is essential to the recuperation and development of your body.

According to Ayurveda, between 10pm and 2am is the best time to get the most beneficial sleep (as it is when Pitta governs your body’s restorative processes). In that light, inadequate sleep can:

  • severely impact carbohydrate metabolism and endocrine function,

  • reduce metabolic activity in the brain,

  • deteriorate cognitive function, mood and emotions (including increases in fear, depression and rage),

  • increase the severity of age-related chronic disease,

  • lead to long-term health consequences such as obesity, low immunity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease,

  • shorten life expectancy.

Fun Fact: Did you know your dosha-type can impact your sleep experience?

Vātas tend to have light and irregular sleep patterns. Getting to sleep can take time and waking up in the middle of the night is a common complaint. This is problematic because Vātas actually need more sleep than other dosha-types.

Pittas are more prone to being night owls and easily forgo sleep when preoccupied with work or other projects. But when they do sleep, they sleep well.

Kaphas are big on sleeping and love more hours in bed than other dosha-types. Known for being heavy sleepers, they are not easily disturbed or awakened.

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