Sleeping with Ayurveda
+ all about sleep
Sleep is understood to be mother’s milk for the spirit, the most nurturing and nourishing elixir for which there is no substitute. The first phase of sleep we enter is dedicated to physical repair, all of our cells are purified, our muscles, bones and ligaments are healing. This deep dreamless sleep wants to happen through the hours of 10pm – 2am, when the moon is high in the sky, pouring it’s cooling, healing, benevolent light onto the earth. These hours are ‘pitta time’ the dosha that is in charge of all things metabolism and circulation.
From 2am- 6am we enter Vata time and move into the second phase of sleep, this is where the psychological repair happens, also known as REM sleep. It’s during this phase that we clear the mind of ‘undigested’ thoughts and emotions from the day, we work out issues through our dreams and often receive insights or great ideas in this time. If you often wake in these hours or are a light sleeper you may have a Vata imbalance or have Vata dominant in your dosha.
Interesting new research shows that all modern diseases (cancer, diabetes, obesity, chronic fatigue, auto-immune disorders, Alzheimer’s, dementia and more) manifest in bodies and mind’s that are sleep deprived. When I say sleep deprived, I mean less than 6 hours of sleep every single night. Anything less than 8 hours, including sleep at the ‘wrong time’ causes the production of hormones that make us crave unhealthy food, deregulate your blood sugar levels and put you in the same state as Type 2 diabetes for the next 24 hours.
I’m not here to scare you into sleep but I do want you to dissolve the stigma and shame around sleep and rest in general. This is a major cultural problem where we put working endlessly and being productive on a pedestal and disregard our circadian rhythm in the name of ‘getting things done’ This is also a reflection of our cultural denial of the feminine aspect and the power of stillness, slowing down, surrendering to lunar energy and the cycles of life.
If that wasn’t enough to get to you to embrace sleep, I want you to know something. Sleep is Sexy. Melatonin (the sleep hormone) is a precursor or pre-requisite to the sex hormones. We’ll talk more about this later.
LAST MEAL OF THE DAY
Depending on your dosha and digestive health, your last meal of the day should be 2-3 hours before bedtime, which is ideally 9-10pm. The idea is that you have fully digested your meal as melatonin (your sleep hormone) rises as the sun sets. This is important for a few reasons. Melatonin decreases your ability to metabolise calories, so you’re more likely to hold excess weight, plus if the body is still busy digesting when you get into bed, you will miss out on the restorative sleep the body needs. If you are done digesting when you get into bed, prana (energy) is dedicated to restoring the body-mind through the night.
ACTION STEP: Don’t consume anything (including alcohol) in the 3 hours before your bedtime. Drink warm water or herbal tea only!
GET THE LIGHTS DOWN LOW
As the sun sets, that sleep hormone starts rising and it’s all to do with how much (and what kind of) light is entering the eyes. Unlike our ancestors who would have been sitting around the warm, orange glow of a campfire, we are sitting around scrolling, staring at cold, bluelight screens. At sunset, create a home environment that reflects nature as much as possible.
Get the lights down low. Literally low to the ground: lamps and candles. When there is light beaming down from the ceiling it tells our ancestral brain that it’s high-noon and continues to produce cortisol (day-time stress hormone) which blocks the release of the sleep hormone. You also want lightbulbs that have a warm tint or use salt lamps that have that amber glow.
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Sometimes you need a little Netflix in your life and I’m not about deprivation. If you are going to be watching a screen you want to pop on your bluelight-blocking glasses so you’re still getting that release of melatonin. And if you are having trouble falling into deep sleep quickly, wear them around the home even if you’re not watching or reading from a screen.
Lastly, enable Night Shift on your mobile to come on at sunset and install f.lux on your computer to do the same thing. This is non-negotiable.
ACTION STEP: Get yourself some blue blocking glasses or a candle that has a calming scent like lavender or cedarwood.
LESS IS MORE
The time from sunset to 10pm is governed by Kalpha energy. Which means it’s time to slow down, do less and connect. It also means you have less power to digest and I’m not just talking about food. Your natural capacity to digest mentally and emotionally is also minimised. This means processing information, cognitive analysis and you’re attention to detail is not as effective as during the day. If you do try to get that little bit more work done, the brain shifts into high gear, you get a ‘second wind’ and you’re back on the cortisol train which blocks our beloved melatonin. I also encourage you to be aware of the type of content you are asking your nervous system to digest. Scary or upsetting movies, TV shows, books and podcasts are not ideal.
ACTION STEP: This week, choose something inspirational, funny or heart-warming to watch, read or listen to.
The superpower of Kalpha is to Unite. The energy at this time of night is for connection since kalpha is ruled by the earth that bonds us all and is also linked to the water element which reflects light, it’s reflection time for you too. Create a ritual that you love, sit quietly to ponder with an herbal tea. Or spend some time writing or expressing gratitude, call a close girlfriend to laugh and cry with, share quality bonding time with your children, housemates or beloved. The universe is supporting you in these hours to reflect, receive insights from the day and connect deeply with yourself and your loved ones.
Remember, your sleep hormone is a precursor for your sex hormones and libio to fire up. You are chemically and cosmically aligned for making love and studies show, people that get quality sleep, have quality sex. Yes, it’s in your best interest to seriously invest in sleep, for the survival of the species and your relationship!
ACTION STEP: Make your bedroom a cosy nest, a screen free zone, dim lighting, good ventilation and beautiful linen.
REFLECT + RECONNECT
Ayurveda is all about aligning to nature and letting our lives mirror the natural cycles, so sleeping during the hours of darkness is optimal. Sleeping during the day is not advised as it creates ama.
There are a couple of exceptions: for children, if you are unwell, jet-lagged, pregnant, post-natal or elderly. In this case a 10-20 minute nap can be rejuvenating. If you love to nap or live in a siesta culture try to slip in a meditation or yoga nidra instead during the day.
WHAT ABOUT NAPS?
All 4 Action Steps
Don’t consume anything (including alcohol) in the 3 hours before your bedtime. Drink warm water or herbal tea only!
Get yourself some blue blocking glasses or a candle that has a calming scent like lavender or cedarwood.
This week, choose something inspirational, funny or heart-warming to watch, read or listen to.
Make your bedroom a cosy nest, a screen free zone, dim lighting, good ventilation and beautiful linen.
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