Ayurvedic Aspects of Sleep
Sleep is basic human need and is essential for good health, quality of life and performing well during the day. The importance of sleep in our life can be realised by the time human being spend sleeping. It is an important physiological function of the body which occupies almost 1/3rd of our lifespan. Good sleep is essential and advantageous to the quality of sleep. A number of vital physiological changes occur during sleep and help people stay healthy and function at their best. Ayurveda regard Nidra as one of the most essential factors responsible for a healthy and full filling life. It is one of the trayopastmabhas (three subsidiary pillars) on which person’s health is firmly balanced. Sound sleep at night is a natural nourishing phenomenon, so it is called as ‘Bhutdhatri’. Quality of sleep is an indicator of good health as it is stressrelieving and normalizes bodily tissues. In Ayurvedic literature, it is also called as ‘Vaishnavi maya’, indicating that Nidra provides nutrition to maintain good health like Lord Vishnu, who nourishes and sustains this world. Due to busy work schedules people try to trim down their sleeping hours in order to find more time to read, work etc. They are unaware about the long-term health issues which can take place due to improper and inadequate sleep. But recent researches have shown a very strong association between proper sleep and wellbeing of person.
What is Nidra (sleep)?
When the mind as well as soul gets exhausted or becomes stationary, and the sensory and motor organs also become inactive, the individual sleeps. Sleep occurs when the seat of chetana (consciousness) is covered by tamoguna which predominates along with kapha. Sleep is another form of tamas (mental darkness). Sleep manifests when tamas naturally pre-dominates at night and the mind and intellect are in deep rest. Sleep occurs when bodily channels become accumulated with kapha and when the mind is devoid of contact with the sense organs because of fatigue.
Types of Nidra
Acharya Charak has classified Nidra in following manner:
- Tamobhava – Caused by tamas
- Shleshmasamudbhava – Caused by (vitiated) kapha
- Manah- sharirshrambhava – Caused by mental exertion
- Agantuki – indicative of bad prognosis leading to imminent death
- Vyadhyanuvartini – Caused as a complication of other diseases like sannipata jwara
- Ratri-swabhavprabhavaja – Caused by the very nature of the night (physiological sleep)
Acharya Dalhan has classified Nidra into three types
- Tamsik – When sangyavaha srotas is filled with shleshma and dominated by tamoguna.
- Swabhaviki – This type of Nidra occurs naturally in all living beings.
- Vaikariki – If there is any disturbance in mana and body, Nidra does not occur. But if Nidra is produced, it is vaikariki.
Acharya Vagbhat has classified Nidra in seven types:
- Kala swabhav – Caused by the very nature of night (physiological).
- Amayaja swabhava- Caused as a complication of other diseases like sannipata jwara.
- Chitta kheda prabhav – Caused by mental exertion
- Deha kheda prabhav – Caused by physical exertion
- Kapha prabhav – Caused by vitiated kapha
- Agantuka – indicative of bad prognosis leading to imminent death
- Tamo prabhav – Caused by tamas
Physiological effects of natural sleep
Sleeping is essential for us to live a balanced life. Sleep is a natural way of restoring our physical and mental vitality and plays a significant role in good health and well-being through our life. In Ayurveda, sleep naturally occurring at night is considered as Bhutdhatri (mother who nourishes the person). A number of vital physiological changes occur during sleep and help people stay healthy and function at their best. Good quality sleep during night removes drowsiness and restores the natural equilibrium of body tissues. When a person is asleep the muscles in his body relaxes thereby helps to repair the wear and tear of cells and tissues occurring in our day to day life. For better learning and knowledge sleep is essential. Researchers have proved that a good sleep at night can improve learning. A person can grasp well when than a sleep deprived person.
The benefits of proper sleep as described in Ayurveda:
- Bala (strength)
- Aroga (Free from diseases)
- Dnyana (knowledge)
- Sumanasya (Pleasant mind)
- Pushti (Growth)
- Varna (Colour/complexion)
- Sukha (Happiness),
- Vrushata (Virility)
- Natisthoolakari (Well-built body)
- Jeevitham (Long live)
- Shatayu (100 years of life)
Duration of sleep
Most people do not know how much sleep is needed and place themselves and sometimes others at risk for medical problems and increased risk of injuries or fatal accidents. The amount of sleep required each day changes over course of life. Sleep may vary from person to person.
Recommended amount of sleep according to Ayurveda in different stages of life:
• Newborn 16-18 hours a day
• Pre-school aged children 11-12 hours a day
• School aged children At least 10 hours a day
• Teens 9-10 hours a day
• Adults 7-8 hours a day
Effects of sleep deprivation (insufficient sleep):
Sleep is an important determinant of life. Research has shown that both short sleepers and long sleepers are at an increased risk of all causes of mortality. Untimely, excessive sleep or prolonged vigil is like the night of destruction that takes away happiness and longevity. Improper sleep can also lead to sorrow, emaciation, weakness, sterility, ignorance or death. Sleep deprivation is the cause for diseases due to vitiation of Vata dosha, which includes disorders like Ardita, Ekangaroga, Sarvanga roga, Pakshavadha, Akshepaka, Dandaka, Bhrama, Vepathu, Vishada, Atipralapa, Atatvabhinivesha etc. Sushrutacharya has described the untimely sleep pattern as an important cause of Ajirna.
Day sleep and its effects:
Daytime napping is considered a normal part of the daily routine for babies and young children. However, some people continue to nap throughout their life. Sleeping during the day in any season except summer is not advised as it vitiates kapha and pitta dosha and makes the body more unctuous. Sushruta Samhita explains that all three doshas are vitiated by day sleep. Kapha dosha when vitiated results in dullness and heaviness all over the body and sleepiness. Vitiated pitta results in increased sensation of heat and digestion related problems. Vitiated vata results in dizziness and body ache.
Indication for Day sleep
Sleeping during the day is indicated for those who are exhausted by singing, study, alcohol, sexual act, detoxification therapies, carrying heavy weights or walking long distances, for those suffering from indigestion, wasting, who are too old, too young, weak, thirsty, suffering from diarrhoea, colic pain, dyspnoea, hiccup or emaciated, for those injured by fall or assault, afflicted with insanity, or exhausted by travelling, anger, vigil, grief or fear and for those who are accustomed to it, day sleep is allowed. In all seasons, such sleep equalizes the dhatus and increases bala (strength). Shleshma/ kapha nourishes body parts, provides stability and promotes the life span. During the summer day sleep is advised for all as the nights are small and vata dosha accumulates due to heat, dryness and aadana kala. Day sleep is also indicated for those suffering from fat loss, kapha dosha or blood, to those of scanty perspiration or rukha (dry) and krusha (lean) constitution and those having digestion problems.
Effects of being awake at night:
Staying awake at night produces dryness in the body along with complicatons of vitiated vata-pitta dosha and decreased kapha dosha. Vitiated vata dosha causes giddiness, stiffness all over the body, restlessness, lack of concentration and decision-making power, excessive yawning, headache etc., while vitiated pitta dosha mainly causes digestion related problems. Lack of adequate sleep can affect judgement, mood and ability to learn and retain information. It may also increase the risk of serious accidents and injury. In the long term, chronic sleep deprivation may lead to a host of health problems including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and early mortality.
Thus, being a necessity, observance of Golden rules of Nidra prescribed in Ayurveda will go a long way in making the society free from physical, mental and spiritual ailments.