Avoid Oversleeping and Feel Awake in Kapha Season
by Coen Van der Kroon
Ayurveda and Sleep
According to Ayurveda, sleep is one of the supporting pillars of life, along with nutrition and sex. Sleep is very important for both physical recovery and mental-emotional recovery. The night is a time for the body to rest and for the mind and emotions to process or 'digest' a number of things.
While digestion works during the day, 'mind-digestion' largely takes place at night while we sleep. A high quality of sleep is therefore essential, both for normal well-being and prevention of disorders, and for recovery from illness. The mind plays a major role in health according to Ayurveda. Good sleep supports Ojas, the immune system of both body and mind.
1. Sleeping and Dinacharya
According to Ayurveda, the rhythms of the day are determined by the three Doshas. With regard to the daily rhythms of Vata, Pitta and Kapha, there is a cycle twice a day in which one of the Doshas is dominant for part of that cycle.
Broadly speaking, these cycles are as follows:
- 2 - 6 hrs: Vata - standing up and meditation
- 6 - 10 hrs: Kapha - exercise and breakfast
- 10 - 14 hrs: Pitta - work and lunch
- 14 - 18 hrs: Vata - winding down work and for meditation
- 18 - 22 hrs: Kapha - dinner, walk, relaxing activity (possibly sex)
- 22 - 2 hrs: Pitta - sleep (inner metabolism cleanses body and mind)
The quality of sleep is not only determined by rest and its duration. The time of day at which you sleep also plays a role. The same applies to when you get up.
Modern research also shows that the most benefits are derived from a routine in which one goes to bed before 22:00 hrs and gets up before 06:00 hrs. The internal physiological clock can then, for example, best adjust its hormones to the rhythms of nature. The internal physiological clock can then, for example, best align itself with nature's rhythms in terms of hormones.
For example, we may want to get 8 hours of sleep, but if we don't go to sleep until 01:00 hrs, we miss the Kapha phase in the evening that helps us get a good, deep sleep. We miss the Pitta phase at night around 12 o'clock which helps digest our internal processes. And we miss the Vata phase in the morning, which helps us to get moving again properly.
Finally, we get up in the middle of the Kapha phase of the morning, but Kapha is heavy and lazy by nature. Hence, it feels like we haven't slept enough. A cup of coffee can then do wonders, but in the long run, such a routine is not healthy and supportive, but can even lead to sleep problems!
2. Sleep and Vata problems
Ashwagandha is also the plant for excellence that helps to calm the Vata Dosha. If this Dosha is out of balance, it is often difficult to fall asleep. Excessive Vata leads to restlessness, agitation, worry, and sometimes anxiety to sleep. At the same time, excessive Vata often gives the feeling of being physically and mentally exhausted.
If one wants to treat this aspect with an herb, then Jatamamsi (Nardostachys jatamansi) is the appropriate choice. The Ayurvedic complex preparation Cerebex contains Jatamamsi (it is not easily available as a single herb in the Netherlands). According to Ayurveda, Vata types generally require the most sleep, averaging about 7 to 9 hours.
3. Sleep and Pitta problems
The sub-doshas Prana Vayu and Sadhaka Pitta play a role in good sleep. Sadhaka Pitta helps to digest emotions and thoughts, and a large part of this happens at night. When the Pitta is out of balance, one may not sleep at night - or wake up around midnight - because the mind is too active and stimulated. A characteristic of Pitta is 'hot' and in this case it is good to use cooling herbs: a good example is Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri), a herb that simultaneously supports and cools a Pitta organ like the liver. As a rule, Pitta types need around 6 - 8 hours of sleep a night.
4. Sleep and Kapha problems
An excess of Kapha never actually leads to sleeping problems in the sense of not being able to fall asleep or waking up in between. Rather, it leads to too much sleep and to difficulty to get going in the morning. According to Ayurveda, too much sleep can even lead to diabetes, a typical Kapha condition. Stimulating herbs like Vacha and Pippali can help reduce excessive Kapha and keep the mind clear. Kapha types benefit from sleeping less, about 6 hours of sleep a night is sufficient. Sleeping during the day is not good for Kapha types (but not good for Vata and Pitta types either).
5. Sleeping during the day
Sleeping during the day disrupts Agni and is therefore not recommended; indeed, it is bad for your health. This does not apply to a nap of up to 15 minutes. That is okay and is even recommended if one does it in the form of a yoga exercise like Shavasana or Yoga Nidra. Sleeping during the day is allowed according to Ayurveda for very young people, very old people, very weak people, as well as very sick, exhausted, and traumatized people.
6. Sleep and posture
According to Ayurveda, it is best to sleep on the right side, then the heart is free in its movement. Sleeping on the back or stomach can lead to diseases. As for direction (Vastu - the Indian Feng Shui), according to Ayurveda, it is best to sleep with the crown facing east. It is absolutely inadvisable to sleep with the crown facing north.
7. Sleep and oil massage
Massaging with oil can help promote good sleep. Oil is heavy in quality and this helps to calm Vata. There are several sesame oil-based oils that are appropriate for this purpose: for example, Maha Narayana Taila, and Basugandar Taila. A good choice of oil can also help to cool Pitta at the same time, when needed. A good choice for increased Pitta is, for example, Brahmi Taila or Bringraj Taila. Applying oil on the head and soles of the feet can go a long way in helping you fall asleep quickly and get a good night's sleep.
Coen van der Kroon was born in Utrecht, The Netherlands in 1962. He has an academic background in Greek and Latin Languages and Culture. His MA thesis was on ancient Greek gynecology with a comparison between Hippocratic and Ayurvedic Medicine. This was the start of his interest in and study of ayurveda.