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A Guide to Understanding the Importance of Sleep in Ayurveda

Sleep can be defined as a condition of body and mind that typically recurs for several hours every night, in which the nervous system is inactive, the eyes closed, the postural muscles relaxed, and consciousness practically suspended.

In Ayurveda the term used is Nidra. It is explained as one among three upastambha (three supporting pillars) of health in addition to aahara (food) and brahmacharya (code of sexual conduct).

During sleep, various physiological changes occur that help to maintain health and keep the body, mind, and soul in an equilibrium state. Since it nourishes all living creatures it is named Bhuthadhatri and Vaishnavi Maya (like Lord Vishnu sustaining the world).

The term Nidra means the physiological state of the rest of the body, mind, and soul. The sense organs get detached from their perception due to exhaustion from the activities happening during the day which makes the person go to sleep. Swapna, sushipthi, and swapa are the synonyms of sleep. 

Importance of sleep in Ayurveda

Sleep occurs when the hridaya which is the seat of consciousness is acquired by tamo guna (one of the three mental qualities filled with darkness, and ignorance) and then increases kapha dosha producing sleep. 

Nidra is one of the avegadharaneeya (a natural urge that cannot be suppressed). Suppressing Nidra it causes jrumbha (yawning), angamarda (generalized body pain), and diseases of the head and the eyes.

Sleep provides pushti (nourishment), bala (strength), gnana (knowledge/learning ability), ayushya (longevity of life), sukha (happiness), vrishya (sexual potency), physical and mental relaxation, improves complexion and luster of the skin, provides immunity, proper functioning of sensory and motor system of the body, it also enhances the spiritual wellbeing of an individual.

  Types of Nidra as described in the classics are as follows:

  1. Tamobhava nidra: The sleep caused due to excess tamo guna and in which the person has a lack of enthusiasm, confusion, fatigue, etc.
  2. Sleshmasamudbhava nidra: Sleshma is kapha dosha. Sleep is induced due to kapha vruddhi (increased in kapha dosha) in which there is an obstruction in the channels that obstruct the perception of sense organs.
  3. Sharira shrama sambhava: The sleep that occurs due to physical exertion.
  4. Manah shrama sambhava: The sleep due to mental fatigue.
  5. Agantuki nidra: The sleep induced due to disturbances to any organs or to the body 
  6. Vyadhyanuvartini nidra: Sleep occurs due to specific diseases like kapha prakopa vyadhi (diseases due to vitiation of kapha dosha), jwara (fever), peenasa (rhinitis), etc.
  7. Ratri swabhava nidra: this sleep is the normal sleep happening due to the biological rhythm. All the metabolic activities in the body are at rest during night time, muscles are relaxed, and hence a person goes to sleep in the night.
Sleep

The ideal time for sleep

In the classics of Ayurveda, it is quoted that sleeping after two Yama (approximately 6 hours) of sunset and in the first and last parts of the night is good.

Duration of sleep

  1. Based on the prakruti: The sleeping duration for vata prakruti is 8-9 hours, pitta prakruti is 7-8 hours, kapha prakruti is 6-7 hours.
  2. Based on the age: For newborns up to the age of 1 year it is 18 hours, 1-3 years of age is 12-15 hours, 3-5 years is 11-13 hours, 5-12 years is 9-11 hours, for adolescents it is 9-10 hours and adults it is 6-8 hours of sleep. 

Significance of directions to sleep

Ayurveda also has the description of placing the head in a specific direction and its effects while sleeping. 

  • Head placed in the east direction is said to make a person medhavi (intellect)
  • Head placed in the south direction increases the life span or deerghayu
  • Sleeping with the head positioned in the west and north directions is said to cause manasantapa (mental distress) and mrutyu (death) respectively.

 Divaswapna (Day time sleeping)

  • Sleeping during day time leads to kapha prakopa (vitiation of kapha dosha
  • It causes diseases like Angamarda (generalized body ache), Shirashoola (headache), Pratishyaya (sinusitis), Arochaka (anorexia), Hrillasa (nausea), Kandu (itching), Kotha (urticaria), Kasa (cough), Gala roga (diseases), Prameha (diabetes mellitus), Indriya asamarthya (improper functioning of sense organs), Smriti-Buddha pramohana (loss of memory and intellect), Srotas avarodha (obstruction to channels).
  • Exceptions in which daytime sleeping is indicated: Exhaustion caused due to excess singing, excessive study, excess indulgence in sexual activity and drinking alcohol, excess walking, heavy exercise, long riding or driving, diseases like tuberculosis, dyspnea, hiccough, diarrhea, psychiatric disorders, etc. 
  • Physiologically sleeping during the daytime is acceptable for infants, children, and in the summer season.

Ratri jagarana (staying awake in the night time):

  • Staying awake during the night causes roughness of the body, lack of concentration, sleep deprivation, etc.
  • According to one of the classical references in Ayurveda, the time period when one can stay awake is between 6-10 p.m. since it is the kapha kala and does not cause any ailments.  But, 10 p.m.-2 a.m. is the pitta kala and 2 a.m.-6 a.m. is the vata kala and hence staying awake during these two periods will affect the digestion process.

Anidra (Insomnia):

  • Loss of sleep is caused by worry, grief, stress, improper administration of purificatory procedures, staying awake during the night, old age, etc. 

Management of sleep disorders:

Day sleep disorders can be treated with purificatory procedures, fasting therapy, installation of medicine in the nose, yogasana and pranayama, procedures like abhyanga (massage), samvahana, akshi-tarpana (eye treatment), shiro-lepa (application of medicated paste), shiro-dhara (pouring medicated oil or decoction over forehead in oscillatory movements), massage of the head, relaxing music etc.

Foods such as buffalo’s milk, the meat of domestic and aquatic animals, etc.

Significance of Sleep as upastambha (supporting pillars) of health

Aahara, Nidra, and Brahmacharya are said to be trayopastambha (supporting pillars). Vata, Pitta, and Kapha are stambha (the main pillars of the body). To sustain and nourish these main pillars the supporting pillars. 

Sleep, as explained above, is life-sustaining, its properties like brumhana, vrishya reduce vitiated vata dosha, pitta dosha, and raktha dushti. Kapha dosha which is mainly responsible for the growth of the body is achieved by good sleep. The dhatus get nourished not only by food but also as a result of proper sleep. The wear and tear of the tissues and cells that occur undergo repair during sleep. During sleep, since all the metabolic activities are at rest the body and mind are in the equilibrium state. 

Conclusion

Sleep is the vital force of a living being. It provides strength, happiness, enthusiasm, and concentration of the mind, maintains proper functioning of the sense organs, and reduces stress, anxiety, worry, etc. The types of sleep explained in Ayurveda denote the origin of sleep, duration of sleep varies according to age and different Prakriti. Day sleeping is contraindicated as it increases kapha dosha and many diseases. Staying awake during the night disturbs the proper functioning of the body and mind. Nidra is one of the three upastambha which supports life and nourishes living beings along with aahara and brahmacharya.

NOTE:
“This article does not provide medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on this WebSite. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call or visit your doctor.”

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References

  1. https://journaljpri.com/index.php/JPRI/article/view/4940
  2. https://www.ijhsr.org/IJHSR_Vol.9_Issue.1_Jan2019/36.pdf
  3. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/278157076_Relevance_of_Sleep_for_Healthy_Living_An_Ayurvedic_Perspective
  4. https://www.wjpmr.com/download/article/92012022/1651976050.pdf
  5. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/274222809_TRAYOPASTHAMBAS_THREE_SUPPORTIVE_PILLARS_OF_AYURVEDA

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