Sleep is one of the best ways to improve your physical health and emotional wellbeing. As you sleep, your body undergoes many processes to repair and renew, such as:
• Detoxification: At night your liver detoxifies your body.
• Elimination of accumulated stress and neurotoxins, including amyloid.
• Repairing your cells and regenerating tissues.
• Balancing your hormones, including leptin and gherlin, which regulates your appetite and metabolism.
• Strengthening immunity.
Sleep is vital to our health and wellbeing, but many suffer from sleep disorders or sleep loss. According to the American Sleep Association, there are an estimated 50 -70 million US adults who suffer from sleep disorders. If your are persistently sleep deprived, you most likely have a weak immune system and are more likely to have illness. You are also more likely to have chronic inflammation, which can be linked to a variety of diseases. When you don’t have sufficient sleep for long periods of time, you risk other long-term health issues, such as:
• Heart disease and stroke
• Premature aging effects on skin.
• High blood pressure
• Immune deficiencies
Though the negative side of lack of sleep is the most studied, there are many benefits from getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep. Good sleep is defined as uninterrupted sleep. There is not restlessness and there are periods of REM.
The benefits are sharp mental functioning, energy throughout the day, positive moods, alertness without fatigue and fogginess. Sleep is connected to our hormonal rhythms to regulate our appetite, have energy, and properly restore and rejuvenate the body. In terms of overall health, sleep is just as important was what you are eating. It is essential to both the physiological and cognitive functions.
The Ayurvedic Perspective
Ayurveda, as a system of health originating over 5,000 years ago, has a deep understanding of the human relationship to sleep. Ayurveda categorizes mind-body constitutions into what is called doshas. Each dosha is composed of two of the five elements: ether, air, water, fire, and earth. Ether and air comprise the Vata dosha, Water and fire constitute the Pitta dosha. Water and earth make up the Kapha dosha. Each human is a combination of all three doshas, yet one or more of the doshas tend to be predominant for each individual. In Ayurveda, sleep disorders are classified according to the doshas. There are Vata, Pitta, and Kapha sleep disorders- each with different characteristics. The doshas also have an influence on our sleep habits and preferences. One’s constitution and current state of imbalance will influence the types of sleep imbalances that are most likely to come up. A Vata predominant individual will most likely experience Vata type sleep disorder, Pitta person most likely Pitta sleep issues and Kapha individuals usually Kapha sleep issues. Though Vata is the strongest dosha, and can be a driver for other imbalances.
If you’re unsure of your dosha take the quiz on our website.
The Ayurvedic concept of doshas extends to the circadian rhythm. 10pm-2am and 10am-2pm are considered Pitta times of the day. 2am-6am and 2pm-6pm are considered Vata times of the day. 6am-10am and 6pm-10pm are considered Kapha times of the day. Let’s look at Pitta time to understand how this applies. Pitta time in the day is when the sun is the highest in the sky. It is a time of high energy and metabolism. In the daytime the Agni (digestive fire) is fired up, and so your biggest meal of the day is best to have around 12-2pm. Pitta time at night is a time when the brain metabolizes thoughts, forms new neural pathways, and “assimilates” information. Sleeping from 10 pm to 2am is especially important for good mental health and cognitive functioning. During this time, sleep enables the body to grow, heal, and repair. It helps regulate our hormones and our immunity.
Vata Individuals Sleep Preferences and Sleep Imbalances
Vata predominant people tend to sleep irregularly and lightly, but can also sleep extremely deeply when exhausted. They tend to sleep fewer hours than other types, though they most likely need the most sleep. Vata people should strive to get more sleep and have regularity about going to sleep and waking up. The best way to do this is to avoid too much stimulation at night, release tension with restorative yoga, and doing other grounding practices before bedtime. Vata people also have a tendency to grind their teeth, sleep walk, or talk in one’s sleep. The classic Vata person sleep imbalance generally manifests as waking up during the night and unable to return to sleep. This is common during vata-time (2-6 am).
Pitta Individuals Sleep Preferences and Sleep Imbalances
Pitta people usually sleep well, though it can be somewhat light. Pittas tend to overheat and so they tend to like few covers. Pitta people crave a good amount of sleep, as it supports their physiological needs. However, they will also give up sleep for homework, projects, or upcoming deadlines. Pitta individuals often suffer from difficulty falling asleep as Pitta is elevated in the mind from 10pm to 2 am. This can activate the mind, stimulate ambition, and overwhelm the desire to sleep. They can become night owls and be extremely productive at night if unbalanced. Pitta people need to clear their mind of before sleep and perhaps meditate before bed if their mind is particularly active. Pitta people also tend to sleep better in a slightly cold room, as they tend to run hot.
Kapha Individuals Sleep Preferences and Sleep Imbalances
Kapha individuals tend to be heavy sleepers. They can usually sleep soundly anywhere and are not easily awakened or disturbed. They love bed and like to sleep more hours than other types. However, Kapha individuals tend to actually need less sleep than Vata and Pitta types. When out of balance, Kapha individuals tend towards excessive sleep, which can lead to a feeling of heaviness, lethargy, and difficulty waking up. Kapha is elevated in the mind around 6-10 am/pm, which can cause natural heaviness and sluggishness. For Vata and Pitta types this natural heaviness can help individuals fall asleep. However, for Kaphas this natural heaviness can make it easy for Kapha types to sleep an excess of hours. Kapha people should try and not oversleep. A set bedtime and waking time can help create regularity in energy levels.
Though each dosha has influence on sleep patterns and imbalances, sleep is important for all. We hope by hearing some sleep tendencies of the doshas you can distinguish the areas where you have imbalances and seek to have regularity. Ayurveda also shows us the advantages that adjustments in routine, diet, and exercise can have on sleep. An Ayurvedic practitioner can be extremely useful in identifying the imbalances and help regulating sleep disorders through specialized herbs and changes in lifestyle. Ayurveda shows us the root cause of our imbalances and teaches us how to restore balance for a healthier life.
Sebastian Pole, Ayurvedic Medicine: The Principles of Traditional Practice (London: Churchill Livingston, 2006), 32.