I myself tend towards sleep disturbance in times of stress. Several years ago during the housing crisis I, like many others, almost lost my house. I "worked with" the banks who held my mortgages to get loan modifications while they simultaneously put my house into foreclosure. The disturbance I suffered during that time was barely being able to get out of bed. I suffered from exhaustion and extreme stress. At other times in my life I've suffered from a more classic vata-imbalanced sleep disorder: no trouble falling asleep but waking up at some point (usually 232am) and my mind would start racing. After lying there for an hour or so I'd just have to get up and do stuff. Once, I even painted a bedroom I'd been meaning to get to. While we could say this is a great time to get things done, painting that bedroom in the middle of the night didn't leave me feeling accomplished the next day. Being up all night left me feeling laid out.
When we're not sleeping we live in a fast-paced world, in a culture that rewards doing over being, getting as much done as possible, going the extra mile at whatever cost, and sacrificing oneself and health it's no wonder millions of us suffer from sleep disorders. I'm making a sweeping generalization here but I think it's safe to say in a society based on exponential growth, where there's always someone else to fill our job if we slow down or don't prove useful any longer, sleep is of little import. It's no wonder a sleep disturbance has been the number one complaint of people who have visited my classes over the past 10 years.
Improper rest over years and decades takes its toll on the body causing problems throughout the bodymind. Let's go over some very basic Ayurvedic sleep hygiene. What is sleep hygiene, you ask? It's creating the optimum environment during your waking hours to promote rest during your non-waking hours. Ayurveda doesn't treat symptoms or work by adding pills or even herbs to your diet. Rather, we start with the simplest shifts in behavior and if that doesn't work then we move to the next level of herbs and/or other treatments.
A couple years ago while completing my 4-year degree at Evergreen I wrote much of my own curricula to complete my credits. My wife's mom is an Ayurvedic specialist so I wrote into my studies a quarter's worth of Ayurvedic experiments using myself as a guinea pig and writing about my findings.
Here were the 3 main behaviors I added to or subtracted from my daily routine:
1. Go to bed during kapha time and wake up during vata time. This means we go to be before 10pm and arise before 6am. If we're asleep when pitta time kicks in, 10pm-2am, then we use that fire energy to recharge and rejuvenate the body system.
2. Cut back on caffeine. I've never been a big coffee drinker. I love coffee, love it, I just can't function on it because I'm incredibly sensitive to caffeine (sigh). I'm a tea drinker though, and a heavy one at that. I used to drink up to 4 cups of black tea per day. Though it was never after 2pm I still noticed when I cut back to half a cup (using very little tea in each cup) I slept better instantly, within a day or two.
3. Reduce electronic stimulation or intense work 1-2 hours before bedtime. Seems like a no-brainer right? But it takes some discipline to unplug from the doing world and surrender to your body's natural rhythm, a slowing down during kapha time (6pm-10pm).
When I started my quarter and had my consultation with Margaret Mullins (my wife's mom) frankly, I didn't really see the point to these minuscule little shifts. But because I had to turn something into my prof I practiced them and wrote essays about it. By the end of the quarter I was shocked at the results. Before this experiment I usually stayed up till 11 or 12 and I awoke around 7 or 8. Just the difference in going to bed by 930 and waking before 6 is stunning. I've kept up the habit of going to bed early since that quarter at school, several years ago now.
Below are some interesting reads and listens about Ayurvedically treating sleep disorders. I use MAPI for my Ayurvedic information for several reasons. One, they have tons of comprehensive research on their products, which are ethically sourced. Two, they're worked with a team of Ayurvedic vaidyas (doctors) to bring this ancient knowledge into modern times for us modern people. And three, they're the only system of Ayurveda with comprehensive work on linking consciousness with medicine. I've also included a 2 part freakonomics podcast on sleep which is very interesting.
Please let me know how your sleep goes and feel free to comment.
How Ayurveda Looks at Sleep
Ayurvedic Sleeping Tips
Sleepless In America