Sleep: An Ayurvedic Perspective

Sleep is referred as Nidra and forms one of the three pillars sustaining a healthy human body. (3 Pillars – Food, Sleep, and Celibacy). It is defined as a physiological state at which the body and mind get exhausted, and the sensory & motor organs dissociate itself from their objects of perception.

Types Of Sleep (Nidra)

Primarily sleep is classified into Svabhavika (normal) and Asvabhavika (abnormal). The normal pattern of sleep helps to sustain the healthy mind in a healthy body; whereas abnormal pattern is usually a sequel to various diseases.

The age of an individual determines the quality of sleep, for instance, infancy and childhood are the Kapha (K-Dosh) dominant phase with good quality sleep. Whereas Pitta (P-Dosh) dominance in the youth is associated with moderate sleep and Vata (V-Dosh) dominance in elderly is responsible for the decreased quality of sleep.

Tri-Dosha (D-3) And Sleep

  • The K-Dosh individuals with the dominant Tamas (T-Guna i.e. the mental state of ignorance, inactivity, and inertia) and due to the grounding property of Earth & Water element experience deep and undisturbed sleep.
  • On the contrary, V-Dosh with Rajas Guna (R-Guna
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    i.e. the mental state of anxiety, motion, and activity) with its fickle air element are light sleepers and have interrupted sleep patterns.
  • The P-Dosh individuals with the Sattva Guna (S-Guna i.e the mental state of knowledge, stability, and purity) together with the fire element in them experiences sound sleep, however, are alert.

Saptadhatus (D7) And Sleep

The excellent state of tissues, i.e. Dhatusaarta is maintained due to a regular pattern of sleep

  • Irregular and inadequate sleep habits disturb the V-Dosh and affect the quality of the Marrow (MBM-Dhat / Majja Dhatu), Plasma (RP-Dhat / Rasa Dhatu) and Blood (RB- Dhat /Rakta Dhatu).
  • Overindulgence and daytime naps increase K-Dosh, mainly affecting the quality of fat tissue (MF-Dhat – Meda Dhatu), and muscle (MM-Dhat/Mamsa Dhatu).
  • Debilitated tissues (D-7) due to any of the above factors lead to indigestion, depression, hypertension, mental confusion, emaciation or obesity, impotence, and generalized weakness.
  • Abnormal Sleep Pattern
  • Sleeping for more than the required duration, at inappropriate times, or not sleeping throughout are the abnormal and unhealthy sleep habits.

The factors contributing to this state of abnormality are as below:

Excessive T-Guna is mainly associated with sleeping during the

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day time because of stress, inactivity, and boredom.

  • Elevated K-Dosh – The Manovaha Srotas (i.e. channels carrying thoughts and emotions) is accumulated with K-Dosh and is dominated by T-Guna leading to drowsiness and sleep, and this is usually experienced after a sumptuous meal.
  • Chronic illness – irregular sleep pattern due to the debilitated tissues thereby increasing V-Dosh.
  • Following trauma – irregular sleep pattern due to the tissue wasting, inflammation, pain, and elevated V & P-Dosh.
  • Daytime naps vitiate K-Dosh and are responsible for indigestion, anorexia, reduced appetite, hence its best avoided in all seasons, except the summer.
  • During summer the nights are shorter and V-Dosh is vitiated due to the dryness in the climate and inadequate sleep. V-Dosh can be naturally pacified with a daytime nap for the general wellbeing.
  • Inability to sleep through the night, for instance, for 4 hours; should be compensated with a daytime nap for one-half of the duration of lost sleep (i.e 2 hours) to avoid the V-Dosh imbalance.
  • Untoward suppression of sleep results in the heaviness of head and eyes, drowsiness, yawning, body ache, laziness, and delirium. Indulging in a body
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    massage followed by sleep alleviates these symptoms.

Insomnia (Anidra)

An inadequate or poor quality of sleep is primarily attributed to the vitiation of V-Dosh & R-Guna. Old age, busy work schedules, shift duties, chronic diseases are commonly responsible for reduced sleep. Stress, insecurity, anger, depression etc… causes mental instability and sleeplessness.

Excessive Sleep (Atinidra)

Atinidra is primarily due to the vitiation of K-Dosh & T-Guna and is commonly experienced after a heavy meal, laborious work, depression, stress, and is typically a symptom of diseases arising from the vitiated K-Dosh like sinusitis, diabetes, fever to name few.

Prevention And Palliative Measures

  • Adopting strict daily routine (Dinacharya) for improved sleep habits with body massage, exercise/yoga, meditation, and appropriate food habits.
  • Avoiding intake of caffeinated drink.
  • Listening to soothing music and reducing mental and physical activity in the evenings and avoiding screen time.
  • Avoiding daytime naps.
  • A warm cup of buffalo milk before resigning to bed is sleep inducing, aphrodisiac, and alleviates V-Dosh.
  • Panchakarma (K5) treatments like Abhyanga (massage), Udvartan (Powder massage), Shirobasti, Shirodhara, Nasya, Basti (medicated enema), medicated herbal smoking are effective in pacifying the imbalance of D-3 and relieving sleep disorders.
  • Ashwagandha (Withania
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    Somnifera), Vacha (Acorus Calamus), Brahmi (BacopaMonnieri), Jatamansi (Nardostachy Jatamansi), Sarpagandha (Rauvolfia Serpentine), Shankhapushpi (Convolvulus Pluricaulis) are nervine tonics to relieve sleep disorders and should be taken under medical supervision.

Sleep disorders if present for prolonged duration and without any relief necessitates medical attention for a thorough investigation of the underlying disease.