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Sleep and The Doshas in Ayurveda

Updated: Mar 4

Ayurveda (ayur: life, veda: knowledge) is considered to be the sister science of Yoga, the science of life. According to Ayurveda, there are ‘energy principles’ in all of Nature that govern our tendencies, affinities, structure, functions and even susceptibility to certain types of ailments. These energy principles are called Doshas and they are made of the five elements (air, fire, water, earth, space).




What Are The 3 Doshas?


Vata Dosha (air + space) - it is linked to mobility, creativity, movement, adaptability, irregularity, distraction, forgetfulness, cold, lightness, dryness, skinny frame


Pitta Dosha (fire + water) - it is linked to heat, oiliness, sharpness, intelligence, determination, strong motivation, good digestion, impatience, anger, inflammation, muscular frame


Kapha Dosha (earth + water) - it is linked to stability, steadiness, heaviness, slowness, coldness, empathy, patience, slow metabolism, sluggishness, prone to weight-gain


This is a very broad description of the Doshas, aimed to give you a better idea of what each represent. You may recognise yourself in one, two or all three of these categories. I encourage you to consult an Ayurvedic practitioner to learn more about your constitution, or take a couple of tests online, which will give you a good idea.


What Ayurveda Says About Sleep


Ayurveda views sleep as vital, it plays a key role in Ojas (virility, immunity), Prana (vitality), Tejas (heat, light), Manas (emotions), Buddhi (intellect) and Ahamkara (ego). Deep sleep is considered to be like a mini-moksha (enlightenment), as we become totally detached from the duality of our personality (likes/dislikes, opinions, assumptions, criticism, doubt etc). We are fully immersed in our divine nature, where there is no sense of time nor space, where possibility is limitless. Another way to experience that is through conscious deep sleep: Yoga Nidra.


Sleep and the Three Doshas


Vata & Sleep

  • Often gets the least sleep, but needs the most: 9 hours.

  • tends towards insomnia in general

  • Likes to stay up doing creative things

  • Worrying, night-time anxiety, excess thinking

  • Lots of dreams, fear, flying, running, predictive dreams

  • Light, interrupted sleeper in general

  • Digestive disorder or pain that keeps you up

  • Ensure that you are warm enough

  • Wakes up during "Vata time": 2am-4am

Recommendations:

  • Routines (good for anyone with sleep disturbance); wake up at the same time every day of the week, eat meals at regular times too

  • Cultivating security, not feeling isolated (ideally everyone goes to sleep at the same time)

  • Touch therapy/slef-massage (pelvis & feet epsecially)

  • Nervine herbs, cooked or stewed root vegetables, sweet/sour/salty tastes

  • Sunlight during the day (good for everyone)

  • Oiling of the body with a heavy, fatty oil like sesame


Pitta & Sleep

  • Often good sleeper but will choose to work or have fun over sleep

  • Ideally 8 hours

  • Feels sleep is a waste of time

  • Inability to fall asleep (or waking) during Pitta time: 10pm-2am

  • Likes to get a lot done at night ("night owl") - please note that night owls are very rare, only 5% of the population are tru night owls

  • Sleeps deep but cant remember dreams

  • Foods that have sweet, astringent & bitter tastes

  • Dreams are violent or dramatic, or about big world problems


Recommendations

  • Temper down effort

  • Slow down pace during the day too

  • Patient ambitions, trust, honoring rest to fulfill a goal

  • Cooling colors, cool room

  • Study scientifc value of sleep to feel empowered to make your own choices

  • Earthing - feet on ground

  • Sacred water as therapy

  • Cultivate satisfaction, gratitude


Kapha & Sleep

  • Requires the least sleep (but wants the most!)

  • 7 hours is ideal

  • Loves sleep in general

  • Difficulty waking up, wants to sleep in

  • Groggy upon waking

  • Oversleeping in the morning past 6am

  • Romantic dreams

  • Oversleeping will disturb them


Recommendations

  • Stimulation during waking hours (increase heat through action, activity, enthusiasm)

  • Wake up early, get moving early in the day

  • Cultivate a goal, interest or purpose

  • Reward and punishments systems

  • Foods that have pungent, bitter, astringent tastes

  • Light & early dinner

  • Savory breakfast


Sleep & Trauma

Please note that these recommendations are here to give you a general idea of the relationship between Ayurveda's doshas and sleep, but they cannot account for our individuality. When there is a real struggle with the sleep state (be it deep sleep or Yoga Nidra), it might be related to past relational trauma related to letting go of control, being alone or how our sleep hygiene was growing up. Pregnancy, breastfeeding and child care are also biological factors in sleep disruption and those should be addressed holistically, if needed to be addressed.


The Potential of Yoga Nidra To Heal Sleep



Yoga Nidra is the deep sleep state, with personal awareness sustained. Researchers in a small 2022 study observed significant differences in delta brain waves (the most restorative of deep sleep stages) of Yoga Nidra practitioners after only 2 weeks. Therefore, the Yoga Nidra state takes its practitioners into the deep sleep realm while they stay aware and conscious.


It is important to note that Yoga Nidra is the name of the state, but the vehicle to get there (the guided awareness practice) might or might not lead to Yoga Nidra. But even if it doesn't lead you to Yoga Nidra, whatever happens instead will be beneficial: whether it is relaxation of the body and/or mind, the Yoga Nidra state, dream sleep or deep sleep.


The deep sleep realm is linked to Anandamaya Kosha*, the most subtle layer of the self where our samskaras (karmic patterns, cycles of stored past energy) live. Yoga Nidra can help to resolve samskaras, the unconscious obstacles that are blocking us from our inner-satisfaction. The resolution of our samskaras will, in time, allow us to find that inner-satisfaction without psychological dependency ("I'll only be happy when").

*Koshas are conceptual "sheaths" that cover the reality that we are: divine, bliss, eternal.


As you can see, Yoga Nidra not only has the potential to heal depletion and exhaustion by helping us (re)gain the restorative benefits of the deep sleep state, but it also works on a much deeper level, helping us to resolve unconscious conditioning.

Yoga Nidra upholds the goal of Yoga to ease the mind's activity so that we can abide in our true form: eternal reality. Yoga Nidra is utter surrender, it is the release of all our edges.

Practice Yoga Nidra & Notice The Effects


This next month of March will be dedicated to Yoga Nidra & rejuvenating asana (posture) and pranayama (breathwork) practices to help us enter into the Yoga Nidra state. I will also offer some guidance on better sleep hygiene and why sleep is important from a scientific and yogic viewpoint. My idea with this series is to invite my students to take part in a daily Yoga Nidra practice over the course of one month. I believe this will have profound effects on both nighttime sleep and general feelings of ease and restfulness throughout the day.


If you are not yet a member of my membership program, you can sign up here. You will have access to all live sessions as well as past recordings. My aim is to offer my students a space where rest, rejuvenation and surrender is possible.




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