The 3 Ayurvedic Ground Rules for Restful Sleep. ~ Julie Bernier

Via on Jan 12, 2014

sunset by don dianda (Our Ocean and Our Waves)

Simply put, if the sun has gone to bed, we should soon follow suit.

“Early to bed, early to rise” has gone out of style.

These days it’s old advice; outdated, no longer applicable to the modern world. Generations X, Y and Z have every temptation to stay up late and little motivation to wake up early.

Before the prevalence of electricity, “early to bed, early to rise” was probably an easier proverb to follow. When the sun retired and all was dark there wasn’t a whole lot to do besides sleep. I imagine there was little temptation to stay up late—no TV, no internet, no late night bars, and simply no light. Dawn must have been a welcome occurrence as it meant the time for activity.

Now we have every excuse to stay up late—the dark is no obstacle. And staying up late leads to sleeping in. I know very few people who happily welcome dawn. Besides my baby boomer parents and a few of their peers, most find waking up before 7:00 a.m. or even 8:00 a.m. to be simply absurd.

But this schedule is way out of sync with nature. Simply put, if the sun has gone to bed, we should soon follow suit. And when the sun arises, as should we.

Most of nature is on this timetable. Take birds, for instance. They’re never heard chirping at night as they’ve settled down to rest. And as soon as dawn strikes they’re again awake and lively. That’s the sleep schedule nature intended—not only for birds, but for humans as well.

Ayurveda has been saying “early to bed, early to rise” for thousands of years, and the advice will forever remain applicable.

There’s a reason why keeping in sync with nature’s rhythms makes your body happy and healthy.

Even the most basic understanding of the Ayurvedic doshas, given here, can explain why going to bed early and waking up early make so much sense.

We, and everything around us, are made up of the five elements: air, space, fire, water, and earth. These elements combine to form the three doshas: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. They are biological energies that influence our bodies and minds, each having its own particular qualities and traits.

The Vata dosha is a combination of air and space. Vata’s qualities are light, mobile, dry, cold, erratic and subtle.

The Pitta dosha is comprised of fire and water. Pitta’s qualities are hot, sharp, light and intense.

The Kapha dosha is comprised of earth and water. Kapha is heavy, dull, stable, soft and static.

The doshas exist not only within our bodies but also outside of us, influencing the day’s energy. Each dosha is dominant twice a day, as follows:

  • 2:00 a.m. – 6:00 a.m.: Vata dominance
  • 6:00 a.m - 10 a.m.: Kapha dominance
  • 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.: Pitta dominance
  • 2:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.: Vata dominance
  • 6:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.: Kapha dominance
  • 10:00 p.m. – 2:00 a.m.: Pitta dominance

These times of dominance affect the way we feel by increasing their respective energy within us. For this reason, our bodies experience harmony when we carry out a daily routine that balances the doshas’ influences.

Hence, Ayurveda recommends going to sleep by or around 10:00 p.m.—during Kapha time. Kapha is slow, stable and dull. It also has that same kind of influence on our bodies and minds, which is ideal for falling asleep.

After 10 pm we enter the Pitta time of day. Pitta’s qualities are hot, sharp, light and intense. None of these traits are conducive to falling asleep. This explains why you get a second wind if you’re up at 11:00 p.m. or Midnight and feel ready and motivated to do anything but sleep; Pitta is in full effect.

Therefore, it’s best to go to bed by 10:00 p.m.—10:30 or 11:00 p.m. at the latest. This makes it much easier to fall asleep than a later bedtime.

Because Ayurveda recommends that everyone (with a few exceptions) wakes up early, we also need that early bedtime to ensure we get enough sleep. Ayurveda advises arising during brahmamuhurta—the two hours before sunrise. This is the best time for yoga and meditation—which are important practices in Ayurveda for maintaining health of the body and mind.

In these hours, the atmosphere is calm and quiet and the mind is relatively clear.

Not everyone may be so inclined for a 4:00 a.m. wake-up call, but at least try to be up by 6:00 a.m. The idea is to awake during Vata time. Vata’s light and mobile influence on the early morning hours make it easier to wake up and easier to empty the bowels.

After 6:00 a.m. we enter the Kapha time of day. Again that slow, dull, stable energy bears its effects. When you wake up at 8:00 a.m. or 9:00 a.m. you’ll likely feel groggy and sluggish because of Kapha’s influence. Even if you got a good eight hours of sleep, arising during Kapha hours means you still won’t feel fresh and well rested.

Also important is the quantity of sleep we get.

Sleep is considered in Ayurveda to be one of the three pillars of life along with food and sex. Not everyone needs the same amount of sleep, but we all need enough. It gives the body, mind and senses a chance to refresh and rejuvenate.

Depending on the individual’s constitution, Ayurveda recommends between six and eight hours of sleep a night.

Vata types need the most sleep, and Kapha types the least. To ensure that your six to eight hours are of good quality sleep, always try to go bed by 10:00 p.m. and wake up by 6:00 a.m.

Just like everything else in life, too much of a good thing can have negative effects; sleep included. Excessive sleep brings about as much imbalance as lack of sleep and causes causes lethargy, dullness, and heaviness. More than eight hours is only recommended for those who are ill, pregnant or elderly.

As for naps, they’re generally not recommended except in the summer, and for the ill, pregnant and elderly. Keep your naps to 20 minutes max.

In summary, try to follow these three principles for more quality and restful sleep:

  1. Go to bed by 10:00 p.m., wake up by 6:00 a.m.
  2. Get between six and eight hours of sleep a night
  3. Avoid daytime napping

This rhythm keeps the body in sync with nature, and being in sync with nature is the ultimate definition of health.

Relephant Reads:

10 Yoga Suggestions for a Sound Night’s Sleep.

6 Ways to Enjoy Deep, Blissful Sleep.

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Assistant Editor: Alicia Wozniak/Editor: Cat Beekmans

Photo: elephant journal archives

About Julie Bernier

Julie Bernier brings the ancient practices of authentic Indian hatha yoga and Ayurveda to her students. A certified hatha yoga teacher, Ayurvedic Wellness Educator, and nature-loving gypsy, Julie teaches students how to use yoga to its full potential in her eBook Yoga for Health and Happiness, and she decodes India’s timeless knowledge of wellness for Westerners on her blog Peaceward Yoga. Julie first found yoga in California and has since taken it with her on some very long and far-flung travels, practicing on whatever flat surfaces she found…from the beaches of the Galapagos Islands to the jungles of Sumatra, and the rooftops of Himalayan houses to the bustling city parks of Bangkok. She explored yoga’s real roots while studying in India and teaching in the foothills and high villages of the Himalayas, and strives to keep her yoga “old school.” Connect with Julie on Instagram. 

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13 Responses to “The 3 Ayurvedic Ground Rules for Restful Sleep. ~ Julie Bernier”

  1. Candice Benson says:

    This is a fantastic article – thank you for sharing! :)

  2. @MaxZografos says:

    wonderful information. Will put in use straight away. Thanks

  3. Rachel says:

    I have heard all of this info before, but I am very curious as to how to adapt these guidelines when living at an extreme latitude. I live in Alaska at latitude 61, where sometimes the sun doesn’t rise until after 10am and sets before 4pm. Any ideas for us Alaskans?

    • You Alaskans do have an extra challenge. The basis of Ayurveda is harmonizing with nature's daily schedule, easier to do in India's latitude. The best thing for you to do is to keep a sleep routine. You can still follow the guidelines above- in bed by 10 and up by 6- despite whatever the sun is doing. The body thrives on routine and this will help develop your own internal rhythm.

  4. Ian says:

    My latitude is not as extreme as Rachel's but the same principle applies. At latitude 52N, there is a huge variation in sunrise and sunset throghout the seasons. In India, where these principles were developed, the diurnal variation is not as great. Like Rachel, I'd be glad to receive guidance on this.

  5. Ananta Ripa Ajmera Ripa says:

    Beautiful article, Julie – thank you for sharing this very important wisdom from Ayurveda regarding sleep.

  6. Gita says:

    Nice article, I enjoyed the Ayuvedic perspective on sleep. Particularly of interest was that vata types need the most rest; I've found this to be very true, thanks for the validation!

  7. Valgerður says:

    I admit that my sleep routine isn’t the best. But I thrive when I manage to keep it pretty stable and make sure I get my 8ish hours. This looks so great on paper but I have similar issues to Ian and Rachel. Here in Iceland the sun either barely sets or barely rises, depending on seasons. Oh and the birds, they chirp away almost all through the summer nights ;)

    Thanks for the article.

  8. Kristen says:

    These are wonderful tips for people who live a “normal” life timetable. Are there any Ayurvedic suggestions for those of us who work shift work? Because unfortunately babies and medical emergencies don’t happen just during daytime hours…

    • Hi Kristen,
      If you usually work night shifts, I'd recommend trying to follow some sort of sleep schedule nonetheless. Your body will do well with a routine, even if that routine is going to bed at 6 AM and waking up at 2 PM. I would imagine you might be hungry after coming home from work, too, so eat something light like soup rather than something that takes longer to digest, like a grilled cheese sandwich or a burger. That will help with sleep, too.

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