(As featured on Elephant Journal)
Do you feel pain all over your body?
Have a heavy head? Experience excessive yawning and drowsiness? Have indigestion often? Do you feel like you just don’t want to do anything most of the time?
These are all signs that you may not be getting enough sleep.
As a veteran of New York City, the city that very literally never sleeps, I once could raise my hand and answer “yes” to all of the above questions.
The Modern Idea(l) of ‘Sleep Debt’
Shortly after I began studying at NYU’s ultra-competitive undergraduate business school, I learned that, beyond getting good grades and acquiring a diverse skillset, to really succeed on Wall Street, there was one more highly-sought after job skill: the ability to delve deep into ‘sleep debt.’
Like everything else in this fast-paced world, people in NYC used to compete to prove to one another how little they slept; it was as if their willingness to sacrifice sleep somehow demonstrated how committed they were to their work.
Sleep was like a stock in NYC: a commodity that could be bought and sold, invested, and returned later. With so much stimulation, people, and situations needing attention, sleep felt like an expensive activity. When I ‘sold’ sleep to stay out late, study through the night, or simply for the seldom quiet moment that late night provided, however, the price I paid was steep.
My eyelids would feel heavy during the day and my body became accustomed to high levels of physical pain throughout my body. I remember many occasions of falling asleep in class.
When I worked on Wall Street selling financial services, dealing with portfolio managers, bankers and traders in Europe and Asia meant early mornings and late nights, with little time leftover to sleep. I returned my sleep debt on the weekends, when I used to look forward to completely collapsing in exhaustion, sleeping for 12-14 hours at a stretch.
Looking back, I honestly do not know how I managed to even survive, much less thrive, in such an environment.
Achieving ‘success,’ however, always came at the price of my physical, emotional, mental and spiritual wellbeing, something I decided at some point I was no longer willing to sacrifice for externally-determined measures of ‘making it.’
Why Sound Sleep is Essential to Our Health
In Ayurveda, the 5,000+ year-old art and science of wellbeing from ancient India, proper sleep is considered one of the three Upastambhas (pillars) of health (with the other two being proper food and balanced sexuality). Natural sleep at night is called Bhutadhatri, a Sanskrit term derived of the words Bhuta, meaning the physical body, and Dhatri, which means mother.
Sleep nourishes the body, just as a mother nurtures her baby.
Charaka Samhita, one of the core Ayurvedic texts, outlines several other benefits of sound sleep. According to Chapter 21, Verses 36-38 of Charaka Samhita Sutrasthana, sleep imbues us with happiness, strength, physical prowess, fertility, knowledge, and life itself.
Healthy digestion, psychological, neurological, and physiological functioning all depend on proper sleep.
The Danger of Losing Sleep
Contrary to the way my comrades in NYC brag about how little they sleep as a means of proving how hard-working committed they are to their work, losing sleep on a regular basis can actually cause laziness, and what is called as Smriti Bramsha (memory loss). It can eventually lead to intellect malfunction, too.
Want to have a baby one day? If you and/or your partner lose enough sleep over a long enough time, it can lead to infertility.
The colloquial expression “Don’t lose any sleep over it” is actually quite amazing advice, in the sense that not sleeping consistently for 30-40 days—due to any particular stressor in life—can lead directly to death’s doorstep.
Many psychiatric problems also begin with lack of sleep. Why venture that far, though?
Ayurveda’s Top Three Insomnia Solutions
Ever since learning Ayurveda, which I truly believe is a divine science, I have transformed my night owl tendencies. I now strive to wake up at 4 a.m. each morning—the same time I had once gone to sleep in what now feels like my past life in NYC.
These three amazing Ayurvedic solutions to insomnia have worked wonders for me, and I am thus delighted to share them with you:
1. Go to sleep by 10 p.m. and wake up by six a.m.
In Ayurveda psychology, we learn about certain gunas, or qualities, that pervade the entire universe outside, as well as within.
One of these gunas is called Tamas—it is essentially the quality of inertia, which is absolutely necessary to sleep at night. Tamas is present at night between eight to 10 p.m., which is the ideal time period to go to sleep, if possible. The Tamas quality is also present between six to 10 a.m., which is why it is so hard to wake up during this time of the morning.
Too much Tamas in the mind and body, which excess and untimely sleep can cause, also contributes to depression and other psychological problems over time.
Those of us seeking true health and happiness would be wise to wake up between four to six a.m., as this time is ruled by the quality of Sattva, which is synonymous with mental peace, clarity, balance, and universal love. Beyond the myriad mental health benefits of waking up during the Sattva-charged time of day, doing so is also easiest, as the Sattva quality wakes us up naturally.
2. Avoid stimulating activities and conversations for at least two to three hours prior to bed.
One of the main causes of insomnia is mental stress—this is why we want to avoid the causes of stress just prior to bedtime to ensure quality sleep. Therefore, turn off the TV, computer, and loud music during the last part of your day. Resort, instead, to more relaxing activities, like a gentle walk, meditation, prayer, journaling, or listening to soothing music.
Your mind, body, and sleep will all appreciate you for this. Your capacity to take on the stresses of modern work and life will also increase overall, due to your ability to sleep soundly.
3. Oil your feet, head, and ears with warm sesame oil before bed.
Oiling the soles of the feet, the top of the head, and the backs of the ears promotes sound sleep, helps combat stress, and even counteracts the aging process.
Following Ayurveda’s sleep recommendations has greatly transformed the quality of sleep I now experience. Try these timeless solutions to insomnia and you, too, will start to sleep like a baby, thanks to Ayurveda.