Sleep is a biological need for resting and rejuvenating the being, in every sense.
Early to bed, deep sound sleep, and waking up only after this “being” is completely rested play a major role in achieving complete health and wellbeing. It is defined as a good sleep if one can go off to sleep in few minutes of putting the head to bed, undisturbed sleep through the night and body waking up fresh in the morning, on its own.
Health lies in harmonious circadian habits aligning to the natural circadian rhythm. Every cell and every organ in our body has a 24-hour clock called circadian rhythm. Circadian clocks turn on and off thousands of genes at the right time of the day or night. This rhythm works together to maintain a healthy balance of brain chemicals, hormones and nutrients creating ease in the body. When our rhythm gets disrupted, there is dis-ease and we are more likely to suffer from a wide range of diseases from depression to cancer.
We can tune our daily habits of eating, sleeping and getting the right amount of light to sustain healthy circadian rhythm. Healthy rhythms nurture body and mind to health.
This can be achieved through eating only when there is keen hunger in the body, eating only during day time, eating early dinner so that the digestion is complete and doesn’t disturb sleep.
Sleeping early in the night, usually about 2 to 3 hours from the sunset. Ensuring that just before retiring to bed, all electronics, bright lights, and any unpleasant topics are avoided and ensuring optimum sleep conditions are in place like silence, darkness and ambient temperature so the body can rest well.
The natural focus of the body and our senses is mostly on the external environment, towards the outside world where there is light, looking for some new information with a natural curiosity to know more. During the dark hours, the body largely focuses back to the internal state making the repair and healing more effective.
Sleep is an important healer as all repair and rejuvenation hormones are produced during sleep. These hormones repair all that has gone wrong through the day inside the body (self-inflicted and from environment) and bring it back to normal, rest the mind and relax the nervous system. They are at their peak around 3 hours after Sun set and facilitate optimum repair. Thus, it becomes essentially important to not only get right hours of sleep but a need to sleep early. If sleep is delayed, a backlog of repair every day on a long run can create numerous health issues. Train your body to grab this long life, complete health sweet spot for falling asleep around 10 pm, maximum says research. Our scriptures also seem to agree suggesting healthy time of sleep to be in the middle 2 yaamas/ madhya yaamas (night is divided into 4 yaamas from Sunset to Sunrise which approximates to around 9-10 pm to fall asleep and wake up around 4 am at Brahma Muhurta). You will be surprised, if you can ensure early sleep as suggested, sleep becomes very restful, deep and body wakes up early in Brahma Muhurta, on its own - fresh, energetic and ready to take on the duties of the day, peacefully. This early rising will facilitate us to attend to our morning self-care practices, get a relaxed productive day and end the day with great contentment and worthiness which drifts us into next night’s deep sleep easily. And thus healthy cycle continues.
The Bhagavad-Gita acknowledges the indispensability of sleep (Chapter 06, Verse 16) but cautions us not to seek pleasure from sleep (Chapter 18, Verse 39) which will lead to inertia. “We have to fall asleep, but we don’t have to fall for sleep”.
What helps good quality sleep is early Satvik dinner (around Sun set), no screen time and electronics for at least last one hour before bed time and spending time with yourself or loved ones or read/listen to something light which does not sadden or excite the mind before sleeping. A wet pack on forehead and eyes while sleeping for 10-15 mins helps calm the mind, create the darkness and silences the mind to drift into good sleep. A firm cotton bed helps to be pain free and get a restful sleep.
Sleeping in the daytime specially during Sandhya kaala, when dawn and day or day and dusk meet is unhealthy and also disrupts deep sleep at night. Being physically active in the day with an hour’s intended physical activity of your choice and slowing down towards evening (both body and mind) when relaxation hormones are released in the body to prepare for rest and sleep is vital. Core body temperature falls by evening in preparation to rest and doing an intense physical activity closer to bedtime can disturb sleep as it warms up the body. People with insomnia can practice Yoga Nidra and deep breathing just before bed time along with all the other tips suggested above.
Deep sleep can happen only when the mind is calm, and a calm mind is a result of deep sleep. This is a vicious cycle. Do not disturb the natural rhythm and invite trouble. It is difficult to get back this natural rhythm once it is disrupted. I see hundreds of clients in this state, struggling. How can we sleep/ mind be calm, when so much work is sitting on our table/ head? Youngsters have so much to do, and elders have so much to worry, sleep evades. Mind is chattering constantly that people cannot put themselves to sleep. Scientists found, assigning healthy adults to delay their bedtimes and wake up later than normal for 10 days in a row can throw their circadian rhythms and eating patterns out of sync. Just syncing with natural cycle will solve many health issues.
This reminds me of a couple of beautiful verses from Sri. D.V. Gundappa’s Manku Thimmana Kagga, one of the best known literary works in Kannada.
In Verse 200 above, he says:
As if the hunger of the stomach is not enough, destiny has planted “Fire in the stomach” (Envy) in all humans. A wolf which is known for its gluttony also goes off to sleep when its stomach is full, but a man keeps thinking of others and ruins himself and his sleep. - Dumb Kid (Naïve one)
In Verse 201 above, he says:
Where is the water to extinguish the fire of envy in the stomach? When there are such hellish thoughts in our hearts, how will sleep sneak closer to us? When we are suffering from this jealousy, how will we even reach God? Only when we get rid of it, is when we reach God - Dumb Kid (Naïve one)
Going ahead, in Verse 203 above he says:
Head is full of hundreds of birds, (meaning hundreds of thoughts and worries)
Like Parrots, owls, crows, cuckoos, eagles, peacocks; making all kinds of sounds, screaming, squeaking, chirping, buzzing; where is the place for sleep? - Dumb Kid (Naïve one) If human is peaceful and calm in mind, the minute he puts his head to bed, sleep envelopes him. But worries are torturing him all the time and how can he fall asleep?”
Verse 204 above goes ahead to give us a solution and says:
“We humans are a mix of good (godly) and bad (demonic) qualities. If man uses his discernment (ability to distinguish good from bad), and cultivates and strengthens his good qualities and habits and similarly, culture his emotions and have control over them, one can progress in life’s evolutionary process. - Dumb kid (Naïve one)/ Dull Thimma's Rigmarole (MankuThimma)”