“Rest if you must. But don’t you quit.” – Edgar A. Guest
The human body is smart. When you feel exhausted, you “feel tired to the bone”. When you start feeling sleepy, it is the body’s way of asking you to slow down and rest. It is the body’s natural way of letting us know that it is time to rest, reset, detoxify, and rejuvenate.
What Happens While You’re Sleeping
While we are asleep, the body keeps working on essential processes in the background. Sleep is crucial for the body to carry out metabolism, build up the immune system, detoxify the organs, rebuild tissues, and in general hit the reset button to prepare for the next day.
The body’s internal clock naturally knows when it is time to wake up and when it is time to get into bed and tune out. However, the current fast-paced lifestyle that we are accustomed to derails the body’s circadian rhythm which wreaks havoc with sleep–a crucial ingredient of rest!
How Sleep Deprivation Affects Overall Health
Lack of sleep is one of the major causes of numerous disorders such as diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, anxiety, insomnia, Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, digestive issues, obesity, etc. When the body is overworked and underslept, you lose the ability to focus on a particular task. Research shows that insomnia in the U.S. workforce costs businesses over $63 billion in lost productivity over the course of a year.
Sleep imbalance is a primary reason behind burnout and lack of rest. According to Ayurveda, eight hours of sleep are essential for a healthy body. However, the question is not only about “how many hours” but also about “when”. It is important to eat dinner before sunset and then begin the process of unwinding and getting ready for bed. This helps in sleeping and waking up keeping in mind the circadian cycle can give your body, mind, and soul the rest that you need. Lack of rest directly impacts our ability to remember, perform tasks, and think logically. When the body is in a state of rest the neurological pathways are rewired that help us in processing thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
Ayurveda and Sleep: The Three Doshas
In Ayurveda, the three main categories for sleep are aligned with the three doshas, Vata, Pitta, and Kapha.
Vata people are very light sleepers. They have difficulty falling asleep as well as staying asleep. They have very expressive dreams. Creative and sometimes redundant. They tend to get cold during the night and tend to have poor circulation which leads to cold hands and feet.
If vata has been aggravated, it is important to nourish your body and head with a warm oil massage. Eating warm foods can help pacify Vata. Vata types find it difficult to fall asleep because they are over-stimulated. That’s why it is important to incorporate a wind down and avoid any activity at least one hour before bed.
Pitta people tend to fall asleep pretty quickly but are light sleepers. They can have vivid, imaginative, and sometimes fiery dreams. They tend to run hot during the night and are usually the ones to kick off the covers or sleep with a fan. Pitta people need to get a good quantity of rest because of their nature. They can survive on just four to five hours of sleep but this is not sustainable in the long run.
Sleeping in a cool and properly ventilated room and engaging in cooling, calming activities closer to bedtime is essential to pacify pitta. A foot massage using warm ghee and using cooling essential oils such as jasmine and rose can help in cooling down the pitta and aid the process of falling asleep.
Kapha people generally have no problem falling asleep or staying asleep! It’s actually more difficult to wake them from their slumber. They are sound sleepers and thus dream seldomly or have watery or dark dreams. Because they tend to run cool at night they also prefer heat and like to sleep with a blanket irrespective of the temperature.
For kapha aggravated individuals who are having trouble getting rest, it is important to wake up early, exercise regularly, and avoid sweets during dinner. Light, warm, and bitter foods are favorable in pacifying kapha.
The Types of Rest You Need
Rest should be of three kinds. The most common is physical rest. If you are weary, tired, fatigued, and exhausted, learn to rest. So that your physical body can recover and is rejuvenated.
Next is mental rest. This is needed after long bouts of worry, anxiety, nervousness, or over-intellectualizing. Consciously taking steps to slow down, especially after constantly subjecting your body and mind to stress can help you take the much needed mental rest. Another way of giving yourself mental rest is to take a mental break–spend time in nature away from your devices, read an inspiring book, or spend some time lying on the couch. The ways of the modern world have wired us into thinking that if we are not busy or engaged in doing a particular activity then we are “unproductive”. Resting requires us to be “unproductive” for some time!
And lastly, is emotional rest. This is critical after any trauma, grief, loss of hope, or over-excitement. Spending quality time with close friends, family members, pets, or relatives can be nurturing for your soul. Human beings crave connection. Taking a break from work and activities to just be with the people who nourish your soul can help you to re-energize.
These different types of rest can be found in many different ways. This can include sleep, meditation, vacation, cleansing, pranayama, journaling, baths, and much more. Being able to rest mentally, physically, and emotionally is a key factor to having total health. I encourage you to figure out your health and wellness goals and utilize these tools to make sure you are making the necessary adjustments. We get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of our daily routines that we sometimes forget we are humans living an experiential life.