Ayurvedic Corner: A Classical Ayurvedic Perspective on Sleep

Do you have problems sleeping? If yes is the answer, you’re not alone. According to sleepeducation.org, 30-35% of Americans have episodes of insomnia and 10% have chronic insomnia. As a health practitioner, I see many people with irregular sleep patterns.  Many can’t go to sleep and stay asleep. Many more (an estimated 9  million Americans) need to take pharmaceutical drugs to help in the nightly endeavor. What does Ayurveda say about sleep? For this month’s article, I explore the subject of sleep and dive into this fascinating topic using the classic and formative Ayurvedic text, The Charaka Samhita. Enjoy!

Charaka on Sleep
In The Charaka Samhita Sutrasthana chapter 11 line 35, Charaka writes, “When the mind including the sensory and motor organs is [are] exhausted and they dissociate themselves from their objects, then the individual sleeps.” In order for this dissociation to occur, tamas has to settle into the body. Tamas is one of

Tamas has to settle into the body and mind for this kind of rest

three mahagunas (great universal attributes) associated with inertia, darkness, and heaviness; all of which are needed to get and stay asleep. Charaka goes on to write that the effects of proper sleep include happiness, nourishment, strength, virility, knowledge, and life. Conversely, the effects of improper sleep include misery, emaciation, weakness, sterility, ignorance, and death.

Charaka continues to assert that sleeping during the day is prescribed for those who are exhausted by such things as singing (interesting!), studying, sex, walking long distances, the elderly, the young, and the injured.  (Just to name a few from the text.) Furthermore, day sleeping is indicated in the summer season for everyone because the nights are shorter and Vata gets aggravated by the absorption of fluid in the body caused by the heat of the sun. Because of this, we naturally need more sleep to nourish the bodily tissues or dhatus. Just make sure not to nap in any other season, especially if your Pitta and Kapha are aggravated, as napping during the day increases both of these doshas. Also, it is advised not to seek sleep after eating food.

For Improved Sleep
According to Charaka, the best cures to ensure a smooth and deep sleep include massage, bathing, oleation, intake of soup of domestic marshy and aquatic animals (interesting!), intake of a

Saffron has a mild sedative effect to calm the mind and nerves

special rice with curd, intake of milk, an unctuous substances, alcohol, mental pleasures, smell of pleasant scents, a comfortable bed and home, and sleeping at a proper time. Warm milk with a ½ of a teaspoon of soma formula, or saffron turmeric milk are two go-to recipes I suggest for those who have sleeping problems. For the later recipe, only ½ teaspoon of turmeric is needed with just a pinch (a small thread) of saffron. Add coconut sugar to taste.

Overall, proper sleep is an important aspect of healthy living. This fundamental principle was known even in the time of Charaka, which is said to have been approximately 5000 years ago. This has just been an introduction to the classical point of view into the subject of sleep.  I hope it has given you a glimpse into The Charaka Samhita, as well as shed light on some basic aspects of sleep. Namaste.

Melissa Camacho, guest writer, is a licensed acupuncturist and Ayurvedic practitioner in Sedona. To contact her, please click here.

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