A sleep guide based on your Ayurvedic type
Ayurveda describes sleep as a basic life instinct, essential for all living things. We need it to rejuvenate and re-energize our body, mind and spirit.
In Ayurveda, sleep is one of the three pillars of good health, known as nidra. Then there is food (ahara) and sex (brahmacarya).
The right balance of these three elements is necessary for a healthy life.
According to Ayurveda, sleep and other bodily functions are determined by the three constitutional types, or doshas. The three doshas are:
- vata (wind)
- pitta (fire)
- kapha (water and earth).
Sleep is dominated by kapha, which creates a strong feeling of fatigue.
Charaka Samhita, the ancient Sanskrit text on Ayurveda, mentions six types of sleep. According to the text, sleep can be due to:
- natural sleep without external imbalances
- increased kapha caused by eating excess foods like chocolate, cheese, or fried foods
- exhaustion of mind and body caused by excessive physical work
- chronic disease
- imbalance or injury in the body
Natural sleep follows the Ayurvedic clock, which focuses on the right time to sleep, the length of sleep, and the ideal time to wake up.
In Ayurveda, a day is divided into 6 zones of 4 hours, each dominated by a single dosha:
According to the Ayurvedic clock, it is best to wake up before sunrise and sleep before 10 p.m. when the kapha period has caused dullness in the body.
It is also important to have an interval of at least 2 hours between dinner and sleep. The perfect time for dinner is 7 p.m. If you eat late, aim for something light and eat 2 hours before bed.
Ayurveda suggests different lifestyle changes to improve sleep based on your dominant doshas.
Too much vata means too much wind, which has the qualities of lightness, movement and roughness.
It is important for people with aggravated vata to eat foods that increase kapha in the body. This will increase the qualities of heaviness, stillness and smoothness.
People with high vata should consume heavy and rejuvenating foods, says Lineesha KC, Ayurvedic doctor at Greens Ayurveda in Kerala. This may include:
- coconut milk
- meat soups and stews
- butter and ghee
- rice porridge
KC recommends the following recipe:
- 8 oz of hot milk (preferably a high fat type)
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 2 cardamom pods
- some form of sweetener, such as jaggery or honey (optional)
Varalakshmi Yanamandra, Ayurvedic health coach and director of the Ayur Wellness & Pain Center, suggests eating hot foods like red rice and meat soup.
If you have worsened vata, you may have difficulty sleeping.
To appease vata, your body needs nourishment.
A foot massage or full body abhyanga massage with refreshing oils like Mahanarayan Thailam or Brahmi oil helps in better sleep. Dhanwantharam Thailam or sesame oil should be used for head massage.
Vata can be stimulated by too much activity. Try to avoid watching TV and using your phone an hour before bed, and avoid exercising at night if your vata is high.
For peaceful sleep, ventilate your bedroom properly and keep it dark. Lighting scented candles like chamomile, lavender, sweet orange, or eucalyptus can also help.
When it comes to sex, vata types do best with loving, nurturing intimacy. Multiple partners, vigorous sex, and frequent orgasms can be a bit too much for the vata nervous system. Getting affection and rest after sex is also important.
Steps to pacify vata
- Nourish your body and head with an oil massage.
- Eat hot foods like hot meat soup and hot milk.
- Decrease activity, especially an hour before bedtime.
- Try calming scents like chamomile, lavender, and sweet orange.
- Make sure the room is properly ventilated.
- Focus on sensual and nourishing sex.
If you have high pitta, you may have difficulty falling asleep if stress at work is high or if your diet contains too much acid.
If you pacify pitta, eat refreshing foods like fresh fruits and dates, and eat moderately to heavy.
Since digestive fire is strong for pitta-dominant people, you might wake up hungry in the middle of the night if you fall asleep without having a good meal.
If pittas eat early and feel hungry by bedtime, a light snack of puffed rice or a glass of buttermilk is recommended.
Yanamandra suggests a teaspoon of Jeevantyadi Gritam or medicated ghee in an eight-ounce glass of warm milk.
Sleep for pitta
Yanamandra suggests that pitta people can sleep a little later, at 11 p.m.
For better sleep, a foot massage with warm ghee is recommended. Sleep in a cool, ventilated room; use mild and refreshing essential oils like jasmine and rose; and cover yourself with a light blanket.
Cooling oil like bhringaj or amla can be used for a head massage.
Sex for pitta
Pitta sex drive is usually high due to their passion and natural reserves of energy. They may enjoy sex with multiple partners as well as a dominant role.
Nonetheless, it’s important to remember to engage in refreshing and calming activities to recover after sex.
Steps to pacify pitta
- Drink warm milk with ghee before going to bed.
- Favor sweet scents such as jasmine and rose.
- Go to bed at 11 p.m.
- Try a foot massage with hot ghee.
- Eat refreshing foods like fresh fruits and dates.
- Remember to calm down after sex.
Kapha types have a lot of soil and water in their constitution.
The kapha diet should include refreshing but hot foods like vegetable soup and bitter green vegetables. Sweets should be avoided for dinner.
A light walk after dinner will help stimulate digestion. It is also ideal for kapha types to get vigorous exercise as part of their regular routine.
Regular dry brushing and udvartana, or dry powder massage, using a mixture of various herbs can also help improve metabolism in kapha people.
Kapha-dominant people are generally heavy sleepers and may have a tendency to sleep too much. If you have excess kapha, set an early wake-up time and stick to it.
When it comes to scents, favor warming and invigorating oils such as eucalyptus, rosemary and ginger.
Sex for the kapha type can be slow to start. It might take them a while to get aroused – but when they do, they have great stamina. Sex is also a great exercise for the kapha type.
Steps to pacify the kapha
- Wake up early.
- Choose light, hot, and bitter foods like vegetable soups and bitter greens.
- Avoid sweets at dinner time.
- Take a light walk after dinner to stimulate digestion.
- Regular exercise.
- Opt for invigorating scents, such as eucalyptus, rosemary and ginger.
- Sex is a great exercise for the kaphas.
One of the main reasons for sleep imbalance is the imbalance of doshas in the body.
“Disturbed sleep can cause headaches, migraines and even insomnia,” says Yanamandra.
This results from aggravated vata and pitta, which may be due to:
- eating too many dry, crunchy foods like salads
- eating too much cold food like ice cream
- stay up too late
- experiencing work-related stress
Chronic cases of insomnia can be treated with shirodhara, a procedure where oil is slowly poured over the forehead.
For pitta pacification, try shirodhara with netra tarpana, or eye nutrition therapy, and shiro lepa, or a packet of herbs for the head. These treatments should be performed by a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner.
Herbs are a highly individualized treatment that may not be right for your particular build. It is important to speak with an Ayurvedic practitioner before taking any herbs and to follow the prescribed dosage guidelines.
“Ayurveda does not recommend the diva swapna (daytime sleep), or what we call a nap, because it increases the kapha in the body,” KC says.
There are exceptions for those with conditions aggravated by vata, such as:
- articular pain
- nervous disorders
- general muscle weakness
Other exceptions include:
- musicians who often use their vocal cords
- people who are breastfeeding or breastfeeding
- those who travel a lot
It is best to take a nap on an empty stomach 2 hours after lunch, so that the food has time to digest. Sleep for 20 minutes, sitting in a reclining chair. This helps prevent pitta from building up in your head.
According to Ayurveda, people who meet any of the following criteria should avoid naps:
- those with a predominantly kapha constitution
- those who suffer from obesity
- those who eat a diet high in fatty or fried foods
- those who are generally healthy and have no underlying disease
However, naps are recommended in the summer when the heat makes it difficult to get a full night’s sleep.
Ayurveda is an ancient system of medicine that emphasizes the balance between food, sleep and sex for healthy living.
Good sleep is closely related to the three doshas and the Ayurvedic clock. While it’s not always possible to stick to the clock with our modern lifestyle, these tips can help you find balance.
Shirin Mehrotra is a freelance journalist who writes on the intersection of food, travel and culture. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in food anthropology.