Nidra or Sleep in Ayurveda

Sleep. It is one of the three sub pillars of health that make all of Ayurveda… Aahara (Diet) Nidra (Sleep), and Bramhacharya (Abstinence). A lack of sleep causes Dukha (unhappiness), Karshyata (emaciation), Abala (weakness), Kleebata (impotency), Ajnana (impaired knowledge or unwise), Destruction of the life.

As a practitioner, I can say that it is the cause of so many health problems out there. What could bring a huge amount of health and happiness is a just simple deep sleep. It is nourishing to the system and is needed for rejuvenation as well as the health of our minds and emotions.  In our fast paced culture many of us are over stimulated constantly (by work, caffeine, and technology) and the senses are overwhelmed and exhausted, and we don’t even realize it. Just following a few proper guidelines can change our sleep and its effect upon the body.

Physiology of Sleep:
When the mind including sensory and motor organs is exhausted and they dissociate themselves from their objects, then the individual sleeps.

Effect of Sleep:
Happiness, misery, nourishment, emaciation, strength, weakness, virility, sterility, knowledge, ignorance, life and death – all these occur depending on proper or improper sleep. According to Sushruta Samhita, a good sleep enjoyed at proper time and for proper period, tends to improve the growth, strength, vigor and complexion of the body. It increases the sense of well-being by freshening the body and mind and also restores the natural equilibrium among different body tissues. So much so that the scope and importance of good sleep has been equated with the soundness of health enjoyed by a person. There is no physiological system in the body which doesn’t get the salutary effect of sound and soothing sleep. Untimely and excessive sleep takes away both happiness and longevity. The same sleep, if properly enjoyed brings happiness and longevity in human beings as real knowledge brings about spiritual power in a yogi.
Indication of day sleep:
For most, day sleep is contraindicated but sleeping during the day time can be prescribed for those who are exhausted by singing, study, alcoholic drinks, sexual acts, elimination therapy, carrying heavy weight, walking long distance; those suffering from phthisis, wasting diseases like tuberculosis, thirst, diarrhoea, colic pain, dyspnoea, hiccup, insanity, those who are too old, too young, weak and emaciated; those injured by fall and assault, those exhausted by journey by a vehicle, anger, grief and fear, and those who are accustomed to day sleep i.e they are working in night. By this the equilibrium of dhatus and strength are maintained and kapha nourishes the organs and ensures longevity. In summer season, nights become shorter and vata gets aggravated in the body due to the absorption of fluid (adana kala). Therefore, during this season, sleep during the daytime is prescribed for all.
Contra-indications of day sleep:
Sleeping during the daytime in the seasons other than summer is not advisable as it causes vitiation of kapha and pitta. Persons with excessive fat, those who are addicted to taking unctuous substances, those with kapha constitution, those suffering from diseases due to the vitiation of kapha and those suffering from artificial poisoning should never sleep during day time. If one violates the prescription regarding sleep during the day time, he would subject himself to halimaka (type of jaundice), headache, timidness, heaviness of the body, malaise, loss of digestive power, hridaya-alepa (a feeling as if phlegm adhered to the heart), oedema, anorexia, nausea , sinusitis, rhinitis, hemicrania, urticaria, eruption, abscess, pruritus, drowsiness, coughing, diseases of the throat, impairment of the memory and intelligence, obstruction of the circulating channels of the body, fever, weakness of sensory and motor organs and enhancement of the toxic effects of artificial poisons. So one should keep in view the merits and demerits of sleep in various seasons and situations so that it may bring happiness and health to him. Just because you feel like you need to nap during the day, it doesn’t mean it is beneficial for you.
After hours of working (physical or mental) our mind & body need rest , so that they are once again charged. But when we are dreaming during sleep our mind is still working , it isn’t taking rest. That is why people who dream often are not feeling fresh (mind is not recharged) even after long hours of sleep , or they want to sleep more in the daytime. The quality of sleep is hampered due to dreams which in turn hampers our thinking/working process & thus quality of life in the long run.

Effect of night awakening:
Awakening during night causes roughness in the body; sleep during daytime causes unctuousness and dosing in sitting posture does neither cause roughness nor unctuousness.
Methods and measures to induce a good sleep :
If for some reason or other, one is subjected to sleeplessness, he can instantaneously be cured by ayurvedic herbal massage, unction, hot herbal bath, intake of soup of domestic marshy and aquatic animals, sali rice with curd (yogurt), milk, herbal unctuous substance and herbal alcohol, and psychic pleasure. Ayurveda believes that usually it is the vitiated “vata” which disturbs the natural body physiology and results in various types of sleep disturbances. Adverse physical situations such as like painful conditions, cramps, an urge to urinate frequently etc can interfere with sound sleep. Social situations like an irregular routine, noise, excessive use of caffeine and alcohol and eating a very heavy meal close to bedtime may also ruffle the sleep pattern. In most cases, however, the core problem is emotional which includes anxiety, stress and depression. There are a number of ways which can help a person to fall asleep more easily. The most important of these is to establish a bed time “ritual” composed of a daily timetable and proper sleeping environment. Short-term sleep disturbances can be overcome by adopting taste, samvahana (rubbing the body by hand), application of smoothening ointment to the eyes (like ghee), head massage, comfortable bed, home and proper time. Simple measures like cutting back on coffee and tea, especially in the late evening hours, and avoiding alcohol, which may help sleep onset but causes early morning wakefulness. Taking a light and timely dinner, avoiding late night TV programmes and following an exercise schedule reduce stress and help bring sound sleep. Ayurveda offers many herbs and other classic medicines and herbal therapies (shirodhara) for good sleep and most of these are safe and devoid of any hangover or addiction. For mild-to-moderate cases of insomnia, taking twice a day two gm powder of ashwagandha, amla, brahmi and shankhpushpi (all crushed in equal parts) is quite helpful. Aswagandharishta, Sarsvatarishta, and Brahmi Vati are good classic medicines. Another herb called sarpgandha (impossible to get in america) is famous for its somnolent effect, but all of the above mentioned herbs should be used only under expert supervision. Except for the cases of senile insomnia and sleeplessness associated with other chronic ailments, long-term use of sleep-inducing medicines should always be avoided.

Causes of Insomnia:
Elimination of doshas in excess from the body through purgation and emesis, fear, anxiety, anger, smoking, excessive physical exercise, excess blood letting / loss, fasting and uncomfortable bed are causes for insomnia.

The above mentioned factors along with overwork, stress, old age, diseases, specially these due to the vitiation of vata like colic pain, etc. are known to cause sleeplessness even in normal individuals. Some are insomniac even by nature.

Happiness and unhappiness, nourishment (good physique) and emaciation, strength and debility, sexual powers and impotence, knowledge and ignorance, life and its absence (death) all are dependent on sleep. 

Sleep indulged at improper time, in excess or not at all destroys happiness ( health ) and life like another kalaratri (goddess of death). 

Keeping awake at nights (avoiding sleep) is dry (causes dryness inside the body), sleeping during daytime is unctous (causes moistncss inside) and taking a nap sitting comfortably (during day) is neither dry nor unctous (increase of moisture). 

Ashtanga Sangraha 3.53 – 55


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