Five tips for maintaining good sleep
The trifecta required for all healing is—optimal sleep, stable blood sugar, and smooth elimination. Ensuring that we can have these is the first step, no matter what the symptom, condition, protocol, or treatment. Prioritising these as the first steps on our healing journey can already address several conditions and symptoms.
We can stay away from food therapeutically, in the form of fasting, to help us. But we can never stay away from sleep.
What happens to our bodies when we have poor or disturbed sleep?
1. Lack of sleep is a stressor, which can impact digestion, and make any symptoms that we have much worse. One night of poor sleep also raises ghrelin, the hunger hormone, so we feel unnatural hunger. It lowers leptin, the satiety hormone, so no amount of food will make us feel satiated. Even when we have knowledge, awareness, and dedication towards healthy eating, we could reach for the chips or desserts very easily. We might even forget the connection. We could open the refrigerator, have a piece of cake, and not make the connection at that moment.
2. Lack of sleep can slow down the movement of peristalsis within our intestine. This is because poor sleep increases vata dosha, imbalances the nervous system, and increases dryness within the body.
Ensuing constipation leads to fermentation and yeast overgrowth and build-up of toxic waste. This toxic waste can then move into the deeper tissues within the body, where it is unable to come back, leading to chronic fatigue, weight gain, and pain. Constipation is not minor. It becomes the root cause for poor functioning of several systems and organs within the body.
3. Just as melatonin is required to fall asleep, poor sleep lowers melatonin. This can increase cortisol. Low melatonin can raise gut permeability. Intestine permeability leads to an inflammatory response, triggering chronic inflammation which can be seen as symptoms anywhere in the body. Low melatonin also reduces antioxidants in the brain. This alone can trigger anxiety, fear, and depression.
4. Pitta time is from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. This is the time where being fast asleep allows your liver to rejuvenate itself, cleaning up toxins. Poor quality sleep at that time prevents optimal liver detoxification, which is linked to poor hormone balance, blood sugar dysregulation, toxicity, and disease. To make use of pitta’s power of bio-transformation, we must have deep sleep.
5. Poor quality sleep lowers white blood cells. This stresses our immune system. If you find yourself succumbing to frequent colds and coughs, it can be caused by immune suppression brought on by poor quality sleep. Immune system challenges can be as simple as common colds, or as complex as autoimmune conditions.
6. Vata dosha correlates with the nervous system and to adrenal function. Poor sleep increases vata dosha. Vata imbalance weakens agni, digestive fire. It can also imbalance the other doshas, which are pitta and kapha. There is a saying in ayurveda, that to remain healthy, you must make vata your friend. One of the best ways to do so is to work on good sleep. Vata and agni have a string connection. The raised vata which weakens agni, in combination with the subconscious reaching for junk food and desserts is indeed detrimental.
7. In deep sleep, there is a deep action with your brain, known as glymphatic system detoxification. Cerebral spinal fluid is a clear fluid protecting your brain within the cranium. In deep sleep, it washes toxins and metabolic by-products from your brain into the lymph system. The brain can deteriorate when it does not have enough sleep at night when it should. Waking up with sinus congestion, thinking that you have daily morning allergies, sniffing through the day, sinus headaches, cloudy head, and depression are all associated with suboptimal detoxification of the glymphatic system.
Tips to help improve sleep:
There is simple yet powerful tools to utilise for improving sleep quantity and quality. I would place prioritising sleep timing prior to 9 p.m. as the best intervention, to make use of kapha time of the day which helps to fall asleep. Kapha leads to tamas, the energy of lethargy. This energy is not always bad as it is thought to be. Tamas can be utilised to help fall into sleep. Pitta comes up for a second wind after 10 p.m. Missing sleep before this time can make pitta increase hunger and thinking. These can prevent falling asleep.
1. A major trigger of vata disruption is multi-tasking. Vata disruption is the reason for poor sleep. Having a workday with multiple tasks, alongside responding to several emails and messages, and scrolling on social media every five minutes can raise vata, and it is quite impossible to have good sleep post. Ensure that you are only doing one task at a time. Conclude one and move on to another.
2. Foods that are raw in bulk, especially in cold weather, are not as healthy as they are thought to be. That big bowl of salad is a vata disruptor, especially if you are struggling with poor quality sleep. Changing diet to warm cooked foods can strengthen agni and balance vata. If you do love your salad, make it a full meal which is warm. Think of combining cooked greens, sweet potatoes, cooked chickpeas, and some millet, along with ghee and spices.
3. Anything that moves the eyes in a form of stimulation, be it social media or television, post sunset, can imbalance the nervous system and disrupt sleep. On the other hand, think of reading a book where your eyes move slowly. Research has shown that just 6 minutes of reading lowers cortisol by 60%! There is a logical reason why we feel sleep tugging on our eyelids after reading for some time.
4. Keep your hydration during the day. Drink warm water in between breakfast and lunch, and between lunch and dinner. Not drinking adequate water through the day ends up in dehydrating the system. This would mean that you feel thirst later in the evening and drink more water. This can trigger quick hunger at night, or simply be sleep disruptive.
5. Exercise done in the earlier part of the day is a powerful tool in improving sleep quality. There are two main reasons for this. The first is that exercise increases core body temperature, but later the body counters it by trying to cool it down.
Post-exercise, the core body temperature is lower. This is required to fall asleep and have better sleep. The second reason for morning exercise is that it helps boost morning cortisol. Doing this makes us more active during the day and is a supportive factor in the release of melatonin at night, which is required for optimal sleep. Get to your yoga class, walk 10000 steps, or go for a swim.
No matter what the consequences of poor sleep are, do remember that knowing them should not be about causing you stress. It is just to help you prioritise sleep. The interventions that you can do are simple though powerful. Begin with just one. Stay consistent. When you feel comfortable, work on one more. All of them will help you get much better sleep, the key to all healing!