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Natural Awakenings Atlanta

Ayurvedic Approaches to Improved Sleep

Sep 02, 2021 06:00AM ● By Zahra Punjani, DMD

For more than 3000 years, a good night's sleep has been recognized as playing a vital role in human health. Ayurvedic medicine, a scientific approach to health originating in ancient India, counts sleep as one of the three core pillars of life; the other two are energy and food. It cites sleep as essential to physical growth, tissue nourishment and repair, immune system health, fertility, logic, memory and longevity.

During sleep, the body recovers by clearing toxins and reducing stress on a cellular level. When one’s sleep is insufficient, the problem is compounded with the physical stress caused by toxin build-up. Lack of sleep can result in increased inflammation and can cause conditions such as neurodegenerative diseases, digestive issues, impaired mental function and emotional imbalances. People who don’t get enough sleep also have been found to have increased levels of cortisol and lowered insulin levels, resulting in high blood sugar. Eating behaviors also might change due to increased levels of the hormone responsible for the instinct to eat and lowered levels of the hormone that tells us when it’s time to stop eating.

Ayurveda’s perspective is that the body is intrinsically related to and regulated by the cycles of nature, and the closer we align our internal clocks with nature’s rhythm, the more we can experience a life of balance and health. So, Ayurvedic medicine treats insomnia with structured daily routines and practices. This ultimately helps the body create a balance that optimizes its energy and hormones.

Every day, according to Ayurveda, our bodies go through a series of energy states, or doshas, associated with certain times of the day:

2 a.m. to sunrise: During this time, associated with the airy vata dosha, waste is eliminated from the body, allowing you to feel light, refreshed and creative.

Sunrise to 10 a.m.: This period is associated with the earthy kapha dosha, and many experience increased inner strength, concentration and stamina. This is the best time to perform physical activity.

10 a.m. to 2 p.m.: This fiery pitta period is an ideal time to eat the largest meal for optimal digestion.

2 p.m. to 6 p.m.: During the second vata period of the day, the body prepares for rejuvenation. Food and exercise should be mild.

6 p.m. to 10 p.m.: During this kapha phase, the body prepares for sleep. It is recommended you don’t eat or consume a large meal during this phase, so the body won’t use the next period—which is ideal for sleep—to digest instead of to recover.

10 p.m. to 2 a.m.: The energy of the day once again returns to pitta as the body digests the experiences and emotions of the day. Staying awake into this phase results in catching a “second wind” of energy, making sleep more difficult.

Practices and Restorative Rituals

Ayurveda addresses sleep hygiene with practices and restorative rituals that help to ease the mind and allow the body to recover from the physical, mental and emotional stress of daily life.

If you are experiencing challenges with sleep, try the following practices to help gear your body and mind for rest and recovery.

Evening breathwork: By engaging the diaphragm in slow and deep breaths, the vagus nerve and the parasympathetic nervous system are activated, creating a sense of calm and relaxation in the body. When beginning this practice, try to close your eyes and take in deep, intentional breaths, followed by slow breaths out at a pace that feels comfortable to you.

Abhyanga massage: This Ayurvedic ritual uses warm oils to massage the body. A lot of focus is given to the scalp and feet, where our nerves begin and end. This soothing ritual can help you slow down and practice grounding and self-love.

Yoga: Restorative yoga is the practice of gently holding poses for longer periods of time to instill a sense of grounding and provide time for self-reflection and calm. Yoga nidra, a guided meditation practice that helps people achieve the state of consciousness between waking and sleep, is an excellent way to build awareness and improve overall well-being.

Nasya: This is the practice of administering herbs and oils into the nasal passage. The oils help hydrate the nasal passages to improve cerebral circulation, increase awareness and clarity and balance prana. The oils also counterbalance dryness, which, in Ayurveda, is an ominous sign of inflammatory bodily conditions. The modern version of this practice is to use a neti pot to improve the hydration of the mucous membranes.

Releasing your troubles: Pouring worries and thoughts into a journal before sleep can help you process emotions and events of the day that might be subconsciously eating away at you. Ending with a positive note of gratitude and love can help bring a sense of peace and closure to the day.

Sleep-Disordered Breathing

Breathing through the nose is the ideal way to keep the airways open during sleep since it allows an optimal amount of oxygen to enter the body. When we breathe from our mouths while we sleep, the tongue and other structures in the back part of the throat are pushed even further back and tend to collapse the windpipe, resulting in sleep-disordered breathing. While snoring is a typical indication of it, it’s common for it to go unnoticed for years. If your airway collapses even slightly during sleep, your body will not get the oxygenated air it needs from time to time, and you will wake up for a few moments—often without even knowing it—to take a large gasp. The interruptions keep you from getting a rejuvenating sleep. 

To combat this pattern, establishing a habit of breathing through the nose during sleep is recommended. Doing so helps keep the airways open and helps reduce infection. It strengthens the nasal passages’ mucous membranes, which in turn helps them ward off pathogens. Nasal breathing also activates the production of nitric oxide in the paranasal sinuses, playing a vital role in the body’s innate immune system. More than 60% of the nitric oxide produced by the body is in the paranasal sinuses, and it is only activated when breathing from the nose. 

Oral health professionals are trained to examine many things related to a patient’s bite, including the tooth and jaw structure, tongue position and neck position, all of which can indicate sleep-disordered breathing. We also examine structural anomalies and how they affect the airway to identify those who might be at risk. They use technology to identify common patterns of airway collapse, work with therapists to improve the muscles that hold the airway open and sometimes perform procedures to alleviate pressure on the airway from oral structures.

Getting a good night’s sleep is critical to good health; eliminating issues that impede good breathing help make that possible. ❧

Ayurvedic Nightcap

This classic Ayurvedic tonic is filled with ingredients that can infuse your body with calm energy. It is an ideal addition to a bedtime routine.

1 cup oat milk, almond milk or coconut milk
¼ tsp turmeric 
¼ tsp black pepper
¼ tsp cardamom powder 
¼ tsp nutmeg powder 
½ tsp lavender 
1 tsp Ashwagandha 
1 date (Optional)

Bring all ingredients to a slow boil. Allow to cool before consuming prior to bedtime.

Dr. Zahra Punjani is a family and holistic dentist and an Ayurveda follower. She has a passion for whole-body dentistry and wellness. Reach her at O’Shea Dentistry at 404-373-7818.

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