Sleep is one of the fundamental physiological activities for good health. It allows us to balance our defence system and hormones, prevent different diseases (cardiovascular, metabolic, immunological, cancer, etc.), regulate the impact of stress and negative emotions on our body, make better decisions, maintain a good mood, and recover and rebuild our tissues, among many other benefits.
The lack of quality and/or quantity of sleep is within the group of silent pandemics that have been occurring in recent decades, along with malnutrition, obesity, hypertension, diabetes, etc. And this can be attributed to various factors, such as the arrival of electric light, the industrial and technological revolution, social urbanization, etc.
Currently, it is estimated that the prevalence of insomnia affects, chronically, between 10-30% of the population, and up to 80% temporarily. Its presence has been linked to a risk for the development of hypertension, heart disease, autoimmune and endocrine diseases, and diseases related to cognitive impairment, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
There are various classifications of insomnia; to mention that of DSM 5, ICD-11, according to its origin, duration, causes, and so on. According to its causes, it is divided into extrinsic insomnia due to environmental factors such as sleep hygiene problems, substance abuse, and stress situations (work, family, health problems), and intrinsic insomnia due to personal factors such as psychophysiological insomnia, primary or idiopathic insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, and circadian rhythm disorders. Its conventional treatment is variable, and the rate of improvement is not very high.
In Ayurveda, sleep is considered one of the three pillars of life, along with digestion and sexuality, so its alteration is considered very serious for health. Its origin can be related to Vata and/or Pitta imbalances.
Insomnia of Vata origin is related to a lifestyle that disturbs this Dosha, including excessive stress, cold, dry, and light eating, physical, mental, emotional, and/or energetic overload, going to bed late, and stimulant use.
Its treatment is based on reducing excess movement of the body and mind. It is necessary to create balance, standard day and night routines that include spaces for relaxation and tranquillity and are aligned with circadian and doshic rhythms.
It is extremely important to avoid overexcitement at least two hours before bedtime: turn down electric lighting and screens (cell phone, TV, computer), and implement relaxation rituals. These are vital for the treatment. Include a shower with lukewarm water, massage, abhyanga, self-massage, as well as deep relaxation exercises (breathing, meditation, etc.) in the night routine.
A highly recommended therapy is shirodhara, which helps to strengthen and relax the mind. Some recommended herbs that aid this imbalance could be Ashwagandha, Centella asiatica, Shankapushpi, Jatamansi, and Amla.
As for insomnia of Pitta origin, its appearance is related to people with constitution and imbalances of the same origin, who are exposed to high temperatures, consumption of hot and spicy foods, and the obsession with solving work problems. It is usually transitory, but if it is maintained, over time, it can be combined with the Vata type.
Your treatment may include the characteristics of treatment for Vata, in addition to including the consumption of bitter herbs to purify body heat, sleeping with a single sheet, with light clothing or without clothing, and the use of Brahmi oil based on coconut or sunflower for massages.
If the insomnia is related to problem-solving at work, writing down your thoughts is beneficial to get them out of your head. If new thoughts appear when you are in bed, get up and write them down.
It is very important to learn to balance work-life demands and take moments of relaxation in which you are completely disconnected from work-related activities.
If you have problems with insomnia, I recommend that before taking whatever supplement they sell today as their “solution”, work on your daily routines and habits. You will realize that, little by little, your sleep will begin to regulate itself, and thus your health. If you want a guide or help in your process, you can ask me.
Dr. Silvestre González
Ayurveda orientated physician