Insomnia and Ayurveda
By Dr Sajimon George BAMS, AAA, ATMS
Insomnia is a common sleep disorder with serious consequences on physical and mental health.
It is manifested as failing to fall asleep, interrupted sleep or failing to maintain state of sleep as desired. This condition is prevalent in more than 10% of the adult population.
Prevalence is higher in women and older adults due to the presence of physical or mental co morbid conditions. The complexities of modern life and an unhealthy lifestyle are the main reasons why there is now a higher prevalence of this condition. Stressful daily activities continue into the evening and reduce good sleep during the night.
Lack of good sleep during the night prevents the body from revitalising physical and mental health. As this continues, chronic insomnia and co morbid diseases appear. People with insomnia have an increased risk of developing diabetes, depression and hypertension.
Insomnia has two stages, acute insomnia and chronic insomnia. Ayurveda considers three pillars as essential for maintaining physical and mental health and they are Ahara (food), Nidra (sleep) and Brahmacharya (controlled sex). All these need to be enjoyed in moderation to maintain good health. Classic ayurvedic documents provide details on the ideal amounts of food, sleep and controlled sex.
A proper sleeping pattern is essential for the maintenance of Ojus, the ultimate factor for maintaining physical and mental health. Anidratha (lack of sleep) and alpanidratha (broken sleep) are clinical conditions related to insomnia. Anidratha or alpanidratha are mentioned as symptoms rather than a disease.
Anidratha or lack of sleep is caused by aggravation of Vatha.
Alpanidratha is poor quality or broken sleep and it is caused by Pitha vitiation.
Ayurvedic treatment options include panchakarma, detoxification procedures, such as hypnotherapy, meditation techniques, pranayama and yoga postures.
Causes of Acute Insomnia
- Mental or Emotional Stress or Strain
- Noisy, extreme cold or too hot living environments
- Side effect of medicines
- Loss of normal sleep rhythm due to night shifts
Cause of Chronic Insomnia
- Continuous exposure to causative factors of acute insomnia
Ayurveda considers sleep, food and controlled sex as the three pillars of equilibrium of body humors. A busy modern life requires repair and nourishment to the mind and body through sleep. Ayurveda encourages the consumption of healthy cereals, meat, fruits and vegetables. Different cooking techniques and its impact are also explained. Food should be taken only when we feel hungry. When a person with a good digestive fire eats the right healthy foods, it will be converted in to fine nutrients and nourishes Ojus the ultimate factor where our life force is stored.
Normal sleep also helps to maintain the quality and quantity of Ojus. During good sleep, the brain is nourished and gets refreshed by removing unwanted byproducts of a stressed brain metabolism. Controlled sex also helps in removing stress. Sex without control, results in a loss of Ojus.
Insomnia is related to Anidra (lack of sleep) and Alpanidratha (broken sleep) of Ayurveda. Anidra or lack of sleep is related to a Vatha vitiation or a Vatha predominant condition and Alpanidratha is a Pitha predominant condition caused by Pitha humor vitiation.
Treatment includes the following steps:
1. Purification of the system by Panchakarma or Sodhana procedures.
All chronic diseases require purification, and Panchakarma procedures are an effective way to achieve detoxification. Keeping Vatha and Pitha vitiation in mind, Snehana or Oleation with medicated ghee or oil prior to purification procedures are advised.
Purification procedures like Virechana (medicated purgation), Vamana (medicated vomiting), Vasthi (medicated enema) and Nasya (nasal administration of medicine) are indicated here.
After doing these purification procedures, Sirodhara or pouring of selected medicated oils or buttermilk over scalp is completed. These procedures help in regulating the brain’s metabolism and thus regulates the sleep rhythm. Oil massage which is relaxing in nature is beneficial and advised. This procedure stimulates sensory centers spread all over body.
2. Healthy and easily digestible food.
Undigested or partially digested food becomes toxins or Ama which disrupts the equilibrium of the body’s metabolism. Ama formation affects metabolism at every level including brain metabolism and the regulation of sleep. To prevent formation of Ama, easily digestible food with Vatha and Pitha pacifying property is used. Specifically buffalo milk is useful for insomnia. Reducing salty and spicy food is also good.
3. Yoga and meditation for stress management.
Pranaayama, Suryanamaskara and Meditation are useful techniques for the effective management of stress and maintaining a healthy sleep pattern. Practice of these techniques has proven to be helpful in regulating brain metabolism.
Yogasanas (Yoga postures) and Suryanamaskara stretch muscles, tendons and ligaments and aids sleep.
4. Lifestyle modifications.
Eat, sleep and exercise at proper intervals. Night shift will induce Vatha vitiation. If it is not possible to avoid night shifts, then Ayurveda suggests that in the day time, a person should sleep for at least half the sleepless duration in the night. Food intake in regular intervals is mandatory for a good sleeping pattern.
5. Pacifying medicines for insomnia.
Medicated ghee, milk, pills and many hair oils are successfully used for insomnia. Herbs such as Aswagandha (Withania somnifera), Yashti (Glycyrrhiza glabra), Mandookaparni (Centella asiatica), Sarpagandha (Rouwolfia serpentina), Jatamansi (Nardostachys jatamansi) are also useful.
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