30 Jun Understanding Sleep through ancient wisdom
What is proper sleep?
On average, adults should optimally receive between 7- 9 hours of sleep each night, but those needs vary individually depends upon a person’s nature (gunas) and nature of the practice. Ayurveda says sleep also depends upon one’s Prakriti (doshas). For example, some feel best with 8 consecutive hours of sleep, while others do well with 6 – 7 hours at night and daytime napping.
What is good quality sleep?
The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) gives the key indicators of good sleep quality:
1. Sleeping more time while in bed (at least 85 percent of the total time)
2. Falling asleep in 30 minutes or less
3. Waking up no more than once per night; and
4. Being awake for 20 minutes or less after initially falling asleep
What is sleep according to the spiritual path?
There are two types of sleep:
1. Svapna (dream sleep); sleep with dreams is svapna which is not a complete sleep
2. Sushupti (deep sleep); where there are no dreams.
According to Indian scriptures, sleep is the separation of mind and senses or when the mind gets separate from senses or when the senses get separate from the mind that is called sleep (Nidra).
Both mind and senses are present during sleep but we won’t have any sensation because both are not connected to each other. For example: while sleeping we don’t listen or feel anything as the mind is separated from the senses. When there is a separation a separator should be there. For example, both hands are joined together when it separates the mind is separating the hands or the energy is separated here or the hands are going away because of the energy or because of the instructions of the mind. Similarly, there should be something to separate the mind & the senses during sleep, which is the quality of tamas. When tamas increases in our body or in our mind separation happen automatically.
If we want to sleep 24hrs, we won’t be able to why?? because there are not enough tamas in us. When we have more tamas in us sleep comes automatically. But sages hardly sleep as they have fewer tamas in them. Even to destroy tamas sleep is necessary. More sleep creates more tamas and less sleep creates disease in us.
Scriptures say there are 8 yamas in a day; 1 Yama = 3 hours; 8*3= 24 hours. So there are 4 yamas in the night (this doesn’t apply in all countries, depends on the sunrise and sunset the time changes). First Yama of the night starts from sunset. For example: if the sunset is at 6 pm, 6 pm – 9 pm is the first Yama, during this time we can do any kind of practice or activities and can have food too. After 9 pm we are not supposed to eat or do any practices as the quality of tamas increases in the environment. The middle 2 Yamas are meant for sleep i.e.: 9 pm – 3 am. The last Yama can be used for spiritual practices as the Brahmamuhurta starts at the last Yama i.e.: 3 am – 6 am.
What happens if we sleep during Brahmamuhurta?
Ayurveda says the person who sleeps during Brahmamuhurta will lose the immunity power of the body (Charaka.S) or in this person, the sattva guna will reduce. Ayurveda also says it depends on the karmas we experience in dreams. Dreams come mainly of three reasons:
1. due to past karmas accumulated in our previous births or days (Purva Karma)
2. due to previous actions, actions just before the sleep e.g. book, movie, etc.
3. due to some disease
According to Vedanta, there are three kinds of body:
1. Sthula sharira (gross body): where we experience everything.
2. Sukshma sharira (subtle body/ dream body): here the body is there but there is no physical body whatever we dream during sleep it happens in the sukshma sharira. In a dream we can travel anywhere, we can speak to people and can experience many things but only at that moment. Sukshma sharira is the one we experience in the dream.
3. Karana sharira (causal body): this body remains after death and takes our atma to another body. The reason for the next life cycle.
According to Bhagavat Gita, there are four aspects that are very important for the spiritual path.
1. Yuktahara (proper food)
2. Yuktavihara (proper environment)
3. Yuktachesta (proper action)
4. Yuktasvapnabodhasya (proper sleep)
If we follow these aspects yoga will help to destroy all the suffering. If these aspects are improper the physical body may enjoy but gives a lot of suffering. Only through these four aspects, we can do dhyana yoga without any obstacles.
BG: 6:16- Krishna says “Yoga is not possible for him who eats too much, nor for him who does not eat at all; nor for him who sleeps too much, nor for him who is always awake.” This means, there has to be moderation somewhere; a middle path has to be followed.
How can we implement these aspects in today’s life?
First of all whatever the scripture says is for a person who wants to grow spiritually. But in today’s life, we all are struggling in the material world. So we need to see how we can utilize the 24hrs of a day.
According to Chanakya 24hrs is divided into 3.
1. 8hrs for recreation (eat, sleep, socialising)
2. 8hrs for work
3. 8hrs for spiritual practice.
So 16hrs for the materialistic world. But these days even to spend 8hrs for spiritual practice is very difficult. At least 4hrs we need to spend time in spiritual practice. A person who is not inclined towards spiritual at all should spend at least 1hr a day for spiritual practice. As we have an imbalance in life we struggle to cope up.
The actions which we do should discriminate means the actions which we do are useful or not. For example: watching unnecessary videos, playing games on the phone for time pass, etc. We need to know that there is not much time to pass. So we have to practice dharmic actions.
How can we implement a good quality sleep in today’s life?
As we all know depends on situations like work schedule it is impossible for some to sleep by 9 pm and wake up early. At least we can follow certain hours of proper sleep every day and practice moderation in life.
1. The first step is Awareness. Why not getting enough sleep or why am I sleepy most of the time? For example: Am I spending too much time on work, phone, television, social media or other things. Be aware of our habits and tendencies.
2. The second step is Attitude. Once we know how we are then we can begin to decide how we actually want to be. A Sankalpa or resolve is one of the ways that we can decide and implement.
According to scriptures, 6hrs of sleep is enough but sometimes we need more than that as we have more tamas in us. If we want to practice to wake up at Brahmamuhurta:
1. Initially start with 5 am or 5.30 am for 6 months
2. Then increase 10 mins each after every 6 months
3. It takes min 3yrs to get into the practice.
Remember one thing whichever is easy to apply in practice is useless and which is difficult to practice is always useful in life.
I sincerely thank my teacher, Sri Prasad Bhatundi, who introduced me to Sri Vigneshwar Bhat from whom I got the knowledge about sleep according to the scriptures.