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The ABCs of Zzzzz (Sleep)

Do you know the best time to wake up and the first thing to do when you wake up? What factors promote sound sleep, and what is the best side and direction to sleep on? Get answers to these and all other questions related to sleep in this article.

According to Ayurveda, sleep is one of the most important factors and pillars of our life; Nidra (sleep) affects our physical and mental well-being. Ayurveda considers Nidra (sleep) in Trayopastambha (three pillars of life), which are the three supporting sub-pillars of life, the other two being Aahara (food) and Abrahmacharya (Non-celibacy or energy management).

Acharya Charak has described Sleep or Nidra in the chapter of Ashtauninditiya Purusha in Sutrasthana. (Source: Wikipedia)

Concept of Nidra (sleep)

यदा तु मनसि क्लान्ते कर्मात्मानः क्लमान्विताः | विषयेभ्यो निवर्तन्ते तदा स्वपिति मानवः||३५||

An individual falls asleep when his mind, including the sensory and motor organs, gets exhausted and dissociates from their objects.

Importance and Benefits of Sleep

निद्रायत्तं सुखं दुःखं पुष्टिः कार्श्यं बलाबलम्| वृषता क्लीबता ज्ञानमज्ञानं जीवितं न च||३६||

अकालेऽतिप्रसङ्गाच्च न च निद्रा निषेविता| सुखायुषी पराकुर्यात् कालरात्रिरिवापरा||३७||

सैव युक्ता पुनर्युङ्क्ते निद्रा देहं सुखायुषा| पुरुषं योगिनं सिद्ध्या सत्या बुद्धिरिवागता||३८||

In human beings, happiness and misery, nourishment and emaciation, strength and weakness, fertility and infertility, knowledge and ignorance, and longevity and death depend upon proper (and improper sleep). Untimely, excessive sleep and sleep deprivation take away happiness and longevity from a person. Similarly, adequate sleep brings happiness and longevity to humans, just as actual knowledge brings spiritual power to yogis.

It must be noted that the following three destroy our health:

Akaala nidra- sleep at improper time,

Atiprasanga- excess sleep, and

Na Nidra- Lack of sleep

In other words, sleeping at the right time in the right amount brings happiness and longevity and improper sleep. An inadequate amount of sleep at the wrong time causes various diseases and lifestyle disorders. Lack of proper sleep can lead to emaciation, and excessive sleep leads to obesity. Improper sleep affects physical well-being and creates various mental health issues.

Origins and Types of sleep

तमोभवा श्लेष्मसमुद्भवा च मनःशरीरश्रमसम्भवा च| आगन्तुकी व्याध्यनुवर्तिनी च रात्रिस्वभावप्रभवा च निद्रा||५८||

Sleep is of seven types, categorised by its cause:

  • Tamas

  • Impaired Kapha (Kapha is one of the three doshas in the body. It is composed of two basic elements like Prithvi/Earth and Jala/Water)

  • Mental exertion

  • Physical exertion

  • Exogenous (external) factors

  • Diseases

  • Normal (nighttime)

रात्रिस्वभावप्रभवा मता या तां भूतधात्रीं प्रवदन्ति तज्ज्ञाः| तमोभवामाहुरघस्य मूलं शेषाः पुनर्व्याधिषु निर्दिशन्ति||५९||

Natural sleep (sleeping at night) is the best form of sleep. This is also known as Bhutadhatri, or "that which nurses all the living beings." The state of sleep caused by tamas is the cause of all sinful acts, while the remaining types are observed in specific situations and ailments.

Best time to wake up

According to Ayurveda, one should wake up in the Brahma muhurta- an auspicious period that begins 1 hour 36 minutes before sunrise and ends 48 minutes before it. This helps attain wisdom, improving memory, concentration and focus, thus positively affecting mental health and efficiency. However, keeping in mind factors like lifestyle and other health issues, one can wake up before or with the sunrise as it balances physical and mental health, happiness and longevity by providing energy and positivity.

The first thing to do when you wake up in the morning

According to sacred Indian text wisdom, before you get up in the morning, rub your hands together and place your palms upon your eyes. Then, recite the mantra- a shloka originally from the Vishnu Purana. By repeating this mantra, you invoke the supreme power in Goddess Lakshmi, Goddess Saraswati, and Vishnu. After reciting the mantra, sit silently on the bed for a few moments.

कराग्रे वसते लक्ष्मि:

Karaagre Vasate Lakshmi

(In the front part of the hands, i.e. the fingertips, lives Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth)

करमध्ये सरस्वति

Karamadhye Saraswati

(In the middle part of the hands, i.e. the palm, lives Saraswati, whom we worship for knowledge)

करमूले तु गोविन्द:

Karamoole tu Govinda

(In the end, part of the hands, i.e. the root or wrist, lives Govinda, Lord Krishna, whom we worship for health and protection)

प्रभाते करदर्शनम्

Prabhate kara darsanam

(It is auspicious to see the hand in the morning)

The mantra is beneficial for overcoming struggles, improving focus, gaining confidence, making better conscious decisions, unlocking creativity, and improving eyesight.

Sleep-promoting factors

अभ्यङ्गोत्सादनं स्नानं ग्राम्यानूपौदका रसाः| शाल्यन्नं सदधि क्षीरं स्नेहो मद्यं मनःसुखम्||५२||

मनसोऽनुगुणा गन्धाः शब्दाः संवाहनानि च| चक्षुषोस्तर्पणं लेपः शिरसो वदनस्य च||५३||

स्वास्तीर्णं शयनं वेश्म सुखं कालस्तथोचितः| आनयन्त्यचिरान्निद्रां प्रनष्टा या निमित्ततः||५४||

Suppose, for some reason, one suffers from sleeplessness. In that case, they can be cured by applying measures such as body massages, medicinal oil, bath, (intake of) soup made up of meat of domestic, marshy and aquatic animals, rice with curd, milk, fat, wine, mental pleasure, pleasant smell and sound, application of soothing ointment to eyes, head and face, comfortable bed and home, and getting habituated to sleeping at a particular time.

This is the side you should sleep on and why you must turn in this direction while waking up.

According to Ayurveda, sleeping on your left side is the best because it contributes to our health by making our organs function better and more efficiently.

Sleeping on the left side relieves pressure from the liver and allows blood to flow freely. Pregnant women are recommended to sleep on the left because it improves blood circulation to the baby and relieves pressure on the uterus.

Sleeping on the left aids in better digestion. Since our stomach and pancreas are located on the left, when we lie on the left side, it enables them to be positioned naturally and function better and keeping the gastric juices lower than the oesophagus. Thus preventing heartburn and allowing gravity to do the work by moving waste quickly through the colon and eliminating food waste efficiently.

It is suitable for heart health. Since our heart is on our left side, sleeping on our left side facilitates the smoother flow of blood to the heart based on the principle of gravity.

Sleeping on the left also helps reduce and even stop snoring as it keeps the tongue from falling back into the throat, which partially blocks the airway.

Sleeping on your right side, on the other hand, restricts blood flow and may also put pressure on the liver apart from placing strain on other internal organs.

The best direction to sleep and wake up

We will discuss the best direction to sleep according to science and which direction is best for sleeping according to Vastu Shastra, Ayurveda.

Looking at it scientifically, the Earth's electromagnetic field explains this. The Earth's magnetic positive pole is towards the North, and the South is negative. Like the Earth, the human body has magnetic poles, our head is the positive side of a magnet, and our feet, are the negative side. Positive poles repel each other; therefore, if we lie down or sleep with our head to the North and feet in the south direction, the opposing forces will repel, causing exhaustion and restlessness, resulting in headaches and high blood pressure.

The Earth's core is iron, and our blood also contains iron. When sleeping towards the North, the magnetic pull attracts iron, directly impacting the brain, thus disrupting blood circulation and leading to headaches.

In other words, when we sleep toward the South or place our head in the south direction while sleeping, our body's magnetic energy aligns with Earth's. Our head or north is towards the Earth's South, thus creating a pull or attraction.

प्राक्शिरा दक्षिणाननो दक्षिणशिराः प्रागाननो वा स्वपेत् । – Acharendu, Shayanvidhiprayog

Meaning: Sleep with the head in the East or South

According to Vastu Shastra, the best direction to sleep is east and South; the head is towards the east or South while the legs point towards the west or North.

The east is the direction of the rising sun and is believed to be suitable for spiritual reasons. Sleeping with one's head pointing towards the east and the feet towards the west ensures sound sleep; it improves memory and concentration levels.

The South is the direction of Lord Yama, the god of death. As per Vastu, sleeping in this direction promotes deep sleep with numerous health benefits, including lowering one's blood pressure and relieving insomnia and anxiety. Sleeping in this direction also attracts wealth and prosperity.

According to Vastu, sleeping in the west is not advisable as it leads to restlessness and dissatisfaction.

North is the worst direction for sleeping, and it is inadvisable to sleep with your head in this direction and legs pointing towards the South. In Hinduism, the dead rest with their head pointing in the northern direction.

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