Making Sense of Sleep


We have all had those nights of not enough sleep, and the groggy day after.  We all know how important sleep is, and medical research backs that up – recommending 8 hours of sleep for the average adult, and even more for children and teenagers.  A lack of sleep has been shown to be detrimental to fertility in both men and women, impact the capability of the brain to retain new learnings, and enhance the mind’s memory circuits (healthy hippocampus activity).  Sleep scientist Matt Walker states that “a physiological signature of aging is that your sleep gets worse, especially the deep quality of sleep.”  There is correlative data that suggests a lack of sleep contributes to degenerative memory capabilities of aging people.  Sleep loss also negatively impacts the cardio-vascular system – did you know that during daylight savings time, in the spring when we lose one hour of sleep, there is a subsequent 24% increase in heart attacks the following day?  In the autumn, when we gain an hour of sleep, there is a 21% reduction in heart attacks.  Even suicide rates spike and drop twice a year during day light savings.  In addition, within the body, natural killer cell activity drops as sleep is restricted.  In fact the World Health Organization has classified any form of shift work as a probable carcinogen, because of the disruption in sleep-wake rhythms.  A study has even shown that reducing sleep from 8 hours to 6 hours has a detrimental impact on one’s gene activity profile.  In medicine, short sleep is linked with a shorter life span.

So what does western medicine give as tips for a good night’s sleep?  Well the first is to get the full 8 hours of sleep, and avoid alcohol and caffeine which impact the quality of sleep.  Second is regularity of sleep – in other words, go to sleep at the same time each night, and wake up at the same time each morning, irrespective of the day of week.  Third, it is suggested that we should sleep in a cooler room – below 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

But what is the yogic perspective on sleep?  For a committed, practicing yogi, it is possible to reduce the sleep quota.  The yogi recognizes that what the body is an energy system, and what it needs is a resting state where consumption of energy is below production of energy.  The yogi will manage this energy equation to maintain a constantly rejuvenated state of being.  All kinds of activities expend energy beyond what you might imagine.  Yes daily activities do so, but for example, your body also expends tremendous energy in processing the food that you eat.  That is why yogis lean towards raw plant based diets which take much less energy to digest.  Even living in a noisy environment drains one’s energy.  A yogi, being at total ease and in alignment with life naturally, will see their sleep quota go down.  It is all about how well the pranic energies are managed within oneself.

As for the rest of us who are still not accomplished yogis, there are some tips we can follow.  Practicing relaxation techniques for the mind and body, yoga and meditation, changing to a healthy diet, and reducing life’s stress and drama all play important roles.  Beyond that, one should not eat within 2 to 3 hours of going to sleep so that the digestion process is completed.  It is also recommended that some water should be consumed before bed.  Also, a lukewarm shower can aid in the body’s rest state because water passing over the body impacts one’s energy patterns.  Increase the quality of life, and the quality of sleep will naturally improve.


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